Problem-solving is an important skill for students to use across all subject areas and is especially used in the context of maths. It gets students using their critical thinking and reasoning skills, as well as drawing on their prior knowledge to find solutions to complex problems.
So, how can we give our students more opportunities to practise their problem-solving skills? This post will give you 5 engaging ideas to help get your students problem-solving, as well as a freebie to try in your learning space!
Logic Puzzle Stories
Sometimes students need help with understanding the value of numbers, particularly in the early years. That’s where logic puzzle stories are useful.
I wrote these stories to help my 3rd graders use their logic and deduction skills to figure out the best fit for each number, based on their understanding of the value of numbers.
This is how it works. Firstly, present a short story to your students that includes some different quantities, but remove the numbers from the story. Then, list all the numbers that should belong in the story separately. Your students can then match the correct numbers to the correct quantities.
I’ll walk you through an example using one of the stories from my Number Sense Logic Puzzle Stories set, which is pictured below. Here, I’ve given students a story about a girl named Lilly. I’ve also given them a selection of numbers. Using the process of elimination, students can work through the story and decide which number fits best in each space.
This gives students a great opportunity to practise their logic and reasoning skills – both of which are involved in problem solving.
Nothing gets kids more quickly engaged than bringing food into their lessons, which is one of the many reasons why I like using cooking with students. You can easily add problems for students to solve throughout the cooking process, such as ‘how can we measure out 1 ½ cups of flour with only one measuring cup?’ or ‘how many chocolate chips would I need to use if I doubled this recipe?’
The image below from my Cooking with Maths Pack, shows how you can turn a recipe into a maths activity by having students work out the quantities needed for each ingredient. Then, when you cook the recipe based on their quantities, they get a very clear visual of how accurate they were. They may even get another opportunity to problem solve if things don’t turn out as expected.
Riddles provide a great opportunity for children to use their problem solving and critical thinking skills. When I taught my grade 3s and 4s, I would write a new brainteaser on the board every week and it was such a fun way to get students thinking and problem solving whenever they had a chance. It was the best early finishers task I’ve used!
To make this more maths specific, you can use riddles and brainteasers that involve number patterns or equations.
Here are some examples:
A grandfather, two fathers and two sons went to a concert together and each bought one ticket. How many tickets did they buy in total?
Answer: 3 tickets (the grandfather is also a father, and the father is also a son).
When Natasha was 4 years old, her big brother, Max, was twice her age. If Natasha is 35 years old today, how old is Max?
Answer: He is 39 years old.
What can you put between a 6 and a 7 so that it results in a number greater than six, but less than seven?
Answer: A decimal. 6.7 is greater than 6, but less than 7.
While coding may not be quite as maths specific as the other activities listed, it requires a ton of problem-solving, so I had to mention it. There are many websites and apps that introduce students to coding, such as Code.org or Scratch Jr. I’ve always found that students are so engaged in coding tasks, and because they need to continue to modify, assess and fix errors in their codes, there’s a whole lot of problem-solving taking place.
How Many Ways?
How Many Ways? is a fun and simple task that gives students a fantastic opportunity to practise their problem-solving skills. Due to its open-ended nature, it can be easily adapted and differentiated to suit different age levels and learning abilities.
The way it works is simple. All you need to do is give students an equation or problem to solve and ask them ‘how many ways’ they can resolve it. In early years, I recommend giving students the completed equation and asking them how many ways they can represent that equation. They may use different materials or write different symbols to show a visual representation of that equation. They could even record themselves talking through the equation through video. The possibilities are endless!
By the way, I have a FREE set of How Many Ways Problem Solving Cards for early years students available for download here (no email sign up required)!
I hope that these ideas inspire you to try some new problem-solving tasks with your students!
Do you want some more tips for teaching problem solving while you’re here? Then have a read through my post on Tips for Promoting Problem-Solving Skills.
P.S. I’d love to hear how my tips and resources are helping you in your teaching, so leave a comment to let me know!
Have a question or a request? You can contact me at email@example.com.
This blog post was written for a collaborative maths event that I’m participating in this month called March Mathness. Continue on to the March Mathness activities by clicking the image below.
Leave a Reply