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Some Practical Remarks on Solving Math Problems

# Some Practical Remarks on Solving Math Problems

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The paper shows a method of solving math problems, combining
a simple layout for handwritten notes that supports reflective intelligence and
a densely packed cheat sheet with a large number of tools for problem solving.
The paper shows a method of solving math problems, combining
a simple layout for handwritten notes that supports reflective intelligence and
a densely packed cheat sheet with a large number of tools for problem solving.

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09/16/2014

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Solving Math Problems:Some Practical Remarks
Overview
This paper describes a method for solving math problems.The basic idea is to combine two things:
First, a simple method for making handwritten notes while thinking about a problem.This method is aimed at supporting
a step-by-step approach to problem solving and
reﬂective thinking: Better understand and control what you do while solving a problem.
Second, a densely packed cheat sheet with broad advice on math problem solving.At present, this sheet focuses on general methods for problem solving.Later versions may contain material on speciﬁc domains like calculus or algebra.You can download this paper
as a .pdf ﬁle:
,
as a .tex ﬁle:
.This is useful if you want to adapt the cheat sheet.

Making Notes
Layout for the notes
Here are some ideas on how to use the notemaking process.
Use a two column layout.(Read on! This is
not
the two-column proof you may know from geometry lessons.)The paper (in portrait format) is divided by a vertical line. The left part is about two thirdsof the the page width and is used for the main body of notes. The right part is used forreﬂection about what you are doing.You can use the problem name as a headline.
Organize your notes by process stages.As we will see a few paragraphs later, the cheat sheet suggests several process stages, like”Getting Started”, ”Make a plan” and so on. For each process stage a collection of usefulproblem solving tools is given - for the ”Getting Started” stage you can use tools like ”makea diagram”, ”introduce useful notation” or ”make a table of special cases for small numbers”.
Use abbreviations for important stages and tools.For example, use ”signposts” like ”gs” for ”Getting Started”, ”rep” for ”Representations” andso on.
Use the reﬂection column.Here you can add what you think about the material in the main left column. E.g., are youstuck? What can you do about it? What are alternatives to your current approach?The cheat sheet contains a number of useful tools for reﬂection. You can use tool abbreviationsagain - a question mark for obstacles or an exclamation mark for insights.Don’t worry whether your notes really belong in the left or right column - remember these areyour work notes and not a ﬁnal presentation of your results. The separate reﬂection columnis merely a vehicle to give you better control over what you are doing in your problem solving.
Use a hierarchic layout, linking ideas by short lines.This may be a matter of liking, but again it works well for me. With these lines, I can bettersee connections between ideas, especially if I add an idea later.
Some details
Here are some remarks about special aspects of notemaking.
Use reﬂections at least at the end of each stage, and whenever you feel confused.Writing up is often a great help.
Dealing with parallel approaches.Often enough a problem can be tackled via diﬀerent roads - e.g. using induction or contra-diction. You could note both approaches and examine them one after the other, starting withthe most promising one, or you can try a parallel strategy and start a separate sheet for eachapproach. For complex problems, this may be the better process.

Referencing.Sometimes you have to make a reference to another part of your notes. A simple way to dothis is via numbers. Number your pages to manage references between sheets, e.g. 5-3: page5, remark number 3.Finally, here are two trivial things that work well for me.
Write small.Getting large amounts of information on one sheet is very useful.Perhaps you’ll ﬁnd that larger sheets of paper and ﬁner pencils work well for you.
Write lightly.This makes erasing much easier.
An example
The picture on the next page shows a number of layout essentials.