Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Problem Solving

No matter what grade I have taught (3rd, 4th, or 7th), it seems that one of my students' biggest challenges is problem solving!  In talking with other teachers I realize that I am not alone - problem solving can be challenging!

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 I have been using problem solving math journals for a few years now and they have helped a ton! But, this year I wanted to kick it up a notch with even more problem solving practice.  Because in reality, we don't spend our adult lives solving problems on a worksheet, but instead have to engage in real world problems such as how much tile to order, balancing our checkbooks, modifying recipes, etc.  That is what our kids have to be successful with!

Here are a few of our math lessons this week:

We started our multiplication unit by reading this book:

Two of Everything is about a couple who find a magic brass pot that doubles everything that is put inside. My students LOVED this book and besides the math application to it, several wrote stories about what they would put in a magic pot like this and what might happen.  Love when you can hit multiple subjects at once.  We really talked about the idea of doubling being multiplying by 2.  I was often perplexed when my 4th graders last year (who had their math facts down cold) would get deer in the headlights looks when I asked them to double or half anything.  I am determined that my students this year won't have that same problem.

We then did a few practice problems together.

If I put 2 shoes in the pot, how many will come out?
If I put 4 dollars in the pot, how many will come out?
If I put 3 pencils in the pot, how many will come out?

Then I gave them worksheets with similar problems to solve.  I would love to say that they were all able to solve the problems independently (or even in partners).  I would love to show you pictures of them happily solving the problems, but I can't because that isn't what happened.  It was downright ugly and we had a few students in tears.  Had I already killed their love of math in 3rd grade????

Determined to remedy the situation, I regrouped and bought some chocolate.  Everything is better with chocolate right? Even multiplication?  I sure hoped so.

I posed the following problem to my students (after waving the bags of M&Ms as a bribe to think about this multiplication thing again).

Mrs. Malloy has 3 boys living at home.  She wants to give each of them three M&Ms.  How many does she need?

Then I passed out the M&Ms to let them try it.  Who needs stinking worksheets anyway?

Again we struggled a little bit, but this little smartie figured it out!  So, we fishbowled around her to let her explain her method.

As she explained, I could practically see light bulbs forming above their heads!  "I GET it now!"  They rushed back to their seats ready for the next problem.  I used the same problem as before, I just changed the numbers in them.

The sweet taste of success!  Made better with the sweet taste of M&Ms when they were done.

The next day we were ready to step it up a notch.  We were ready to model and use equations and sentences to explain our work.  Using the MESS acronym I use in my math journals.

This time I posed the problem that they were having a party and they needed to fill goody bags with 5 candies each.  How many candies would they need?  We rolled the dice to see how many people we were each inviting.  Then I gave them some plain construction paper and markers to show their thinking.  Here are a few examples:

We have been working on underlining words that we aren't sure how to spell (to mirror the underlining in Word) and I was happy to see this transfer to math!

This one was able to model the problem and solve it correctly, we just need to work on matching up our equations with the problem.

I love how this student signed her math problem Love, (her name)!  Too cute!

No tears this time!  Just problem solving perseverance! 

And even a little partner work..

I love when they spontaneously help each other out!

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