Problem solving in math, or tackling word problems in math can be challenging for students, whether they’re in early elementary, upper elementary, middle school, or even high school!
Especially if they don’t have any type of strategies to help them know where to start.
I’m not necessarily a fan of using ‘tricks’ or a specific approach every time students approach a problem.
But, there are times when students will feel very ‘stuck’ as to where to start, especially if they have trouble understanding or breaking down the actual text of the problem. They may also have difficulty in middle school if they don’t have a strong problem solving foundation.
We often see students in middle school who can understand what to do mathematically when presented with a problem situation. But some of those same students kind of freeze when that problem is presented in several sentences…. especially if there’s some extra information in there.
So, I created two different math wheels to help students with:
- Deciphering word problems
- Problem solving strategies
Problem Solving Math Wheel #1
The first problem solving math wheel includes eight ideas students can use when breaking down a word problem and then solving:
1) Carefully read the problem
2) Identify the question, to be sure about what is being asked
3) Reread. Once students know what the problem is asking, they can reread to find pertinent information.
4) Circle key numbers. By circling key numbers students are taking the time to identify numbers they’ll use in their calculations.
This is helpful:
- for identifying numbers that may be in word form
- for identifying numbers that are NOT needed for the problem. These would not be circled and could even be crossed out.
5) Locate and box important words
- These words don’t necessarily need to be ‘operation’ words, but rather any words that help students understand what is happening in the problem
6) Evaluate, or solve the problem
7) Interpret and label
- The mathematical answer may not be the answer to the question (like when interpreting the quotient results in the answer being rounded up or down)
- Adding the unit label to the answer
8) Take time to check
- Is the answer reasonable? Does it make sense as an answer to the question?
This wheel has a word problem that you can work through with students when discussing these ideas.
Problem Solving Math Wheel #2
The second problem solving math wheel includes some of the well-known problem solving strategies and can be used as a simple reference to remind students that these strategies exist.
These problem solving strategies include:
- Organized List
- Guess and Check
- Work Backwards
- Make a Table
- Draw a Diagram
- Write an Equation
- Look for a Pattern
- Use Logical Reasoning
This wheel would be great for a center or finished early activity, because it doesn’t require direct instruction.
- Students can color this problem solving math wheel and then add it to their binders/notebooks and use as a reference throughout the year.
- This wheel could also be used in conjunction with the Problem Solving Doodle Notes, which can be used to teach each individual strategy, as explained in this problem solving strategies blog post.
I know your students will love this engaging way to talk about and reinforce math problem solving strategies.
The opportunity to color and add some of their own creative touches will help make the strategies more memorable.
Keeping these finished notes in their math notebooks will give students a reference for the entire school year!