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5 Steps For Successful Problem Solving

Problem Solving Strategies

5 Steps To Problem Solving Using Newman’s Prompts

Researchers have found that students struggle with solving word problems because it involves a higher order level of thinking and the application of mathematical understanding rather than the recall of facts; Problem solving involves a series of steps. Australian educator Dr Anne Newman’s research (1977) into successful problem solving found that students progress through 5 hurdles during problem solving:

Hurdle 1: Reading – Even good readers often find it being able to read and decode mathematical texts, words, and graphics

Hurdle 2: Comprehension – Students may not understand the meaning of the words and graphics in a mathematical context. They may confuse everyday meanings of words and substitute this for mathematical contexts. Students need to know what’s important and what’s irrelevant detail. This is so much more complicated than just highlighting the key words! If you are able to highlight what is important it doesn’t mean you know why it’s important or what you need to do with that information. What if you think everything is important? This will prevent them from building an understanding of what the question is asking them to do.

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Hurdle 3: Transformation – Students find it difficult to work out how to transform the words of a problem into an appropriate mathematical strategy to solve the problem. They need to know a range of George Polya’s  strategies to do this, some include:

  • Draw a picture
  • Guess & Check
  • Act it out – use materials
  • Write a number sentence
  • Find a pattern
  • Make an orderly list
  • Eliminate the possibilities
  • Work backwards

Hurdle 4: Processing Skills – Most teachers are excellent at teaching math skills such as multiplication, addition, division and subtraction and students are quite able to follow the process of these skills. The problem is that more often than not  they do not know when to apply these skills? Most students do not know which operational process is required to solve a problem.

Hurdle 5: Encoding – Arriving at a solution and testing that the answer works



5 Problem Solving ‘Prompts’ for Success

Dr Anne Newman came up with a set of  prompts  that you can use during these 5 stages. they will help you to identify where students are having difficulties and provide the appropriate level of scaffolding to help them progress through their difficulties and be successful!  I use the following prompts with the students during problem solving:

    1. “Read the question to yourself. If you don’t know a word leave it out or use another word.”
    2. “Tell me what the question is asking you to do.”
    3. “Tell me how you are going to find the answer?
    4. “Show me what you are going to do to get the answer. Talk aloud as you do it so I can understand your thinking.”
    5. “Write your answer, does it make sense? Have you answered what was being asked?”

Watch our Problem Solving Video for More on Newman’s Prompts

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We found a number of problem solving acronyms  to help students develop their problem solving skills. We have created a set of Think-boards and posters that incorporates Newman’s prompts and 3 acronyms: S.O.L.V.E it!, R.i.D.E, & F.i.S.H. Use these problem Solving Strategies & A Growth Mindset to help your students become ‘Good Mathematicians’.  

Watch the video to see how the S.O.L.V.E it! strategy works…



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Problem Solving Strategies

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