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Classroom Strategies: Solutions for math problems

Math is a challenge for many students. While there are many ways to improve students’ understanding of math and increase their odds of success, one of the easiest is using some or all of these key problem-solving strategies:

Draw a diagram. For many students, especially visual learners, drawing a quick sketch or diagram illustrating the problem can be very useful – helping them to better understand what is being asked, or identify how to approach the question. For example, ask him to divide 17 cookies between three friends. In this case, draw three stick figures, then start adding a cookie under each until you get to 17. You will see that two people both have an extra cookie and can then decide what to do about them.

Act it out. Much like drawing a diagram, acting out some problems can help a person better understand what is being asked. This might involve the person physically doing the actions, or perhaps visualizing themselves doing them.

Use concrete materials. Don’t worry about having specialized math equipment like base 10 blocks used in schools. Simply break out the dried beans, noodles, dice, counters, pieces of paper, toothpicks – whatever type of material might let you create a physical representation of the numbers in the problem. For example, 3×6 could become three piles of six toothpicks, allowing the student to then count up the total number.

Find a pattern. Many concepts in math involve patterns, and discovering them can shorten the amount of time it takes to solve questions and/or act as a good double-check method. Constructing a table to organize information can often make patterns become clearer. (Many patterns exist in addition, multiplication, 2D geometry, etc.)

Make a list. Try listing the important numbers or information in the problem. Make a chart to help organize the data, or to show relationships. Making a list is also useful if you are trying to solve problems that involve a logical and sequential order. Find all the numbers between 0-100 that have a 5. You could make a list of all the numbers that have a 5 in the ones column, and another for the numbers with a 5 in the 10s column.)

“Guess and check.” Not sure what to do? Guessing and then checking your answer can often give you ideas about what the correct method or answer might be.

Simplify the problem. Feeling like the problem or numbers are too big or overwhelming? Sometimes breaking down a problem into smaller parts or steps, or substituting smaller numbers can be helpful.

So the next time you’re called upon to help your children with their Math homework, or to study for an upcoming test, be sure to review and practice these strategies. While they all may not be appropriate for every question, they could end up making all the difference.

Rob Stringer BA, BEd, CPC is an educator and International Parenting & Youth Coach. Visit www.YouthCoachCanada.com or call 905-515-9822.