Thursday, October 5, 2017

Equipping Students with Problem Solving Skills

Submitted by Jennifer Statzer, Assistant Principal Greenville Elementary School  

Ohio’s Learning Standards outline the necessary knowledge and skills that will allow students to be prepared for college and careers. Educators across the state have gained experience in teaching these standards over the past few years. With feedback from the public, the Ohio State Board of Education approved the revised standards for mathematics in February. Even with the many changes that were made, there is still concern from parents about the standards. Expressions such as, “I don’t know how to help my child with their math homework.” “I don’t get this new math!” have become a common reaction for many parents. However, I assure you that the adoption of Ohio’s Learning Standards is not a devious plan to keep parents out of the academic lives of their children. Believe it or not, the math itself has not changed. Students are still learning how to add, subtract, multiply and divide. However, the way we are teaching and having students think about mathematical concepts has changed. The reason for this change is number sense.

Number sense refers to the understanding of numbers, their size, relationships and how they are affected by different operations. The key word here is understanding. John Allen Paulos, a Temple University math professor and author, calls a lack of mathematical understanding innumeracy- the mathematical equivalent of not being able to read. As adults, many of us grew up memorizing mathematics. We knew our facts because we memorized them. We knew formulas because we memorized them. For some, the deeper understanding of the relationships between the numbers, was lost in memorization. Teaching children number sense and to become thinkers and problem solvers of mathematics allows them to face everyday math situations with confidence because they are equipped with different strategies for solving. It may not be the strategy that makes the most sense to someone else, but it works for that child. Once that child has gained the confidence and understands the number sense behind the strategy then they are introduced to a more efficient way of solving. Consider this analogy, when I moved to the area I figured out one way to get to Walmart. I would take that route every time because I knew that it would get me to my destination. However, one day someone showed me a quicker way to get to Walmart. It took less time and still got me to my destination. I had become more familiar to the area, so it was easy for me to take a more efficient path. Now let’s look at this from a mathematics perspective. Let’s say that your child is learning two-digit addition. Your child breaks the problem into place values parts and adds the tens and ones together to solve the problem. It’s not the traditional regrouping algorithm, but it still gives him or her the same result. Then once he or she understands the number sense behind why the place value parts work to solve the problem, and they can do it without error every time, then he or she is introduced to the short cut or the standard algorithm. The transition is easy and they understand why the algorithm works.

I know what you’re thinking, “this doesn’t help me, help my child with their homework.” You are right, it doesn’t. What will help your child is letting them explain to you how they solved it and how it works. Ask them questions like, “how do you know?” or “why does that work?” and don’t be afraid to say, “I didn’t learn math that way, show me what you are thinking.” You might be surprised at what you learn about number sense. It may not be the quickest way to Walmart but trust me, in time, they will find the quickest way.

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