Helping students and teachers with problem solving

I know problem solving is always something that I feel is an area in which I can improve.   As a coach I am always trying to help teachers to build their capacity for students to become strong problem solvers.

Some things I have been working on with teacher or strategies we have been using:

* WAIT TIME – I think this is one of the hardest things for me.  Really giving students the time to work through a problem, and even experience some productive struggle.  When we feel the crunched for time feeling during our day, it’s easy to just give information or sometimes even the answer.  When it comes to problem solving, the focus should really be on the process, not just the product.

* Notice/Wonder – this is something I have been really encouraging teachers to do.  Putting up a problem and asking student to jot down or share something they notice about the problem and something they wonder about the problem.  Such a simple concept – but such a powerful window into what students are thinking and how they are making sense of a problem.

* Gallery walks – having students work in groups or pairs, and putting their work up on sticky notes or charts around the room.   Asking students to look at others work and compare it to their own thinking – so many benefits to this.  Allowing students to see a variety of ways or representations that could be used to solve a problem, helps build their personal tool box of strategies.

* Purposeful Planning  – before you do a problem with the students – DO IT YOURSELF!   It is so helpful to anticipate students thinking and how to respond to it.  Makes your aware of the problem and the strategies they could use to solve them.   This list could go on and on.

* Working in pairs and groups – allows students to share their thinking in a smaller setting can be so much less intimidating than the whole class setting, allowing for more discourse to be happening.

* Revising and correcting their work – one thing we have been doing some work on is after a student completes a task, looking at an anchor set of work from the problem and analyzing it against a given rubric.   Then having them go back and revise their work based on the discussion – we use sticky notes to add to or correct our work.  Helping students to develop that critical eye to analyze their own work has been very powerful.

* Focusing on one area to improve at a time – I know when we look at student work we want to correct or offer feedback on everything we see.  For a student that can be overwhelming, but if we focus on one area at a time or during a given period of time, we will see better traction in that area, and in turn over time all areas will improve.

I know most of this (if not all) is not new, or even revolutionary, just some random thoughts and observations from this math coach!

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