Rich Problem Solving in Mathematics

Student Success in Mathematics

As Ontario works toward providing support for educators to provide meaningful and effective instruction in the classroom, classroom teachers focus on the implementation of rich math tasks for student success. How can we promote meaningful math talk in our classrooms? How can educators plan for student success?

Focus on Mathematics

What do educators - teachers and others in the educational field alike- need to plan and work towards a comprehensive math program? What does focusing on mathematics involve? Creating engaging rich problems and tasks with a variety of entry points for students to communicate their thinking is important for student success in mathematics.

  • Start with the curriculum to determine big ideas and expectations
  • Plan, sequence and connect mathematical ideas across grades
  • Enable students to apply their mathematical thinking
  • Encourage multiple approaches for learning
  • Foster questioning - teacher-student questioning, student-student questioning
  • Provide time for students to consolidate their learning and explain their thinking process

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Which is Rich?

How can you tell if a math task is rich? Why is it important to provide students with rich math tasks in the first place? Above you will find two photographs - one depicting a "rich math task", the other depicting a seemingly teacher led math task.

In the first photo, you notice that while the anchor chart posted is colourful and "pretty", it is not representative of a rich math word problem. Rather, we see basic, rote math strategies. There is no evidence of student participation, nor are we able to see the process in which the answers were derived.

In the second photo we see something far more intersting. While we cannot see the word problem or math task, we notice something far more important - active student engagement and student voice. This student has clearly been given the opportunity to apply and more importantly test a variety of strategies. Students who are given a large blank working space, such as the white board we see above, have the opportunity to work through the problem from different entry or starting points and are given the freedom to use any tools they feel are useful to them. By making small adjustments to our approach to teaching math, we can guide the students to become critical thinkers and problem solvers as opposed to just "fill-in-the-blankers".