# Problem Solving in Guided Math Groups: Part 3

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.

- Understand the problem
- Devise a plan
- Carry out the plan
- 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.

- 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?
- 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.

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

KimSeptember 12, 2010

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.

Lisa PietrosimoneSeptember 13, 2010