Math Problem Solving Strategies

Mandy Wansley- Action Research Project- Kennesaw University

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The problem observed is the struggle with my fifth graders’ ability to accurately solve math problems and exhibit confidence in the area of solving word problems. Students struggle to comprehend the language in math word problems, so they do not know which operation to use to produce a correct answer.

Hypothesis and Research Questions

I anticipate that my students will benefit from being taught problem solving skills in mathematics through increased test scores and improved confidence levels.

1. How will the incorporation of problem solving skills into daily math lessons affect students’ scores on math assessments?

2. In what ways do my students demonstrate engagement in their problem solving ability?

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Cumming Elementary has a demographic breakdown of 47.35% Hispanic, 46.17% White, and 3.45% African American. Multi-racial, Asian, and American Indian all account for less than 10 students each. The student population is currently 41% ESOL, 23% Special Education, and 61% Economically Disadvantaged (Cumming Elementary, 2014). I teach two classes where one class is called “advanced content” and the other class is called “Title I.” My “advanced content” class has six gifted students and the rest of the students are classified as high achievers. My “Title I” class contains 16 ESOL students and the rest of the students qualify for EIP and Title services. Many of my students who are not classified as ESOL are students who at one time were in the ESOL program. They have since exited the program and do not receive services anymore.
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Data Collection

Quantitative Data

My quantitative data consisted of the five major assessments given over the course of this research project. I gave assessments over multiplying and dividing fractions, geometry and the coordinate plane, two-dimensional figures, volume, and measurement. These assessments are all made up of math word problems where my students will be asked to not only solve the problem but also include models, drawings, and descriptions.

Qualitative Data

The qualitative data for my research project was documented through journaling observations in my classroom. I journaled throughout each week taking notes on what I observe in regards to my students’ engagement levels in class. I wanted to see progress in student engagement, so my students have a greater confidence level when approaching math problem solving.


  • · Include students’ names in word problems in order to increase class participation.
  • · Allow Spanish speaking students to write answers to word problems and explanations in Spanish.

  • · Challenge gifted students by allowing them to work beyond the standards.
  • · Include models and drawing in word problems.


· My students have really enjoyed the coordinate planes unit. The word problems are simple, and they like that the graphs help them to see how they should solve the problem.

· I began using students’ names in the daily warm up problems, and these students began wanting to go to the board to solve their problems. I chose students who do not normally come to the board to solve problems to see if participation would increase, and it worked.

· Because the coordinate plane unit was easier for the kids, their willingness to answer questions in small groups has increased. I allowed my Spanish speaking students to write their explanations for word problems in Spanish, and they were so excited to be allowed to do this. We created our own word problems to go along with the coordinate plane, and I allowed these students to write in Spanish. One of the students barely participates in class, but for this assignment she wrote an entire story and wanted to share her story with the class.

· I noticed that my gifted students wanted to go into more depth with the coordinate plane. They asked if they could use negative numbers in their word problems, and I allowed them to do this.

· One of the struggles that I noticed with the multiplying and dividing fractions unit was that students did not know which operation to choose to solve the problem. We worked on modeling and drawing pictures for each of these problems, and I have noticed some improvement in this area when students are solving the warm up problems. However, they do have to be prompted to draw a model or I have to show them how to set up their model for it to be effective.