kitchen table math, the sequel: how Paul teaches problem solving to middle school kids

Monday, July 20, 2009

how Paul teaches problem solving to middle school kids

I use an organizer that approaches this technique. I think it's adapted from an ELA template called four square. Here's what I have the kids do.

Take a piece of paper and fold into quarters. Open it up and draw a rectangle in the center. Now you've got four quadrants and a rectangle which is not exactly 'four square' but in the interests of marketing I guess four square sounds sexier.

Read the problem twice. Then in the rectangle restate the question in the form 'find blah blah blah in units of xxxxxx'.

Read the problem again and in the upper left quadrant identify and define all the symbols (variables and constants) you'll use in your solution.

Read the problem again and use the lower left quadrant for a diagram/picture.

Read the problem again and use the upper right quadrant to define your strategy. This can be words or preferably a set of equations to solve.

The lower right quadrant is where you show your arithmetic.

Finally, the back of the paper is used to justify your answer.

It works well for entry level problem solving of the kind you would encounter through maybe grade six. If kids master this it should instill some good habits for more complicated things.


Allison said...

This sounds totally fabulous. I'm going to call it

four squares and a rectangle :)

Do your students like it? hate it? get good at it? does it map to your whiteboarding too?

Catherine Johnson said...

Speaking as a person who has been teaching herself math out of books sans teacher, I can't tell you how incredibly helpful 'graphic organizers' of this kind are (including the classic paper-and-pencil chart some books teach).

I've reached the point where, if the textbook doesn't directly tell me some 'standard' way to organize work on a piece of paper, I make one up, memorize it, and then repeat it.

HUGE burden taken off working memory.

Catherine Johnson said...

4 squares & a rectangle!