28 June 2017

Many math problem solving strategies are problematic: here's why

(To see what a better problem solving strategy would look like, skip to the bottom... )

Many problem solving strategies in math are problematic in themselves.  Here are some typical problems with them:

(1) Some are too high level or abstract, and thus provide little to no traction for students to get into practically solving problems. Students either don't know what exactly they should do, or they misunderstand the intent of a step in the strategy.

e.g. one strategy calls for the student to describe any "barriers or constraints that may be preventing them from achieving their goal".  Would "the teacher hasn't taught us" be a valid barrier?  (The answer could be "yes", by the way.)

(2) It assumes a pretty smart student, rather than assume a barely passing one.  So the strategy works great for students who would've done fine without your help in the first place.