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Big Ideas and

Problem Solving
in Junior Math
By Leslie Brophy
Big Ideas in Math
The Big Ideas in math represent the significant
mathematical concepts to be uncovered
Programs that are organized around big ideas and focus on
problem solving provide cohesive learning opportunities that
allow students to explore mathematical concepts in depth.
An emphasis on big ideas contributes to the main goal of
mathematics instruction to help students gain a deeper
understanding of mathematical concepts. (MOE, A Guide to Effective
Instruction in Mathematics, 2008)
The Big Ideas approach, clusters curriculum expectations
from the various strands around a big idea.
The strands in junior math instruction are:
Number sense and Numeration
Geometry and Spatial Sense
Patterning & Algebra
Data Management & Probability

Prepared by: Leslie Brophy
Big Ideas in Number Sense &
For example, the following represent Big Ideas
created by clustering expectations from the Number
Sense & Numeration strand in the Junior Curriculum:
Numbers beyond 1000
Number Theory
Whole Number Operations
Fractions & Decimals
Proportional Thinking: Rate, Ratio & Percent

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Big Ideas in Measurement
The following represent Big Ideas created by
clustering expectations from the Measurement strand
in the Junior Curriculum:

Measurement Fundamentals
Length & Time
Capacity & Mass
Measuring Angles
Prepared by: Leslie Brophy
The Mathematical Processes
Mathematical processes that support effective
learning in mathematics are as follows:
1. problem solving
2. connecting
3. reasoning and proving
4. representing
5. reflecting
6. communicating
7. selecting tools and computational strategies
Prepared by: Leslie Brophy
The Problem Solving Approach
Each of the learning activities is structured around a
problem or an inquiry.
As students solve problems or conduct
investigations, they make connections between
new mathematical concepts and ideas that they
already understand.
encourages students to develop their own ways of
solving problems
teaching about problem solving occurs
simultaneously with teaching through problem

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The Problem Solving Approach & the
understanding of the Big Ideas
In promoting problem
solving, teachers
encourage students to
reason their way to a
solution or to new
During the course of
this problem solving,
teachers further
encourage students to
make conjectures and
justify solutions.

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The focus on problem solving and inquiry in the
learning activities also provides opportunities for
students to:
find enjoyment in mathematics;
develop confidence in learning and using
work collaboratively and talk about mathematics;
communicate ideas and strategies;
reason and use critical thinking skills;
develop processes for solving problems;
develop a repertoire of problem-solving strategies;
connect mathematical knowledge and skills with
situations outside the classroom.
Prepared by: Leslie Brophy
Classroom Structures that
Support Problem Solving
Daily challenges provide students with a
meaning problem to solve on a regular basis either
through a routine structure time or as an
opportunity at sometime throughout the day
A problem solving corner or bulletin board
provides a place to post interesting problems
where individual, pairs, small group or large groups
can discuss the problem
An activity centre included as part of a rotation
and allows students to work collaboratively during
the consolidation phase of a unit
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The Importance of Communication
in Problem Solving
The communication that occurs during and after
the process of problem solving helps all students to
see the problem from different perspectives and
opens the door to a multitude of strategies for
getting at a solution.
By seeing how others solve a problem, students can
begin to think about their own thinking
(metacognition) and the thinking of others and can
consciously adjust their own strategies to make
them as efficient and accurate as possible.
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Problem Solving Strategies could
Act It Out
Make a Model with Concrete Materials
Draw a Diagram
Use the Guess-and-Check Method
Work Backwards
Use of Logical Thinking
Make a Table
Use an Organized List
Solve a Similar Problem
Use or Find a Pattern

Prepared by: Leslie Brophy
Resources Used
Teaching and Learning Mathematics: The
Report of the Expert Panel on Mathematics,
Grades 4-6 in Ontario (2004).
Volume One: Foundations of Mathematics
Instruction; A Guide to Effective Instruction in
Mathematics, Kindergarten to Grade 6
Volume Two: Problem Solving and
Communication; A Guide to Effective
Instruction in Mathematics, Kindergarten to
Grade 6
DSBN, Support Resources or Math Instruction

Prepared by: Leslie Brophy