Persistence in Problem Solving: Student-Led Math Moments

Problem solving.  Teaching kids to have persistence to prevail.  This is so very hard! Are you with me on my thinking? We all have those kiddos who read through a word problem one time and expect that they will just *know* how to answer it.  Then there are the students that read the problem multiple times, use all the strategies we have taught, and still have a hard time getting started.

My district utilizes a time called Intentional Problem-Solving.  At first, I thought...well, I am getting problem solving in during my lessons, guided groups and stations.  And...that was the truth.  I could point out weekly where problem solving was happening within my math block.  Then, I decided to implement the time for problem solving....stand alone time! Nothing else going on except thinking, talking, modeling, explaining and solving.  Wow! What happened in my room was crazy good:-)

As we transitioned to math and my kiddos took bathroom breaks, I would pass out the prompts.  I preferred to type up the prompts and put 25 prompts to a page.  Then I could cut them out quickly for distribution and kids could get them taped/glued into their journals.  They looked like this...
Students would work anywhere from 2-5 minutes on their own solving the problem (or setting up to solve).  I also had students write out their thinking.  I encouraged them to tell what they know, and how they solved by walking through the process in their writing.  They also needed to answer the question in written form.  After working independently (and some times we went 8-10 min.) students collaborated and shared their thoughts with a partner or table group.  This time allowed students who were struggling to hear about the steps a successful student worked through to come up with a correct answer.  I usually then picked two students to share their thinking and work via our document camera.  

Looking back, and why I think students grew so much with our student-led math moments, has to do with the fact that we focused more on the math process and explanation in writing than on the correct answer.  We were always looking for students who solved the problem differently than the way their neighbor solved.  Students knew that we as a class were looking for math language, vocabulary, and/or symbols in their explanations as well as using strategies or giving/drawing a representation/model, etc.  It became this healthy competition where students were excited to share their work.

Each student grew, and by the end of the year, students were doing a great job with the written explanation piece.  I did not grade each entry. (Can you imagine? lol.)...but these were truly a treasure for parent conferences and also for RtI.  It made certain conversations easier because the proof was definitely in the pudding!! :-)  

When I did take a grade, students knew ahead of time and we discussed what I would be looking for in assessing their problem solving.  I developed the following rubric...

I really believe that the persistence in problem solving grew as student stamina grew. My students needed time, led by other students, to gain confidence in what I knew they could do.  We still have a log way to go, but I am so proud of the growth I've seen since utilizing this approach in class.  

As I went through the year, I developed many word problems that I have now bundled in my new Student-Led Solutions package! Word problems come in full page print outs (for binding weekly or for a folder with brads).  Problems also come 25 to a page for teachers who utilize the math journal approach, as I do in my classroom.  Here is what you can expect to find in the bundle.  

Grab the 50 math journal prompts HERE!
What do you utilize to teach problem solving? I can't wait to learn from you.

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  1. I am struggling just fitting in a review of skills each day and the new lesson, but I really want to have my kids work on problem solving!!!!!!!!!!!! How do you fit it all in??


  2. Hi! I love the student led solution pack. Thank you soo much for creating this. do you have any models or examples of what a good explanation looks like?