Problem Solving in Guided Math Groups: Part 3

Posted on September 12, 2010. Filed under: Guided math | Tags: , |

The Polya Problem Solving Method – Step 1 Understand the Problem

George Polya was a famous mathematician who theorized about how to teach problem solving.  He identified four elements of problem solving.

  1. Understand the problem
  2. Devise a plan
  3. Carry out the plan
  4. Look Back

Sounds much simpler than it often turns out to be.  Let’s start with 1.

How do we know that students really understand the problem?  I have recently started asking students to do two things first.

  1.  I want them to close their eyes and visualize the problem.  Make into a mini-movie.  What is happening?  Who are the characters?  What are they doing?  Where are they?  What are they trying to find out?  Then I have them open their eyes and discuss/explain what they saw? 
  2.  I have them translate the problem into their own words.  They share their translations with a partner.  Then we share out as a group. 

   So for me, Step 1: Understand the problem means visualize and translate what is happening.

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2 Responses to “Problem Solving in Guided Math Groups: Part 3”

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I’m going to try the “movie” idea. I think it will help a lot!

Once again, this visualization or “mini-movie” is something kids can understand because they are asked to try this in reading all the time for comprehension. I went to a conference last year where the presenters shared the strategy of creating a story sequence with pictures, etc as steps to solving a word problem. It was presented for students struggling with word problems because of their difficulties with reading, but I think it could be done with any ability level.
The teachers liked it, but only one or two actually tried the idea in their classes. The “mini-movie” made me think of the sequence idea, i.e. like a film.

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