Problem Solving for Life (and Not Just the Test)

Testing season is upon us, and along with it comes anxiety. Have we taught all the necessary content? Do students remember what they learned at the beginning of the year? There is a temptation to forgo deep math learning and cram for the test, to review content with lots of direct teaching and practice tests. Avoid the temptation! Teaching for memorization won’t lead to long term growth!

For learning to stick, kids need to make deep and lasting connections within structures of mathematics. We want to keep our math communities vibrant, our instruction deep, and our math periods intact. If students are persevering and working to make sense, then these skills will help them be successful on all sorts of measures, including standardized tests.

Instead of traditional test prep, we can help students revisit and review pivotal standards while growing their habits as thoughtful problem solvers. The Math Collective has put together problem sets and a routine that make this work easy and accessible for teachers. This routine allows you to engage in quick conferences that push on the Standards of Mathematical Practice. For example, you could ask a student who is stuck, “What is this problem asking you?” This allows them to re-read, re-state, and re-think — habits students should be using every time they encounter problems.

How about those students who rush to answer questions by operating on numbers without really understanding the context? They might create a beautiful model and accurate solution, but they added instead of multiplied. We can honor their thinking and encourage them to strive for precision. We could say, “This is not the solution to this problem. It is a solution to another problem. What can you do to make sure your solution answers the question the problem is asking?”

In summary, we can make this season powerful for students and remove the anxiety of cramming in content for the sake of the test. We can hold tight to our rich math communities and strengthen the value we place on the habits and dispositions of thoughtful problem solvers.

Check out the many resources in our eight-week problem solving routine here: Grade 3, Grade 4, and Grade 5.


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