You are on page 1of 13


Problem Solving
Problem solving is one of the main emphases in our current mathematics curriculum
because it is an essential mathematical process. Mastering the skills in solving
problems is important in determining the well-being of an individual. In addition,
engagement in solving mathematical problems can be fun. This topic enables you to
understand the definition of routine and non-routine problems. You will be introduced
to the Polyas Model for solving problems. Then, you will be guided to e!plore various
problem-solving strategies. You will also be assisted to identify students initial errors
in solving word problems using "ewmans #rror $nalysis procedure and plan
activities relevant to the teaching strategies. $s a mathematics teacher, you need to
know that the process of solving problems can enhance your students understanding
of mathematical concepts. This is due to the fact that your students need to generate
new ideas by integrating e!isting ideas when solving a problem. Moreover, problem
solving can help your students to develop and improve their higher-order thinking
skills. %ast but not least, problem solving can also help to boost your students
confidence in doing mathematics. Therefore it is vital for you to build a repertoire of
problem-solving strategies.
Learning Outcomes
&y the end of this topic, you will be able to
'. define the meaning of problem and problem solving(
). differentiate between routine and non routine problems(
*. apply the Polyas Model when solving mathematics word problems(
+. solve mathematical problems using various strategies(
,. identify students errors in solving word problems using "ewmans #rror
$nalysis procedure(
-. study and analy.e various difficulties in solving word problems( and
/. use appropriate techni0ues and strategies to teach problem solving
1hat do you think a problem is2
3ot down your thoughts.
3.1 Problem and Problem Solving
The word 4problem5 may sound common to you. 6owever, it has a specific meaning
in mathematics. $ problem is any task in which you are faced with a situation
whereby the path to a solution is not obvious and immediate. You may need to
integrate some of your e!isting knowledge in order to overcome obstacles to get the
solution. In other words, to solve a problem is to 7a8 find a way where no way is
known off-hand, or 7b8 find a way out of difficulty, or 7c8 find a way around an
obstacle, or 7d8 attain a desired end, that is not immediately attainable, by
appropriate means. In relation to this, problem solving is the process of solving a
3.2 Routine and on Routine Problems
9enerally, problems can be classified as routine and non-routine problems. $
routine problem is one that merely re0uires you to apply some !no"n procedures,
usually involving arithmetic operations to get the solution. $n e!ample of a routine
problem is as follows:
41hat is the area of a ';; metres by ';;; metres parking lot25
<n the other hand, when you encounter an unusual problem situation in which you
do not know of any standard procedure for solving it, then you are facing a non#
routine problem. In such situations, you need to create a new procedure to solve
the problem. $n e!ample of a non-routine problem is given below:
4$ppro!imately how many hairs are there on your head25
3.3 Pol$a%s &odel o' Problem Solving
9ood problem solving encompasses four phases, according to Polya 7'=,/8. 6e
defined the first phase as understanding the problem. 1ithout understanding the
meaning, students will not be able to find a correct solution. <nce students
understand the problem, they device a plan. Polya suggested that the third phase is
carrying out the devised plan. 9ood problem solvers then, look back at the solution to
verify its correctness.

Step 1 ( )nderstand the problem
6ere are some 0uestions you might like to ask yourself to help you to
understand the problem :
>o you understand all the words2
?an you restate the problem in your own words2
1hat are you trying to find or do2
1hat information do you obtain from the problem2
1hat are the unknowns2
1hat information, if any, is missing or not needed2
Step 2 ( *evise a plan
The 0uestions below can guide you in the process of devising a plan
to solve the problem :
1hat is the relationship between the data and the unknown2
Is this problem similar to another problem that you have solved2
1hat strategies can you use2
Step 3 ( Carr$ out the plan
The following instructions are some procedures that you might use to
carry out your plan.
@se the strategy you have selected and solve the problem.
?heck each step of the plan as you proceed
#nsure that the steps are correct.
Step + ( Loo! bac!
This step is often overlooked in problem solving. $s a mathematics
teacher, you should remind your students to always check their
answers. Aome guidelines for looking back include the following :
Beread the 0uestion.
>id you answer the 0uestion asked2
Is your answer correct2
>oes your answer seem reasonable2
The flow chart in Cigure ' the procedures of Polyas model.

/hat in'ormation is given0
/hat do $ou need to 'ind0
Planning and identi'$ the strateg$
*oes $our plan
"or! 0
-3amine $our ans"er care'ull$
*oes it 'it the 'acts
Figure 1. Polyas Cour-Atep Problem Aolving Model
$s a mathematics teacher, you need to teach your students how to solve
mathematical problems. %earning to use Polyas Model is a first step towards
becoming a good problem solver. In Atep ) of Polyas Model, you need to know
various strategies to enable you to solve problems. In the ne!t section you will learn
about several strategies that you can use.
Meanwhile, take a break before you proceed to the ne!t section.
*o $ou !no"4
Polya wrote over ),; mathematical papers and three books that promote
problem solving. 6is most famous book, E6ow To Aolve It, which has been
translated into ', languages, introduced his four-step approach together
with heuristics, or strategies which are helpful in solving problems.
7Musser, &urger, Petersen, );;'8
3.+ Problem Solving Strategies
9eneral strategies are procedures which help you to choose what knowledge and
skills to use at each stage when solving a problem. The strategies you select have to
be versatile so that they could be applied to a wide variety of problems. 6ere are
some strategies that you can use.
Strateg$ 1 ( 5uess and Chec!
The guess and check strategy is useful for solving many types of problems. This is
sometimes called 4trial and error 4. You are encouraged to make a reasonable guess,
check the guess, and revise the guess if necessary. &y repeating this process you
can arrive at a correct answer that has been checked. To use the guess and check
strategy, follow these steps:
Make a guess at the answer.
?heck your guess. >oes it satisfy the problem2
@se the information obtained in checking to help you make a new guess.
?ontinue the procedure until you get the correct answer.
-3ample 1(
sun and fun represent two three-digit numbers and swim is their four-digit sum. @sing
all of the digits ;, ', ), *, -, / and =, in place of the alphabets where each alphabet
represents one digit, find the value of each alphabet.
s u n
+ f u n
S w i m
Solution (
Step 1 ( )nderstand the problem
#ach of the letters in sun, fun and swim must be replaced with the digits ;, ', ), *, -,
/ and = to get the correct sum. The last two digits of sun and fun are the same.
Step 2 ( *evise a plan
@se the 9uess and ?heck strategy. 1hen the alphabet n is replaced by one of the
digits, then n F n must be m or '; F m.
Aince ' F ' G ), * F * G - and - F - G '), there are three possible values for n,
namely ', * or -.
Step 3 ( Carr$ out the plan.
If n G ', then n F n G ' F ' G ). That is, m G )
If n G *, then n F n G * F * G -. That is, m G -
If n G -, then n F n G - F - G '). That is, '; F m G '), then m G ).
<bserve that sun and fun are three-digit numbers and swim is a four-digit number.
Therefore you have to carry to the thousands place when you add s and f. Thus the
value for s in swim is '. This gives only two choices for n, that is * or -.
Aince s F f gives a two-digit number and s G ', then f must be =. There are two
possibilities :
' u * 7b
' u -
+ = u * + = u -
' w i - ' w i )
In 7a8, if u G ;, ) or /, there is no value possible for i among the remaining digits.
In 7b8, if u G *, then u F u plus the carry from - F - gives i G /. This leaves w G ;.
Therefore the solution is : s G ', u G *, n G -, f G =, i G / and w G ;.
Step + ( Loo! bac!
?heck the sum using the values you obtained to see if you have solved the problem
s u n ' * -
+ f u n + = * -
s w i m ' ; / )
Strateg$ 2 ( Organi6e In'ormation in a Chart7 Table or 5raph
This strategy helps you to organi.e and present information in a chart, table or graph
so that it can be read 0uickly and easily.
$ graph is a drawing that shows relationships between two or more sets of facts or
information. Cacts or information can usually be organi.ed into pictographs, bar
charts or line graphs.
-3ercise 1
In the figure below, the number that appears in the s0uare is the sum of the
numbers in the circles on each side of it. Cind the numbers in each circle. @se
guess and check strategy.
You must first learn how to read charts, tables, or graphs for information and then
learn how to construct them to report information. Beading and constructing graphs
are skills that you must have before interpreting, and using the information.
This problem-solving strategy allows you to discover relationships and patterns
among data.
-3ample 2(
$ rectangle has an area of '); s0. cm. Its length and breadth are whole numbers.
1hat are the two possible values for the length and breadth2 1hich values give the
smallest perimeter2
Solution (
Step 1 ( )nderstand the problem
Information given is area G '); s0. cm. You know that area G length ! breadth.
Step 2 ( *evise a plan
To solve the problem, try to find all the possible values of length and breadth where
the product gives ');.
Step 3 ( Carr$ out the plan
?onstruct a table of the values of length and breadth as follows :
&readth ) * + , - D ';
%ength -; +; *; )+ ); ', ')
')+ D- -D ,D ,) +- ++
Crom the above table, you can see that the smallest perimeter is ++ cm.
Step + ( Loo! bac!
?heck your answer to see if you have solved the problem correctly.
%ength G '), &readth G '; Therefore $rea G ') ! '; G ');
Perimeter G ) 7') F ';8 G ++.
1ere you able to do #!ercises ' and )2 9ood. 1ell >oneH You can take a break
before you proceed to Atrategy *.
-3ercise 2
Cind the number of ways to get a total of )' from the numbers ', +, D and '-.
7#!ample : ' F *7+8 F D G )'8. <rgani.e your data into a table.
Strateg$ 3 ( Loo! 'or a Pattern
1hen you use this problem-solving strategy, you are re0uired to look for patterns in
the data or information given. Then make predictions and generali.ations based on
your analysis. $ pattern is a regular, systematic repetition. $ pattern may be
numerical, visual or behavioral. &y identifying the pattern, you can predict what will
come ne!t and what will happen again and again in the same way. %ooking for
patterns is a very important strategy for problem solving, and is used to solve many
different kinds of problems. Aometimes you can solve a problem Iust by
a pattern, but often you will have to e!tend a pattern to find a solution. Making a
number table often reveals patterns, and for this reason it is fre0uently used together
with this strategy.
-3ample 3(
Cind the ne!t two numbers in the se0uence below:
/ '; '+ '= ),
%ook at the numbers given in the se0uence. Try to find the relationship between
consecutive numbers. %ook for a pattern to find the missing numbers.
/ '; '+ '= ), *) +;
Therefore, the ne!t two numbers are *) and +;.
F* F, F- F/ F+ FD
-3ercise 3
%aura was given ten ,;-sen coins by her grandparents for her ,th birthday. If
the number of ,;-sen coins in her coin bo! is *; a week after her birthday and
the number of ,;-sen coins the week after that was =;, in how many days will
she have collected BM'*,2 @se the 4%ook for a pattern5 strategy to find the
Strateg$ + ( Simpli'$ the problem
The strategy of simplifying is most often used with other strategies. 1riting a simpler
problem is one way of simplifying the problem-solving process. Bewording the
problem, using smaller numbers, or using a more familiar problem setting may lead
to an understanding of the solution strategy to be used. Many problems may be
divided into simpler problems to be combined to get a solution. Aome problems can
be made simpler by working backwards. Aometimes a problem is too comple! to
solve in one step. 1hen this happens, it is often useful to simplify the problem by
dividing it into cases and solving each one separately.
-3ample +(
6ow many s0uares are there in the / by / grid2
Solution (
You can solve this problem by counting the number of s0uares. 6owever, this is a
tedious process. Aimplifying the problem into smaller number of s0uares and looking
for a pattern will help you to solve this problem 0uickly.
' by ' ' s0uare
) by ) ' F + , s0uares
* by * ' F + F = '+ s0uares
+ by + ' F + F = F '- *; s0uares
You can see that if the si.e of the grid is n by n, then the total number of s0uares is
obtained by adding the s0uared numbers from '
to n
Therefore, a / by / grid consists of 'F+F=F'-F),F*-F+= G '+; s0uares
>id you manage to solve the problems correctly2
9oodH Take a break before you go on to Atrategy ,.
Strateg$ 8 ( Simulation9acting out
There are times when you e!perience difficulty in a problem or the
procedure necessary for its solution. You may find it helpful to physically act out the
problem situation. You might use people or obIects e!actly as described in the
problem, or you can use items that represent the people or obIects. $cting out the
problem may itself lead you to the answer, or it may lead you to find another strategy
that will help you find the answer. $cting out the problem is a strategy that is very
effective for young children.
-3ample 8(
There are five people in a room and each person shakes every other personJs hand
e!actly one time. 6ow many handshakes will there be2
Solution (
9et four friends to help you to solve this problem. 9et two friends to shake hands.
This is counted as ' handshake. "e!t you get three friends to shake hands. "ote
how many handshakes will occur when * people shake hands. Bepeat the same
process for four people. "ote the number of handshakes.
-3ercise +
The Tower of 6anoi
<ne of the three towers shown above has '; discs of increasing si.e. 1hat is
the least number of moves to transfer these '; discs from one tower to a
different tower if only one disc can be moved at a time and a disc cannot be
placed on top of a smaller one.
@se the 4Aimplify the problem5 strategy.
7Aource : &enner, $.&. 3r. and "elson, %.T. 7);;'8. Mathematics for elementary

teachers : A conceptual approach 5
ed. &oston: Mc9raw 6ill.8
$fter acting the problem out, you will note that there is ' handshake for ) persons, *
handshakes for * persons and - handshakes for + persons. If you are the fifth
person, then you will shake hands with each of your + friends, accounting for + more
handshakes. Therefore the total number of handshakes is - F + G ';.
Strateg$ : ( *ra" a picture
<ne of the most helpful strategies for solving problems is to draw sketches and
diagrams. %anguage used to state problems can be clarified by drawing a suitable
diagram or picture. $ drawing represents the intermediate stage between the
concrete and the abstract. You should make you diagrams neat, accurate and
properly scaled.
-3ample :(
The membership fee of a club for men and women is in the ratio of +:*. $ group of )
men and , women paid BM+-;; as the total membership fee. 6ow much is the
membership fee for a man2
-3ercise 8
$ family of four wants to cross a river by boat. The family consists of the father,
mother, brother and sister. The boat can only carry one adult or one or two
children at a time. Cind the minimum number of ways in which the family can
get across.
@se the 4AimulationK$cting <ut5 strategy.
Aource : Cisher, B. L Mince, $. 7'==D8. Investigating maths oo! 1. <!ford :
&lackwell #ducation.
You can solve this problem by using algebra. 6owever it is easier if you use a
drawing to solve this problem.
Strateg$ ; ( /or! <ac!"ard
Cor some problems, it is often easier to work backward from the end result to see
how the process would have to start to get the answer. The e!ample below illustrates
-3ample ;(
$mira took a collection of coloured tiles from a bo!. 9race took '* tiles from $miras
collection. Niko took half of those remaining. $mira had '' left. 6ow many tiles did
$mira start with2
) Men , 1omen
Men G D parts 1omen G ', parts
Total number of parts G D F ', G )*
Total membership fee G BM+-;;
Therefore each part G );; BM
+-;; BM
Thus, a mans membership fee G BM);; O + G BMD;;
-3ercise :
If an eight cm s0uare cake serves four people, how many twelve cm s0uare
cakes are needed to provide e0ual servings to eighteen people2
@se 4>raw a picture5 strategy.
Solution (
This problem is best solved by starting with the end result and working backward to
get the answer. Aince you are doing the reverse process, all the tiles taken from
$mira have to be added back to get the number of tiles $mira has in the beginning.
Bemaining tiles $mira has G ''
$dding back what Niko took G '' F '' G ))
$dding back what 9race took G )) F '* G *,
Therefore in the beginning $mira has *, coloured tiles.
>id you manage to solve all the problems in the e!ercises given2 ?ongratulationsH
Take a break before you proceed to the ne!t section.
-3ercise ;
Tom competed in a game show and got into a losing streak. Cirst, he bet half
of his money on one 0uestion and lost it. Then he lost half of his remaining
money on another 0uestion. Then he lost BM*;; on another 0uestion. Then
he lost half of his remaining money on another 0uestion. Cinally he got a
0uestion right and won BM);;. $t this point the show ended, and he had
BM');; left. 6ow much did he have before his losing streak began2