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7 Powerful Problem-solving Tips.

Untitled-1I had a family in my office the other day.

They were asking me questions about how to help their son with problem solving. (I love these kinds of conversations. talking about learning, and methods and metacognition. They strike a fire in my soul.) They asked for my best problem solving tips. I figured others could benefit from these as well, so  read on!

& Tips for Problem-solvers!

  1. Wait three minutes. When I’m in the classroom and I present my students with a problem to solve, I require three minutes of silence. No one talks to me, or to anyone else. This way everyone engages with the content,  writes down a few an d no one can piggy-back off of the “Class Brain.”
  2. Let them struggle. I am serious. This is where the learning happens. This is where the brain fires on all cylinders and works overtime to access prior knowledge, create new connections, and generate new ideas. Jim Stigler did an interesting study  on academic struggle. When presented with a difficult problem, an American test group gave up after 10 seconds. Japanese students, however, continued to struggle after 30 minutes. Wow.
  3. Read out loud. After three minutes of struggle, after you have encouraged your students to continue working, and after you’ve reviewed their work, if a student asks for help, ask them to read the problem out loud. Reading out loud uses a different part of the brain than silent reading, or listening to reading. Many times a student at my desk reading a problem out loud will stop mid-sentence, look up, say Oh!, dash back to their seat, and continue working. No joke.
  4. Partner-up. After three minutes of silence and several minutes of solo struggle, allow students to partner up and work on the problem. The learning  of one can inspire new ideas in others.
  5. Listen and act. Ask the struggling student to partner another student. One student reads the problem out loud while the other acts out what is being read.
  6. Share our thinking. I can’t tell you how important this step is or how often it is skipped. Metacognition separates the achievers from quitters. Have each child, partner pair, or group present their thinking and problem-solving method with another group, or with the whole class. Or use one of my favorite sharing methods, Roam the Room: Have each group set up their problem-solving work on a whiteboard, then ask groups to rotate through the room and look at how other groups solved the same problem.  After roaming the room, have the students either write a journal entry about their thinking, where they got stuck, what they did well, advice for next time; or  share one comment on their own thinking or something they saw another group do.
  7. Offer meaningful valuable praise. Praise true effort. Don’t praise students who get done first, or fast. Don’t say, Wow! You are so smart! Praise effort, grit, determination, and perseverance. Wow! I noticed how hard you worked! I am so proud you didn’t give up! You did it, that was hard! You can do hard things!

Try some of these problem-solving tips with class. Let me know what you think. Do you have any problem-solving tips of your own?

Leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

by Mary Kay Kane

all rights reserved. copyright 2018






A Christian woman who wants to make a difference in the world.

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