Making Middle School Students Better Problem Solvers

When am I ever going to use this?”

It’s the question every math teacher is asked, and while it may be annoying to hear, it is a good, valid question.  It’s important for students to understand the reasons behind the math they are learning and that they know how to apply it to real-world situations.  That’s why I consider problem solving to be the single most important part of my math classes.  I place a lot of emphasis on word problems in my daily classes, in my homework assignments, and on my tests.

I typically assign a workbook page to my students each night for homework.  My textbook series is pretty good about making sure each workbook page contains a couple of word problems, which is great, but there is one big flaw.  If I am teaching a lesson on adding fractions, the workbook page contains a page full of fraction addition problems and two word problems on the bottom that require students to, (you guessed it), add fractions.  To me, that isn’t problem solving.  Students know without even reading the problem that they will need to add fractions because that is what the lesson was on.  It’s good for them to see examples of how adding fractions is applied to real world situations, so I have students complete those problems, but it isn’t enough to make the students better problem solvers.

A few years ago I decided that I would have my students complete one word problem a day that wasn’t related to the day’s lesson.  One problem that would make the kids have to stop and think about how to solve it, because to me, that is how students become better problem solvers.

I wrote 180 daily word problems for my advanced 6th grade math class and put the problems in both PowerPoint and printable forms.  I either project the PowerPoint version of the word problem of the day as a do now or assign the printable version for homework, but every day my students are solving a  multi-step word problem unrelated to the day’s lesson.  Since it covers a topic they previously learned, it is also serves as a form of spiral review.  Sometimes I collect the students’ work to see how each student solved the problem and sometimes we discuss them and compare/contrast strategies.

I have my students solve the problems using a four-step plan, which I say is EESE (pronounced easy):

• Explore – read the problem & identify any important information in it
• Estimate – approximate the answer using rounding and/or common sense
• Solve – solve the problem
• Examine – see if the answer makes sense, see if it’s close to their estimate, and make sure it’s labeled

To download a FREE double-sided weekly sheet students can use to complete a Problem of the Day using the 4 step plan, click the image below.

Since I have started my problem of the day program, I have seen a huge increase in both my students’ willingness to attempt word problems and their success in solving them.

If you are interested in my 180 Daily Middle School Word Problems, you can pick them up in my TpT store.  They are typically \$12, but are on sale today and tomorrow for 28% off with code BTS15.  If you want to try them out before buying the set, you can download 10 days free!

What do you do to make your students better problem solvers?  The first 3 people to respond with their problem solving strategies (and give their email address) will get a free copy of my first set of 45 Daily Middle School Word Problems!

Christina

Daily Warm-ups for the 1:1 Classroom

One of the things that is new to me this school year is that my classes are now 1:1, as each of my students has their own chromebook.  I love the fact that I have that technology available to me and there are lots of different things that I have students do online, but my absolute favorite use of the chromebooks is for my daily warm-ups (do nows).

I have always started my math classes each day with “do now” questions.  For my do now’s I typically give students two questions based on the lesson from the day before.  I do this for a couple of reasons:

1. It settles the kids down when they first come into class and gives them something to do right away
2. It shows me who understood the lesson from the day before (since I don’t actually collect their homework)
3. It shows the students whether or not they actually understood the previous day’s lesson.  (They may have thought they understood it but if they get the questions wrong they might realize they need to go back and study it again)

There were two problems with the way I used to do my do now’s (on old-fashioned paper and pencil), though.

• It was very time consuming to grade two questions per day per student (I teach about 100 students)
• I didn’t actually know who understood the previous day’s lesson until I graded the do now’s

So….this year I started using Socrative, which I absolutely love!!!!  Setting up an account was simple (and FREE).  I use my own name as a room name, so students just type in my name to get to their do now’s each day when they get to this login screen.

I still just use two questions per day.  I type the questions and answers the night before (which takes minimal time) and at the start of class I just hit “start quiz” on my teacher Socrative dashboard.  Students are prompted to enter their name.  I have them enter their last names first so that they are automatically sorted alphabetically and I can later transfer their grades into my gradebook very quickly.  They are then taken to the first question.  They will see something like this:

I sometimes do multiple choice questions, but typically do short answer questions.  They do the problem on scrap paper (or in their notebook) and just type their answer.  They get automatic feedback on whether they were right or wrong.  When I make the warm-ups, I also put in explanations, so when students get a question wrong, they see something like this:

This saves me time!  I do not need to explain how to do the problems after the warm-up because each student can see the explanation for themselves.

After the first question, the second question comes up, they answer that, and then they logout.  It typically takes less than 5 minutes at the start of my class.

While I LOVE the immediate feedback the students get, my favorite part of Socrative is the immediate feedback I get!  While the students are completing the do now, I have the results screen up on my computer, so I can see students’ answers as they submit them.  Here are two examples of my class result screens (a multiple choice do now on the left and a short answer do now on the right):

As you can see, it is really easy to see which students “get it” and which students need to go back over that concept with the red and green colors.  I can see if the class generally understands a concept right away by looking at the class total percents at the bottom.  If only 50% or less of my class gets a question right, I reteach that concept that day instead of going on to the next lesson.  It really has made such a difference for me this year!

After the do now is finished, you have lots of different choices of ways to get the results.  You can get a student’s individual report or get class reports.  You can download them, open them with excel, or send them to Google Drive.  There are so many options!

If your students have access to computers, tablets, Ipads, or phones I definitely encourage you to check out Socrative.com (if you haven’t already) as it really is an awesome, free way to integrate technology into the classroom every day in a meaningful way.