Teaching Problem Solving in Guided Math Groups: Part 1
Problem solving is an essential part of learning to do math. During the next few posts I want to talk about some key elements in teaching this process standard. NCTM defines problem solving as “engaging in a task for which the solution is not known in advance.” The math research maintains that contextualizing problems within our everyday lives is what helps students to make connections and learn in a natural way. Moreover, students must have a variety of strategies to approach problems, including diagrams, looking for patterns and various other strategies.
CAUTION: AVOID RELYING ON THE KEY WORD STRATEGY
I remember a few years ago, NY state sent out a memo to all testing grades to NOT USE THE KEY WORD STRATEGY. Although many of us often teach the key word strategy (as in this word means….) math researchers say not to use it! Actually to heavily avoid it! Yes, I’m talking about all those key word posters we have hung up in our classrooms across the U.S:) We teach our students that when they see “altogether” and “in all” to add and when they see words like “left” and “fewer” to subtract (Van de Wahl, Karp & Bay-Williams 2010). These do work sometimes, in many of the simplistic story problems in textbooks (Svlentic-Dowell,Beal & Capraro, 2006). However, they aren’t a good strategy for the real world and even for more complicated story problems. Many researchers and math educators have advised against teaching them in this way (Burns, 2000; Sowder, 1988).
3 KEY ARGUMENTS AGAINST USING KEY WORDS FOR PROBLEM SOLVING according to Van de Wahl (2010).
1. They can be misleading, especially if students aren’t taught to read, visualize and think out the entire problem.
2. Many problems have no key words. So then, what do students do? They often get stuck!
3. It teaches bad practices. It teaches students not to think and reason, just find that word and solve it. We must teach them “a sense-making strategy.”
In conclusion, I think more than teaching students key words, teach them to think.