As children grow and develop it is important that both parents and teachers relinquish the role as the child’s problem solver and hand the role over to the child. This is not only important in daily routines such as students unpacking their own school bags and resolving playtime disagreements but also in Mathematics and other learning areas. Learning to become a Problem Solver is natural and important to a child’s development. Learning to become a Problem Solver not only needs explicit teaching and modelling by both parents and teachers, but it also needs parents and teachers allowing children to struggle and FAIL.
In Mathematics a problem is something that you don’t immediately know how to solve. Getting started maybe a struggle. It will require thinking, testing out solutions, reaching ‘dead ends’, trying another strategy, adjusting your thinking, trial and error, amongst other strategies. This can be challenging for students, causing angst and frustration, as they generally can’t reach for a formula to work from. This is okay! Students may struggle to work out the answer quickly and/or there may be multiple answers to the question. They may need to test and re-test their method, justifying their answer using multiple strategies. Essentially, this process needs a lot of Persistence and Resilience.
Not only is it challenging for students but it is also challenging for parents and teachers. As adults our first instincts are quite often wanting to jump in and rescue the students. Tell them that they’re doing it wrong, give them a formula or tell them what strategy to use. Problem Solving is often looked at as noisy, messy learning which can be really uncomfortable for parents and teachers. But in fact this is when the real learning happens. Learning where students are challenged to think, give things a go, fail and then try again. Learning where students are encouraged to take risks with their learning and understand that making mistakes is okay. Learning where students are encouraged and want to tackle hard problems where they need to discuss their ideas and collaborate with others, justify their thinking and come to resolutions. Learning where students develop their persistence and resilience. Creating a culture both at home and school that enables students to feel confident to behave in these ways where they feel comfortable to tackle problems independently rather than immediately asking for help is what we want.
At home parents/caregivers can:
- Talk about mathematics in a positive way. A positive attitude about mathematics is infectious.
- Encourage persistence. Some problems take time to solve.
- Encourage your child to experiment with different approaches to mathematics. There is often more than one way to solve a math problem.
- Encourage your child to talk about and show a math problem in a way that makes sense (i.e., draw a picture or use concrete materials)
- When your child is solving math problems ask questions such as: Why did you...? What can you do next? Do you see any patterns? Does the answer make sense? How do you know? This helps to encourage thinking about mathematics.
- Connect math to everyday life and help your child understand how math is a part of their world (i.e. shapes of traffic signs, walking distance to school, telling time).
- Play family math games together that add excitement such as Checkers, Junior Monopoly, Math Bingo and Uno.
Our job as parents and teachers is to guide students through asking questions, not solve the problem for them. Ask yourself who is doing most of the talking, who is doing most of the doing and who is doing most of the thinking. If the answer is you – then who is doing the problem solving?
Scott Megson, Deputy Principal