Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Problem Solving

We have officially entered September, and the second week of school.  The first week went very well, and I am SO excited about my students this year.  They all seem to be very sweet, and I am really looking forward to getting to know them better this year.  My schedule is also awesome - I am very happy with how that worked out for this year.  I am super excited about how my math notebooks are working out (although I still have a few kiddos without one - and at this point it's going to be tricky since most of the stores are sold out), but they are coming along well.  And, to top it off, I found out I am going to be department chair this year!  Yay!  One of my professional goals has been to take on more of a leadership role at school, and so I think this will be an excellent opportunity to do that.

I am starting out the year with a strong focus on the problem solving process.  Problem solving is one of our school's CSI (continuous school improvement) goals, and it was decided to use graphic organizers as our intervention.  Basically, it means we need to teach the students how to problem solve (which we do anyways), and introduce a graphic organizer as a strategy for problem solving.  So, that being said, I decided to make our first 'real' notebook entry the steps for problem solving.

I drew up and copied the feet (get it - steps?) for everyone, and had them cut them out and paste them in their notebooks.  We filled in the four steps that the math department decided on last year (understand, plan, solve and check), and then wrote an explanation of each step underneath.  The kids were amused by all of my references to writing on their feet, and turn to the page with their feet, and so on - I thought they were pretty cute, and much more engaging than traditional notes.  I borrowed the idea for the feet from... someone, but I can't remember who - and after looking through my pins and favorite blogs for about 30 minutes trying to give credit where it is due, I still can't find it.  So, let me know if it's your idea!

After we completed our steps, we put it into practice with our graphic organizer.  This is one of the graphic organizers that the faculty voted on last year, and that the math department modified to meet our needs.  The four corners have the four steps, and the center diamond is where students write the final answer.  We pasted the problem above the graphic organizer, and then I modeled how to use the graphic organizer.  We did another one together, and then two independently. 
One thing I love about the four step plan that we use is that you really do all of these steps every time you're problem solving - it's usually just internal.  Something I focus on in my classroom is being able to communicate about math and the process used to solve a problem.  This graphic organizer is a great tool to help them externalize their thinking.  It takes some practice - and I don't expect that the students have this much information on their graphic organizers to start with, but we continue to use them throughout the year and they do get better at it.  I tell them over and over that it is one thing to be able to get the right answer, and another to be able to explain how you got there.  My goal is that they are able to do both by the end of the year.
How does everyone else approach problem solving?  Anyone else have ideas on how to get students to communicate their thinking? 


  1. Congrats on department chair! What a great "step" in your career! :) --Dani

  2. Love this organizer! We are trying to move away from a problem-solving acronym to a graphic organizer. Is it available for download anywhere? Thanks :)


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