You are on page 1of 11

Problem Solving Strategies Learning how to solve problems in mathematics is knowing what to look for.

Math problems often require established procedures and knowing what and when to apply them. To identify procedures, you have to be familiar with the problem situation and be able to collect the appropriate information, identify a strategy or strategies and use the strategy appropriately. Problem solving requires practice! The more your practice, the better you get. Practice, practice, practice. Problem Solving Plan in 4 Steps: 1. Clues: Read the problem carefully. Underline clue words. Ask yourself if you've seen a problem similar to this one. If so, what is similar about it? What did you need to do? What facts are you given? What do you need to find out? 2. Game Plan: Define your game plan. Have you seen a problem like this before? Identify what you did. Define your strategies to solve this problem. Try out your strategies. (Using formulas, simplifying, use sketches, guess and check, look for a pattern, etc.) If your strategy doesn't work, it may lead you to an 'aha' moment and to a strategy that does work. 3. Solve: Use your strategies to solve the problem 4. Reflect:

This part is critical. Look over your solution. Does it seem probable? Did you answer the question? Are you sure? Did you answer using the language in the question? Same units? http://math.about.com/od/1/a/problemsolv.htm

There are numerous approaches to solving math problems. 'Model Drawing' is the first one that we have introduced because we feel that it has the greatest impact in building children's confidence in dealing with math problems. Most students enjoy visual effects. Seeing abstract relationships, represented by concrete and colourful images, help in understanding, leading to the solution of the problem.

Find a Pattern Make a Table Work Backwards Guess and Check Draw a Picture Make a List Write a Number Sentence Use Logical Reasoning

Example Example Example Example Example Example Example

Question: Carol has written a number pattern that begins with 1, 3, 6, 10, 15. If she continues this pattern, what are the next four numbers in her pattern? Strategy:

1) UNDERSTAND: What do you need to find? You need to find 4 numbers after 15. 2) PLAN: How can you solve the problem? You can find a pattern. Look at the numbers. The new number depends upon the number before it. 3) SOLVE: Look at the numbers in the pattern. 3 = 1 + 2 (starting number is 1, add 2 to make 3) 6 = 3 + 3 (starting number is 3, add 3 to make 6) 10 = 6 + 4 (starting number is 6, add 4 to make 10) 15 = 10 + 5 (starting number is 10, add 5 to make 15) New numbers will be 15 + 6 = 21 21 + 7 = 28 28 + 8 = 36 36 + 9 = 45

Question: You save $3 on Monday. Each day after that you save twice as much as you saved the day before. If this pattern continues, how much would you save on Friday? Strategy: 1) UNDERSTAND: You need to know that you save $3 on Monday. Then you need to know that you always save twice as much as you find the day before. 2) PLAN: How can you solve the problem? You can make a table like the one below. List the amount of money you save each day. Remember to double the number each day.
Day Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Amount of Money Saved $3 $6 $12 $24 $48

You save $48 on Friday Question: Jack walked from Santa Clara to Palo Alto. It took 1 hour 25 minutes to walk from Santa Clara to Los Altos. Then it took 25 minutes to walk from Los Altos to Palo Alto. He arrived in Palo Alto at 2:45 P.M. At what time did he leave Santa Clara? Strategy:

1) UNDERSTAND: What do you need to find? You need to find what the time was when Jack left Santa Clara. 2) PLAN: How can you solve the problem? You can work backwards from the time Jack reached Palo Alto. Subtract the time it took to walk from Los Altos to Palo Alto. Then subtract the time it took to walk from Santa Clara to Los Altos. 3) SOLVE: Start at 2:45. This is the time Jack reached Palo Alto. Subtract 25 minutes. This is the time it took to get from Los Altos to Palo Alto. Time is: 2:20 P.M. Subtract: 1 hour 25 minutes. This is the time it took to get from Santa Clara to Los Altos.. Jack left Santa Clara at 12:55 P.M. Question: Amy and Judy sold 12 show tickets altogether. Amy sold 2 more tickets than Judy. How many tickets did each girl sell? Strategy: 1) UNDERSTAND: What do you need to find? You need to know that 12 tickets were sold in all. You also need to know

that Amy sold 2 more tickets than Judy. 2) PLAN: How can you solve the problem? You can guess and check to find two numbers with a sum of 12 and a difference of 2. If your first guess does not work, try two different numbers. 3) SOLVE: First Guess: Amy = 8 tickets Judy = 4 tickets Check 8 + 4 = 12 8 - 4 = 4 ( Amy sold 4 more tickets) These numbers do not work! Second Guess: Amy = 7 tickets Judy = 5 tickets Check 7 + 5 = 12 7- 5 = 2 ( Amy sold 2 more tickets) These numbers do work! Amy sold 7 tickets and Judy sold 5 tickets.

Question: Laura has 3 green chips, 4 blue chips and 1 red chip in her bag. What fractional part of the bag of chips is green?

Strategy: 1) UNDERSTAND: What do you need to find? You need to find how many chips are in all. Then you need to find how many of the chips are green. 2) PLAN: How can you solve the problem? You can draw a picture to show the information. Then you can use the picture to find the answer. 3) SOLVE: Draw 8 chips.

3/8 of the chips are green. Question: Judy is taking pictures of Jim, Karen and Mike. She asks them, " How many different ways could you three children stand in a line?" Strategy: 1) UNDERSTAND: What do you need to know? You need to know that any of the students can be first, second or third. 2) PLAN:

How can you solve the problem? You can make a list to help you find all the different ways. Choose one student to be first, and another to be second. The last one will be third. 3) SOLVE: When you make your list, you will notice that there are 2 ways for Jim to be first, 2 ways for Karen to be first and 2 ways for Mike to be first.
First Jim Jim Karen Karen Mike Mike Second Karen Mike Jim Mike Karen Jim Third Mike Karen Mike Jim Jim Karen

So, there are 6 ways that the children could stand in line. Question: Sam put 18 pencils in 3 equal groups. How many pencils are in each group? Strategy: 1) UNDERSTAND: What do you need to know? You need to know that there are 18 pencils and they are divided into 3 equal groups 2) PLAN:

How can you solve the problem? You can write a number sentence to solve the problem. Write a division sentence to divide the pencils in 3 equal groups. 3) SOLVE: 18 3 = 6 There are 6 pencils in each group.
http://www.mathstories.com/strategies.htm http://www.thesingaporemaths.com/stratf.html

George Polya
1887 - 1985
George Polya was a Hungarian who immigrated to the United States in 1940. His major contribution is for his work in problem solving. Growing up he was very frustrated with the practice of having to regularly memorize information. He was an excellent problem solver. Early on his uncle tried to convince him to go into the mathematics field but he wanted to study law like his late father had. After a time at law school he became bored with all the legal technicalities he had to memorize. He tired of that and switched to Biology and the again switched to Latin and Literature, finally graduating with a degree. Yet, he tired of that quickly and went back to school and took math and physics. He found he loved math. His first job was to tutor Gregor the young son of a baron. Gregor struggled due to his lack of problem solving skills. Polya (Reimer, 1995) spent hours and developed a method of problem solving that would work for Gregor as well as others in the same situation. Polya (Long, 1996) maintained that the skill of problem was not an inborn quality but, something that could be taught. He was invited to teach in Zurich, Switzerland. There he worked with a Dr. Weber. One day he met the doctors daughter Stella he began to court her and eventually married her. They spent 67 years together. While in Switzerland he loved to take afternoon walks in the local garden. One day he met a young couple also walking and chose another path. He continued to do this yet he met the same couple six more times as he strolled in the garden. He mentioned to his wife how could it be possible to meet them so many times when he

randomly chose different paths through the garden. He later did experiments that he called the random walk problem. Several years later he published a paper proving that if the walk continued long enough that one was sure to return to the starting point. In 1940 he and his wife moved to the United States because of their concern for Nazism in Germany (Long, 1996). He taught briefly at Brown University and then, for the remainder of his life, at Stanford University. He quickly became well known for his research and teachings on problem solving. He taught many classes to elementary and secondary classroom teachers on how to motivate and teach skills to their students in the area of problem solving. In 1945 he published the book How to Solve It which quickly became his most prized publication. It sold over one million copies and has been translated into 17 languages. In this text he identifies four basic principles . Polyas First Principle: Understand the Problem This seems so obvious that it is often not even mentioned, yet students are often stymied in their efforts to solve problems simply because they dont understand it fully, or even in part. Polya taught teachers to ask students questions such as:

Do you understand all the words used in stating the problem? What are you asked to find or show? Can you restate the problem in your own words? Can you think of a picture or a diagram that might help you understand the problem? Is there enough information to enable you to find a solution?

Polyas Second Principle: Devise a plan Polya mentions (1957) that it are many reasonable ways to solve problems. The skill at choosing an appropriate strategy is best learned by solving many problems. You will find choosing a strategy increasingly easy. A partial list of strategies is included:

Guess and check Make and orderly list Eliminate possibilities Use symmetry Consider special cases Use direct reasoning Solve an equation

Look for a pattern Draw a picture Solve a simpler problem Use a model Work backward Use a formula Be ingenious

Polyas third Principle: Carry out the plan This step is usually easier than devising the plan. In general (1957), all you need is care and patience, given that you have the necessary skills. Persistent with the plan that you have chosen. If it continues not to work discard it and choose another. Dont be misled, this is how mathematics is done, even by professionals. Polyas Fourth Principle: Look back Polya mentions (1957) that much can be gained by taking the time to reflect and look back at what you have done, what worked and what didnt. Doing this will enable you to predict what strategy to use to solve future problems. George Polya went on to publish a two-volume set, Mathematics and Plausible Reasoning (1954) and Mathematical Discovery (1962). These texts form the basis for the current thinking in mathematics education and are as timely and important today as when they were written. Polya has become known as the father of problem solving.

http://www.math.wichita.edu/history/men/polya.html http://it.scribd.com/doc/6558195/George-PolyaHow-to-Solve-It

http://floridarti.usf.edu/resources/format/pdf/Classroom%20Cognitive%20and%20Metacognitive%20St rategies%20for%20Teachers_Revised_SR_09.08.10.pdf

http://www.interventioncentral.org/academic-interventions/math/math-problem-solving-combiningcognitive-metacognitive-strategies