Teaching problem solving strategies is as important as teaching computation. I like to call problem solving, creative thinking, as I believe that give the process a more positive spin. Kids are less intimidated by the word than they are a problem solving as that implies that there is a “problem”. Students need to learn to interpret what they are reading and draw out information. This can be difficult for some students. I have found that students’ frustration with working on “story problems” has been where to start and what information do you need. Each month I am tacking a different problem solving strategy this month it is working backwards.
Working backwards is sometimes the best strategy and one of the most difficult for students to understand. I was one of those that didn’t understand this strategy because rarely did I read all the information. I saw numbers, key words and started putting things together but not always correctly. Also being dyslexic it was hard enough reading the information let alone interpreting it and then working backwards and apply inverse operations.
When introducing the different types of problem solving strategies; looking for patterns, make a list, draw a picture, guess and check, and working backwards, working backwards can sometimes be a fun one to start first. Giving the students a trick about reading through all the directions is unintimidating and proves a point in an amusing way.
Do you remember the problem where you ask students to read all the directions before starting and then the last question says don’t do the work just sign your name at the top? These worksheets are a great way to get students to read all the directions, take in all the information and then work from there.
After doing these worksheets apply working backwards to math. Our first goal in any problem is to read the whole problem. Is there an answer provided? Does the question have key words like equal to, amount left is, leaving ___? Once you have established that there is an answer to the problem we need to start working backwards which also means using the inverse operation. In mathematics we are also developing the idea of inverse operation, using the opposite operation than the one given. This is a great math way to show how that works.