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Problem Solving

Aspects of Problem Solving

The psychological view of problems solving
1. How one might approach a problem situation
2. How ones psychological set might affect his or her approach
3. Success with a problem

The Nature of Problem Solving

Concrete operational:

Is able to:
o Order and organize that which is immediately present
Unable to:
o Recognize and evaluate the possible
o Distinguish the setting of a problem situation from its structure
o Reason from a hypothesis that is not attached to reality

Formal operational:

Use more efficient strategies than concrete operational students and consequently are better
problem solvers.
Is capable of:
o Hypothetical thought and logical reasoning from a proposition
o Forming all combinations of objects and isolating variables in the analysis of a problem
o Drawing diagrams, set up equations, establish key relationships, and recall facts
o Using a greater variety of processes and do more deductive thinking and subsequent
Key Ideas:
As students mature, they seem better able to organize their thinking so that more than one
variable can be considered
Systematic deduction and successive approximation and strategies exhibited more often as
students develop cognitively.
It is important for teachers to build problem-solving skills in all of their students, whether they
be concrete operational or formal operational individuals.
Teachers have to build on the capabilities possessed by concrete operational students and
recognize their inability to organize systemize, and efficiently carry out the solutions
The approaches needed to bridge the gap between intuition and formal process are those that
help to organize data and relationships for systematic processing.
Students should be encouraged to use intelligent guessing and testing, or try any other strategy
they wish to use
More organized and efficient strategies can be assimilated naturally built on intuitive
understanding and planning processes that the students can already use effectively
Two approaches for the selection of problems and for instruction in problem solving:
Teachers who are inclined to pursue problem solving for its own sake should allow students to
work with pairs of problems that are similar in structure and that involve similar tasks
It is helpful for students to develop good memory for problems and have experience with a
variety of problem structures.
1. Select tasks that require the use and practice of specific methods
2. Select tasks that can elicit creative and insightful thought and consequently develop general problem-
solving abilities

A Psychological View of Problem Solving

All problem solving involves some form of information and the use of that information to reach a
John Dewey outlined five steps for problem solving:

Involves both the intake or reception of information and discovery learning in an

interrelated process-one in which the learner is an active participant in his own learning
1. Recognizing that a problem exists- an awareness of a difficulty, a sense of frustration,
wondering, or doubt
2. Identifying the problem- clarification and definition, including designation of the goal to
be sought, as defined by the situation that poses the problem
3. Employing previous experiences- such as relevant information, former solutions, or ideas
to formulate hypotheses and problem-solving propositions
4. Testing, successively, hypotheses or possible solutions
5. Evaluating the solutions and drawing a conclusion based on evidence.

George Polyas heuristic methods:

1. Understand the problem- What is the unknown? Draw a figure, introduce suitable
notation. Separate the various parts of the condition.
2. Devise a plan- find the connections between the data and the unknown
3. Carry out the plan- check each step
4. Look back- examine the solution obtained. Does it make sense?

Problem-Solving Preliminaries
Students often form a psychological set when they approach a problem (if they dont get a
simply answer then they start over)
Provide students with many examples covering a variety of problem-solving techniques

Basic tenets of problem solving:

1. Students should be encouraged to negate unsuccessful attempts

2. Students should list all the information given (or implied) by the problem

Key Ideas:

John Flavell- Metacognition refers to ones own cognitive processes or anything related to
them. It refers not only to ones awareness of cognitive processes but also to the self-monitoring,
regulation, evaluation, and direction of cognitive activity.
Key to successful problem solving is to be in control of the process
Possible control decisions that ought to be considered:
o Thoughtless decisions- move the process in scattered directions and do not build on any
previous experiences or knowledge
o Impatient decisions- either stop the process entirely or keep the problem solver moving
directionless in quest of a solution without even seeing a path to a conclusion, either
successful or unsuccessful
o Constructive decisions- involve carefully monitoring control while employing knowledge
and skills in a meaningful way, using proper solution paths and abandoning unsuccessful
o Immediate procedure decisions require no control, since they simple access the
appropriate solution path stored in long-term memory
o Nondecision- results when the statement of the problem is so perplexing that no
knowledge or prior experience is helpful in the solution and the problem solver gives up

An Introduction to Problem-Solving Strategies

Key Ideas:
A problem is a situation that confronts a person that requires resolution and for which the path to
the solution is not immediately known
Much of what we do is based on our prior experiences
Repetition is useful in attaining the skills
Begin with simple applications
Be patient
Students in a mathematics class who learn to consider problem solving as an end in itself and not
merely as a means to an end will benefit greatly in class as well as in their everyday lives
The transfer of knowledge can be best realized by introducing problem-solving strategies in both
mathematical and real-life situations concomitantly
Problem solving can be thought of in three different ways:
1. Problem solving is a subject for study in and of itself
2. Problem solving is a way to approach a particular problem
3. Problem solving is a way of teaching

Problem-Solving Strategies

A combination of these strategies is the most likely occurrence when solving a problem
Encourage your students to be creative in their approach to problems, encourage them to solve problems
in a variety of ways, encourage them to look for more than one answer to a problem, and encourage
students to talk to themselves when tackling a problem

1. Working backwards
Use when the goal is unique but there are many possible starting points
Start from the desired conclusion and work backwards to a point where the given
information is reached

2. Finding a pattern
Logic and order
To look for a pattern in a mathematics problem that calls for finding a pattern is not what
this technique is about, rather this technique is most useful when the problem does not
call for a pattern to be found
3. Adopting a different point of view
This strategy is a very useful method that requires forcing yourself to attempt to solve a
problem by thinking about it in a different way
The more solutions a teacher shows the class, the more the teacher can reach to the
individual learner, and the broader the instructional program will be.

4. Solving a simpler analogous problem

One method that sometimes turns out to be most revealing is to change the given problem
into one which may be easier to solve, and, by solving this ancillary problem, gain insight
needed to solve the original problem.
This strategy may be used to make a problem easier to grasp by replacing some numbers
or variables with easier ones and then reverting back to the original problem

5. Considering extreme cases

Holding some variables constant, while other vary to extremes, sometimes yield some
useful insights into a given situation
One must be careful only to consider extremes that do not change the nature of the crucial
variables of the problem
Must be careful not to change a variable that affects other variables

6. Making a drawing

7. Intelligent guessing and testing

Intelligent guessing and testing is particularly useful when we need to limit the values for
a variable to make the solution more manageable.
Helpful when the general case may be far more complicated than a specific case
By approximating we can try to narrow down the options in an effort to focus on the
correct answer
We make a guess, then test it against the conditions of the problem. Each succeeding
guess is based on information obtaining from testing the previous guess

8. Accounting for all possibilities

9. Organizing data

10. Logical reasoning

If done effectively, can improve interpersonal relationships by helping solve problems
before they arise
We try to guide them, or train them, to think logically. Since inductive thinking may be
more natural, the logical form of reasoning requires some practice.
Formal logic is fundamental to pure mathematics and to proofs

Creating Mathematical Problems

Students can be trained to develop and solve their own, self-made problems by making changes,
even simple changes, in existing ones.
When students are developing their own problems, they may occasionally create problems that
are beyond their ability or capacity to solve