As a student, I dreaded “problem solving day” in math class. When I was young, problem-solving meant repeated practice and memorized procedures.
Thankfully, though, those days are gone! I now know that students can actually enjoy rather than dread problem solving. And through my journey, I've watched mathematical concepts and skills emerge organically from student ideas. I have seen students asking questions and making conjectures. I learned the importance of teaching math through problem solving, rather than teaching math for problem solving.
But you teachers know this isn't easy!
Learners still need direction and experience working through problems, and they need help understanding that problem solving is often a messy process that might require some time and struggle. It isn’t simple, and it isn’t a single lesson or unit. It should be ‘the way’ students do math all year long.
And, of course, all learners are different. Many of my students naturally pick up the process through regular classroom instruction, while others may engage in the process, but need verbal or visual reminders or charts and to help them stay organized.
Still others needed even more support, and it was easy to fall into a pattern of sitting by this last group of students day after day to hold their hands through the process. Yet, I realized this wasn’t helping them become more independent.
So what could I do? I created instructional materials that could be used by students in small-group instruction, all of which are now available through Connections for Autism. (See examples throughout this post.)
These materials break down the problem solving process into tangible parts for the learner, allowing them time to think through each step. Visual supports, social narratives and question prompts helped students stay organized, become more independent and confident.
What I love about these visual supports is that they can be used for a variety of learners who need more direct instruction. The materials can also easily be customized (like all the materials on the CFA site). Again, all students are different. Without changing the visual comfort and structure of the tool, I can make small changes to meet the student where he or she is in their problem-solving journey.