The Problem-Solving Process

Fairfax fourth graders Brittany Napoleon, Jamya Terry and Arman Sullivan (L to R) calculate the cost of multiple items in a money counting session.

To help her fourth graders solve challenging math story problems, Fairfax teacher Kelly Borally uses a staff-designed Problem Solving Journal to break problems into manageable parts.

 “To solve a complex problem, kids need to analyze the problem and devise an appropriate strategy,” said Borally. “Once kids see the parts of a bigger problem, it seems manageable.”  

The journal guides students through five steps, starting with identifying the question. Students then choose a strategy and identify the operation needed. Wall charts illustrate problem-solving tools.  Early in the school year, Borally walked students through the process, prompting and guiding their thinking. By January, students need less support. By June, most students know the process.  

“I want students to see that there may be different strategies to get the correct answer,” said Borally. “Having math conversations is an important part of the work, and helps students internalize the skills.” She also encourages math conversations during math center time. Small groups of students practice counting money and making change from $5.00, while discussing their math thinking. “This work is about making connections – to each other and to the math process,” said Borally.

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Volume 3, Issue 5, Posted 1:49 PM, 04.16.2010