Solving A Math Problem

Specific characteristics of a problem-solving approach include: My early problem-solving courses focused on problems amenable to solutions by Polya-type heuristics: draw a diagram, examine special cases or analogies, specialize, generalize, and so on. Over the years the courses evolved to the point where they focused less on heuristics per se and more on introducing students to fundamental ideas: the importance of mathematical reasoning and proof..., for example, and of sustained mathematical investigations (where my problems served as starting points for serious explorations, rather than tasks to be completed).

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Resnick expressed the belief that 'school should focus its efforts on preparing people to be good adaptive learners, so that they can perform effectively when situations are unpredictable and task demands change' (p.18). Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics, Reston, Virginia: NCTM.

Cockcroft (1982) also advocated problem solving as a means of developing mathematical thinking as a tool for daily living, saying that problem-solving ability lies 'at the heart of mathematics' (p.73) because it is the means by which mathematics can be applied to a variety of unfamiliar situations.

In the past decade it has been suggested that problem-solving techniques can be made available most effectively through making problem solving the focus of the mathematics curriculum.

Although mathematical problems have traditionally been a part of the mathematics curriculum, it has been only comparatively recently that problem solving has come to be regarded as an important medium for teaching and learning mathematics (Stanic and Kilpatrick, 1989).

As the emphasis has shifted from teaching problem solving to teaching via problem solving (Lester, Masingila, Mau, Lambdin, dos Santon and Raymond, 1994), many writers have attempted to clarify what is meant by a problem-solving approach to teaching mathematics.

The focus is on teaching mathematical topics through problem-solving contexts and enquiry-oriented environments which are characterised by the teacher 'helping students construct a deep understanding of mathematical ideas and processes by engaging them in doing mathematics: creating, conjecturing, exploring, testing, and verifying' (Lester et al., 1994, p.154). 'If education fails to contribute to the development of the intelligence, it is obviously incomplete. Yet intelligence is essentially the ability to solve problems: everyday problems, personal problems ... Modern definitions of intelligence (Gardner, 1985) talk about practical intelligence which enables 'the individual to resolve genuine problems or difficulties that he or she encounters' (p.60) and also encourages the individual to find or create problems 'thereby laying the groundwork for the acquisition of new knowledge' (p.85). As was pointed out earlier, standard mathematics, with the emphasis on the acquisition of knowledge, does not necessarily cater for these needs. Resnick (1987) described the discrepancies which exist between the algorithmic approaches taught in schools and the 'invented' strategies which most people use in the workforce in order to solve practical problems which do not always fit neatly into a taught algorithm. Let us consider how problem solving is a useful medium for each of these. It has already been pointed out that mathematics is an essential discipline because of its practical role to the individual and society. Mathematicians who successfully solve problems say that the experience of having done so contributes to an appreciation for the 'power and beauty of mathematics' (NCTM, 1989, p.77), the "joy of banging your head against a mathematical wall, and then discovering that there might be ways of either going around or over that wall" (Olkin and Schoenfeld, 1994, p.43). 'Constructing meaningful understanding of mathematics content', in Aichele, D. (Eds.) Professional Development for Teachers of Mathematics , pp. They also speak of the willingness or even desire to engage with a task for a length of time which causes the task to cease being a 'puzzle' and allows it to become a problem. Through a problem-solving approach, this aspect of mathematics can be developed. Presenting a problem and developing the skills needed to solve that problem is more motivational than teaching the skills without a context.

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