Ways to Improve Problem Solving Skills and Math Communication
Do Students Struggle with Word Problems?
Do your middle school math students struggle with problem solving? Do they get to the end of the word problem and then guess at the operation they need to choose (maybe not realizing that there are multiple operations)? You probably see this with some of your students, while other students do very well with problem solving. What methods have you found to help those who struggle? What methods can you use to help each student at his or her current level?
I’ve used many strategies over the years, to help students sort out how to make sense of word problems and how to approach them. These methods didn't have a specific name at the time (like close reading or talking to the text), but some would fit into these categories.
For Upper Elementary and Middle School Classrooms
Have you been here?
You’ve only got a week or so before the winter break begins….and schedule changes mean you’ll miss a couple classes during that time. You’ve finished the current topic, and there’s not enough time to fit in another unit. You know that sometimes kids have trouble staying on-task at this time of year, as they are looking forward to break!
But you don’t want to waste class time ....
So what do you work on? What are some fun, but academic things you can do during math class to help the students keep practicing and learning? I've got a few quick ideas for you:
5 Tips to Help Middle School Math Students
The math homework dilemma – to give or not to give (IF you have the option in your district)? How much to give? To go over it all or only review some of it? What will be most helpful to your students?
Maybe your experiences have been similar to mine: I’ve adjusted my practices from year to year, sometimes spending a lot of time reviewing homework, but other times spending little; some years giving homework related to the lesson, other years giving homework that was basic skills practice; some years lots of problems, other years just a few. There seemed to be pros and cons to each.
Thinking about this topic yet again, I decided to look for some research to see how we can help students get the most out of the homework we assign.
A Fun Way to Check Multiplication Problems
How often have you gone to a conference and been super-impressed by what a speaker shared? Has it happened often? It happened to me when I went to a conference as a very new teacher (in my second year, I believe), more than 20 years ago. At that conference, I was lucky enough hear Dr. Lola May speak. She was a great presenter, and certainly made an impression on me. I still have the book that was given at that conference and have referred to it many times over the years.
It was at this conference that I first learned how to use "casting out nines" to check the answers to multiplication and division problems. I had never heard of this method when I was a student, but being a new teacher, I kind of assumed it was a method well-known to other teachers.....
Using Your Time Effectively and Efficiently
Having the perfectly-run math class....that's been my goal, year after year. Somehow, in middle school, it has consistently tried to evade me!
In other posts, I've shared that I taught elementary math for years, and always had an hour for math class. That hour gave me the time I wanted to have good warm-ups every day (sometimes taking up half the class with one particular problem that led to additional discussion/extension!); the hour gave me the time to go over homework the way I wanted to. And it still gave me time for a new lesson and practice.
But when I got started teaching math at the middle school, with "44"-minute periods, that was all over. (They aren't really 44 minutes - the students get no time between classes for switching, so switching time comes out of the 44.)
Making them work in 40-minute class periods
I taught elementary school for 12 years and I loved my math centers! They were great. Math class was always an hour, and we had five computers in the classroom, so having a computer center was always an option.
Then I moved to middle school. Math was 44 minutes (minus time for switching classes.....so more like 40 minutes). How could I fit more than two rotations in a 40-minute period?? I longed for block scheduling (our district has never had it)...that would make it so much easier to complete center rotations! For the first year or two of middle school, I kind of gave up on the idea of centers...the activities I wanted students to complete took longer than 20 minutes. So, that would be enough time to finish 2 rotations, IF students started the second they walked in the door and then had no time to clean up/organize at the end of class. But eventually I needed to get my centers back, so I experimented with a few different set-ups before I landed on a structure that works.
For Teacher Appreciation week, I created two FREE problem solving math wheels (they are in the same PDF file) - they can be used to teach problem solving strategies, be used as a center activity, or be used as a finished early activity. When complete, they can be added to students' binders/interactive notebooks to be used as references all year.
I hope you can use them! Just click the image to download.
To read next:
Hi, I'm Ellie! My mission here is to support teachers as they work to provide engaging, meaningful experiences for their students. I've been in education for 25 years, teaching all subject areas at both the elementary and middle school levels, and am here to share what I've learned through those years, as well as what I continue to learn. I hope you'll find some ideas or resources here to help you out!