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PROBLEM

SOLVING

Yearbook 2009

Association of Mathematics Educators

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MATHEMATICAL

PROBLEM

SOLVING

Yearbook 2009

Association of Mathematics Educators

Editors

Berinderjeet Kaur • Yeap Ban Har • Manu Kapur

NE W J E RSE Y • L ONDON • SI NGAP ORE • BE I J I NG • SHANGHAI • HONG KONG • TAI P E I • CHE NNAI

World Scientifc

National Institute of Education, Singapore

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Cover photo from Princess Elizabeth Primary School, Singapore (2008).

For photocopying of material in this volume, please pay a copying fee through the Copyright

Clearance Center, Inc., 222 Rosewood Drive, Danvers, MA 01923, USA. In this case permission to

photocopy is not required from the publisher.

ISBN-13 978-981-4277-20-4

ISBN-10 981-4277-20-7

ISBN-13 978-981-4277-21-1 (pbk)

ISBN-10 981-4277-21-5 (pbk)

All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form or by any means,

electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any information storage and retrieval

system now known or to be invented, without written permission from the Publisher.

Copyright © 2009 by World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd.

Published by

World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd.

5 Toh Tuck Link, Singapore 596224

USA office: 27 Warren Street, Suite 401-402, Hackensack, NJ 07601

UK office: 57 Shelton Street, Covent Garden, London WC2H 9HE

Printed in Singapore.

MATHEMATICAL PROBLEM SOLVING

Yearbook 2009, Association of Mathematics Educators

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Contents

Part I Introduction 1

Chapter 1 Mathematical Problem Solving in Singapore Schools 3

Berinderjeet KAUR

YEAP Ban Har

Part II The Processes and Pedagogies 15

Chapter 2 Tasks and Pedagogies that Facilitate Mathematical 17

Problem Solving

Peter SULLIVAN

Judith MOUSLEY

Robyn JORGENSEN (ZEVENBERGEN)

Chapter 3 Learning through Productive Failure in Mathematical 43

Problem Solving

Manu KAPUR

Chapter 4 Note Taking as Deliberate Pedagogy: Scaffolding 69

Problem Solving Learning

Lillie R. ALBERT

Christopher BOWEN

Jessica TANSEY

Mathematical Problem Solving vi

Chapter 5 Japanese Approach to Teaching Mathematics 89

via Problem Solving

Yoshinori SHIMIZU

Chapter 6 Mathematical Problem Posing in Singapore 102

Primary Schools

YEAP Ban Har

Chapter 7 Solving Mathematical Problems by Investigation 117

YEO Boon Wooi Joseph

YEAP Ban Har

Chapter 8 Generative Activities in Singapore (GenSing): 136

Pedagogy and Practice in Mathematics Classrooms

Sarah M. DAVIS

Chapter 9 Mathematical Modelling and Real Life Problem 159

Solving

ANG Keng Cheng

Part III Mathematical Problems and Tasks 183

Chapter 10 Using Innovation Techniques to Generate 185

‘New’ Problems

Catherine P. VISTRO-YU

Chapter 11 Mathematical Problems for the Secondary 208

Classroom

Jaguthsing DINDYAL

Chapter 12 Integrating Open-Ended Problems in the 226

Lower Secondary Mathematics Lesson

YEO Kai Kow Joseph

Contents vii

Chapter 13 Arousing Students’ Curiosity and Mathematical 241

Problem Solving

TOH Tin Lam

Part IV Future Directions 263

Chapter 14 Moving beyond the Pedagogy of Mathematics: 265

Foregrounding Epistemological Concerns

Manu KAPUR

Contributing Authors 272

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Part I

Introduction

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3

Chapter 1

Mathematical Problem Solving

in Singapore Schools

Berinderjeet KAUR YEAP Ban Har

This opening chapter provides a view of the development of

mathematical problem solving in Singapore schools. From a research

and curriculum development perspective, this chapter shows how

research and development elsewhere had impacted upon the

emergence and subsequent development of mathematical problem

solving in Singapore schools. From a pedagogical perspective, the

chapter shows the range of problem-solving processes students

engage in, the variety of pedagogy options available to teachers and

the array of tasks that can bring the processes and pedagogy together.

From an assessment perspective, the chapter suggests how tasks

used in national examinations have a direct influence on the

implementation of a problem-solving curriculum. From an economic

perspective, this chapter argues that an effective implementation of a

problem-solving curriculum equips students with the necessary

competencies for a knowledge-based economy.

1 Introduction

In 1992 mathematical problem solving was made the primary goal of the

school mathematics curriculum in Singapore. Since then, though the

curriculum has been revised twice, in 2001 and 2007, mathematical

problem solving has remained its primary goal. Figure 1 shows the

mathematics curriculum framework for Singapore schools (Ministry

of Education, 2006a, 2006b). The emphasis on mathematical problem

4 Mathematical Problem Solving

solving was influenced by recommendations in documents such as An

Agenda for Action (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 1980)

and the Cockcroft Report (Cockcroft, 1982) from the United States and

the United Kingdom respectively. Today, it is rare to find a mathematics

curriculum that does not place emphasis on mathematical problem

solving.

Figure 1. Framework of the Singapore school mathematics curriculum

The seminal doctoral work of Kilpatrick (1967) involving the

analysis of solutions of word problems in mathematics at Stanford

University and subsequent work by himself and other researchers

have established mathematical problem solving as a research field.

In particular, Kilpatrick’s (1978) classic paper, Variables and

Methodologies in Research on Problem Solving, outlined key research

variables in the field. Since then, mathematical problem solving as a

research field has grown and matured to some extent (Lester, 1994; Lesh

& Zawojewski, 2007). This has certainly been the case in Singapore

Mathematical Problem Solving in Singapore Schools 5

(Foong, 2009). In a state-of-the art review in the early 1990s, Chong,

Khoo, Foong, Kaur and Lim-Teo (1991) found that research in

mathematics education in Singapore, in general, and problem solving, in

particular, to be in its state of infancy. Since then, significant work had

been done. Early studies in mathematical problem solving on students

(Kaur, 1995) and teachers (Foong, 1990) have stimulated further

research into the domain. Kaur (1995) investigated the strategies used by

middle school students in solving non-routine problems and clarified the

relationship between students’ ability to perform particular mathematical

procedures and their ability to solve problems. Foong (1990) investigated

the problem-solving processes used by pre-service teachers in solving

non-routine problems. A recent review of research, by Foong (2009), on

mathematical problem solving in Singapore has indicated that our

knowledge on problem-solving approaches and tasks used in the

classroom, teachers’ beliefs and practices, and students’ problem-solving

behaviours have grown. It is important that such rich research findings

find their way into the classrooms. This book showcases several research

findings and theories translated into classroom practice.

2 Mathematical Problem Solving

Mathematical problem solving occurs when a task provides some

blockage (Kroll & Miller, 1993). Lester (1983) describes a mathematical

problem as a task that a person or a group of persons want or need to find

a solution for and for which they do not have a readily accessible

procedure that guarantees or completely determines the solution.

How does the mathematics textbooks used in Singapore encourage

problem solving? Ng (2002) found that the majority of the problems in

the primary textbooks were word problems that are closed and routine.

Open-ended problems were not common. Fan and Zhu (2000) found that

while the lower secondary textbooks provided students with a strong

foundation in problem solving, more open-ended problems as well as

authentic real-life problems could be included. It is, thus, timely that

several chapters in this book attempts to broaden the conception of what

6 Mathematical Problem Solving

it means to engage in mathematical problem solving. The chapter by Yeo

Kai Kow describes the importance of open-ended problems in lower

secondary levels. The chapter by Yeo Boon Wooi and Yeap Ban Har

clarifies the relationship between mathematical problem solving and

mathematical investigation. The chapter by Ang Keng Cheng helps

readers understand the role of mathematical modeling in real-world

mathematical problem solving. Yeap Ban Har described the processes

in mathematical problem posing to show its relationship to mathematical

problem solving.

3 Pedagogy and Practice in Mathematical Problem Solving

Textbook analysis studies and classroom studies have shown that the vast

majority of textbook tasks are well-structured tasks (Ng, 2002; Fan &

Zhu, 2000) and classroom instruction is mostly teacher-led (Ho, 2007).

Foong (2002) has found that teachers in Singapore tend to adopt the

teaching for problem solving approach where the emphasis is learning

mathematics content for the purpose of applying them to a wide range

of situations. Ho’s (2007) case studies of four primary-level teachers

confirmed, and provided more information for, this finding. With the

call for a wider repertoire of teaching methods, in general, and of

problem-solving instruction, in particular, it is necessary for teachers

to explore alternative pedagogies for mathematical problem-solving

instruction.

In the chapter by Manu Kapur, it is interesting to note that the use

of ill-structured problems as well as students experiencing productive

failure resulted in students performing significantly better in problem-

solving tasks. The chapter by Lillie Albert, Christopher Bowen and

Jessica Tansey describes note taking as a pedagogical tool to develop

mathematical problem solving. The chapter by Yoshinori Shimizu

provides an insider’s perspective to the findings from an international

study about the way mathematics lessons are conducted in typical

Japanese classrooms and describes a typical mathematics lesson in Japan

that is best described as structured problem solving. In the chapter by

Mathematical Problem Solving in Singapore Schools 7

Yeap Ban Har, how mathematical problem posing was used in several

primary-level classes in Singapore is described.

With advances in information and communication technology, it is

not possible to avoid the impact of technology on mathematical problem

solving. Chua (2001) described the processes of social construction of

mathematical ideas as students solved problems in pairs in a computer-

mediated environment. In this book, the chapter by Sarah Davis shows

the immense potential of a technology-supported classroom pedagogy

that requires students to work together. The chapter by Ang Keng Cheng

also emphasizes the central role of technology in mathematical modeling

processes.

These chapters show how teachers in Singapore and elsewhere used

pedagogy that departs from typical well-structured tasks and teacher-led

classroom instruction. Such pedagogical practices provide readers with a

repertoire of instructional models to teach mathematical problem solving

in their own classrooms. The chapter by Peter Sullivan, Judith Mousley

and Robyn Jorgensen provides research-based teacher actions that can

facilitate mathematical problem solving.

4 Mathematical Problem-Solving Tasks

The Singapore mathematics curriculum defines problems to include a

wide range of situations, including non-routine, open-ended and real-

world problems (Ministry of Education, 2006a, 2006b). Figures 2, 3 and

4, show problems that students had to solve in the national examinations

of recent years. The problem in Figure 2 was from the sixth grade

national examination (Primary School Leaving Examination). The

problem in Figure 3 was from the tenth grade national examination

(General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level Examination). The

problem in Figure 4 was from the twelfth grade national examination

(General Certificate of Education Advanced Level Examination). Each

of the problems was novel in that it was the only time a task of that type

was posed in the respective examinations.

8 Mathematical Problem Solving

Table 1

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32

33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40

41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48

49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56

Table 1 consists of numbers from 1 to 56. Kay and Lin are given a plastic frame

that covers exactly 9 squares of Table 1 with the centre square darkened.

(a) Kay puts the frame on 9 squares as shown in the figure below.

3 4 5

11 13

19 20 21

What is the average of the 8 numbers that can be seen in the frame?

(b) Lin puts the frame on some other 9 squares.

The sum of the 8 numbers that can be seen in the frame is 272.

What is the largest number that can be seen in the frame.

Figure 2. A problem from the grade six national examination

(Singapore Examination and Assessment Board, 2009)

Mathematical Problem Solving in Singapore Schools 9

A fly, F, starts at a point with position vector (i + 12j) cm and crawls across the

surface with a velocity of (3i + 2j) cm s

-1

. At the instant the fly starts crawling, a

spider, S, at the point with position vector (85i + 5j) cm, sets off across the surface

with a velocity of (-5i + kj) cm s

-1

, where k is a constant. Given that the spider

catches the fly, calculate the value of k.

Figure 3. A problem from the grade 10 national examination

(Ministry of Education, 2007)

Four friends buy three different kinds of fruit in the market. When they get

home they cannot remember the individual prices per kilogram, but three of them can

remember the total amount that they each paid. The weights of fruit and the total

amounts paid are shown in the following table.

Suresh Fandi Cindy Lee Lian

Pineapple (kg) 1.15 1.20 2.15 1.30

Mangoes (kg) 0.60 0.45 0.90 0.25

Lychees (kg) 0.55 0.30 0.65 0.50

Total amount paid in $ 8.28 6.84 13.05

Assuming that, for each variety of fruit, the price per kilogram paid by each of

the three friends is the same, calculate the total amount that Lee Lian paid.

Figure 4. A problem from the grade 12 national examination

(Singapore Examination and Assessment Board, 2008)

Given that test items in Singapore’s national examinations

comprises of some problems, it is a challenge for teachers to generate

such novel tasks for their students to attempt during instruction. The

chapter by Dindyal Jaguthsing describes problems for secondary level-

students and the processes students engage in when attempting them. The

chapter by Toh Tin Lam shows tasks that have the ability to spark the

curiosity in students. Yeo Kai Kow presents open-ended tasks that

require students to delve into their conceptual understanding. Catherine

Vistro-Yu shows how a familiar task can be systematically transform to

10 Mathematical Problem Solving

generate a set of related tasks, some of which are novel. This technique is

useful to Singapore teachers who often need to design worksheets

comprising of a set of problems for students to consolidate their

mathematical problem-solving ability. In the chapter by Yoshinori

Shimizu readers are able to see how good lessons can be constructed

around carefully-selected problems. The use of a set of related problems

as well as centering lessons around good problems give students

opportunities to have prolonged and deep engagement with the tasks.

5 Mathematical Problem Solving and the Education System in

Singapore

The vision of the Ministry of Education in Singapore is Moulding the

Future of the Nation i.e. education is perceived as critical to the survival

of the country. Mathematics and other school subjects are platforms for

students to develop a set of competencies that hold them in good stead to

function well in the type of economy that Singapore engages in. It is no

wonder that the Ministry of Education has over the years introduced a

slew of initiatives, two of which are Thinking School, Learning Nation

(TSLN) and Teach Less, Learn More (TLLM). TSLN aims to develop

good thinking through school subjects. TLLM encourages teachers to

reduce the content taught via direct teaching but instead engage students

in meaningful activities so that they use knowledge to solve problems

and whilst solving problems extend their knowledge through inquiry.

Thus, a shift in the emphasis of mathematics teaching and learning from

acquisition of skills to “development and improvement of a person’s

intellectual competence” (p.5, Ministry of Education, 2006a), makes it

necessary for mathematics education to make mathematical problem

solving and its instruction its focus. It is the aim of this book to provide

readers with a range of ideas on how this can happen in the mathematics

classroom.

6 Concluding Remarks

It has been 17 years since mathematical problem solving was introduced

as the primary aim of learning mathematics in Singapore schools. While

Mathematical Problem Solving in Singapore Schools 11

many teachers are now familiar with the notion of mathematical problem

solving as well as various problem-solving heuristics used during

problem solving, the challenge of balancing between developing fluent

basic skills and problem-solving ability remains. Some teachers may

perceive these as mutually exclusive. There are several chapters in this

book that provide the alternate perspectives that acquisition of basics is

not mutually exclusive with the development of mathematical problem-

solving ability. Given that teachers are already familiar with the notion of

mathematical problem solving, it is timely to step back and examine

what it means to learn mathematics, and in the process, derive

implications for mathematics education research and practice as well as

some of the critical issues that the AME yearbooks could focus on in the

coming years. Chapter 14 by Manu Kapur aims to do precisely this. By

drawing on the folk categories of “learning about” a discipline and

“learning to be” a member of the discipline (Thomas & Brown, 2007),

Kapur proposes a move beyond the pedagogy of mathematics to include

the epistemology of mathematics. To this end, he puts forth three

essential research thrusts: a) understanding children’s inventive and

constructive resources, b) designing formal and informal learning

environments to build upon these resources, and c) developing teacher

capacity to drive and support such change.

Several chapters in this book arose out of the keynote lectures

and workshops conducted during the annual Mathematics Teachers

Conference of 2008 which was jointly organized by the Association

of Mathematics Educators in Singapore and the Mathematics and

Mathematics Academic Group at the National Institute of Education in

Singapore. The annual conference is very well attended by mathematics

teachers in Singapore with an increasing number of foreign teachers

joining the event each year. The yearbook, of which this is the first

in the series, provides multiple perspectives to a selected aspect of

mathematics education – mathematical problem solving. Such a

treatment of mathematical problem solving is done with a purpose

of bring mathematical problem-solving instruction to the next

level.

12 Mathematical Problem Solving

References

Chong, T. H., Khoo, P. S., Foong, P. Y., Kaur, B., & Lim-Teo, S. K. (1991). A state-of-

the-art review of mathematics education in Singapore. Singapore: Institute of

Education.

Chua, G. K. (2001). A qualitative case study on the social construction of ideas in

mathematical problem solving. Unpublished dissertation, Nanyang Technological

University, Singapore.

Cockcroft, W. H. (1982). Mathematics counts: Report of the committee of inquiry into the

teaching of mathematics in primary and secondary schools in England and Wales.

London: HMSO.

Fan, L. H. & Zhu, Y. (2007). Problem solving in Singapore secondary mathematics

textbooks. The Mathematics Educator, 5(1/2), 117-141.

Ho, K. F. (2007). Enactment of Singapore’s mathematical problem-solving curriculum

in Primary 5 classrooms: Case studies of four teachers’ practices. Unpublished

doctoral dissertation, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

Foong, P. Y. (1990). A metacognitive heuristic approach to mathematical problem

solving. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Monash University, Australia.

Foong, P. Y. (2002). Roles of problems to enhance pedagogical practices in the

Singapore classrooms. The Mathematics Educator, 6(2), 15-31.

Foong, P. Y. (2009). Review of research on mathematical problem solving in Singapore.

In K. Y. Wong, P. Y. Lee, B. Kaur, P. Y. Foong & S. F. Ng (Eds), Mathematics

education: The Singapore journey (pp. 263-300). Singapore: World Scientific.

Kaur, B. (1995). An investigation of children’s knowledge and strategies in mathematical

problem solving. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Monash University, Australia.

Kilpatrick, J. (1967). Problem solving in mathematics. Review of Educational Research,

39, 523-534.

Kilpatrick, J. (1978). Variables and methodologies in research on problem solving.

In L. L. Hatfield & D. A. Bradfard (Eds.), Mathematical problem solving: Papers

from a research workshop (pp. 7-20). Columbus, OH: ERIC/SMEAC.

Kroll, D. L. & Miller, T. (1993). Insights from research on mathematical problem solving

in the middle grades. In D. T. Owens (Ed.), Research ideas for the classroom:

Middle grades mathematics (pp. 58-77). New York: Macmillan Publishing

Company.

Lesh, R. & Zawojewski, J. (2007). Problem solving and modeling. In F. K. Lester (Ed.),

Second handbook on research on mathematics teaching and learning (pp. 763-804).

Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing and National Council of Teachers of

Mathematics.

Lester, F. K. (1983). Trends and issues in mathematical problem-solving research. In

R. Lesh & M. Landau (Eds.), Acquisition of mathematical concepts and processes

(pp. 229-261). Orlando, FL: Academic Press.

Mathematical Problem Solving in Singapore Schools 13

Lester, F. K. (1994). Musings about mathematical problem-solving research: 1970-1994.

Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 25(6), 660-675.

Ministry of Education. (2006a). Mathematics syllabus: Primary. Singapore: Curriculum

Planning and Development Division.

Ministry of Education. (2006b). Mathematics syllabus: Secondary. Singapore:

Curriculum Planning and Development Division.

Ministry of Education. (2007). Past Year Examination Questions 1996-2006: Additional

Mathematics. Singapore: Dyna Publishers.

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (1980). An agenda for action. Reston, VA:

Author.

Ng, L. E. (2002). Representation of problem solving in Singaporean primary

mathematics textbooks with respect to types, Polya’s model and heuristics.

Unpublished MEd dissertation, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board. (2008). GCE ‘A’ level-H2 mathematics

examination questions classified topic by topic. Singapore: Dyna Publishers.

Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board. (2009). PSLE Examination Questions

2004-2008: Mathematics. Singapore: Educational Publishing House.

Thomas, D. & Brown, J. S. (2007). The play of imagination: Extending the literary mind.

Games and Culture, 2(2), 149-172.

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Part II

The Processes and Pedagogies

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17

Chapter 2

Tasks and Pedagogies that Facilitate

Mathematical Problem Solving

Peter SULLIVAN Judith MOUSLEY Robyn JORGENSEN

This is a report from one aspect of a project seeking to identify

teacher actions that support mathematical problem solving. The

project developed a planning and teaching model that describes the

type of classroom tasks that can facilitate mathematical problem

solving, the sequencing of the tasks, the nature of teaching

heterogeneous groups, ways of differentiating tasks, and particular

pedagogies. We report here one teacher’s implementation of the

model using a unit of work that he planned and taught. The report

provides important insights into the implementation of the

theoretically founded model and the responses of students. We

found that the model can be used for planning and teaching and for

encouraging problem solving. The model has a positive effect on

the learning of most students. Specific teachers actions were

identified in order to address the needs of the students we are most

keen to support, those experiencing difficulties.

1 Introduction

In considering the nature of the curriculum and the pedagogies that are

necessary to prepare students, whether in Singapore, Australia or

anywhere else, for the demands of the future, for the development of

society, and to ensure international competitiveness two needs must be

addressed. The first is the need not only for adequate numbers of

mathematics specialists operating at best international levels, capable of

Mathematical Problem Solving 18

generating the next level of knowledge and invention, but also for

mathematically expert professionals such as engineers, economists,

scientists, social scientists, and planners. The second need is for the

workforce to be appropriately educated in mathematics to contribute

productively in an ever changing global economy, with rapid revolutions

in technology and both global and local social challenges. An economy

competing globally requires substantial numbers of proficient workers

able to learn, adapt, create, and interpret and analyse mathematical

information. Clearly it is not enough for students to become proficient in

mathematical procedures, they also need to use their mathematics in

unfamiliar situations and to apply knowledge from one context to other

contexts. Like anything else, students can be taught to do this, which

essentially needs they must have experience in creating mathematics for

themselves and in solving unfamiliar problems.

It is difficult to identify unequivocal research results that can assist

teachers in doing this in their everyday complex and multidimensional

classrooms. We acknowledge the importance of factors such as

classroom resources, organisation and climate, interpersonal interactions

and relationships, social and cultural contexts, student motivation and

their sense of their futures, family expectations, and organisation of

schools. Nevertheless we argue that an important component of

understanding teaching and improving learning is to identify the types of

tasks that prompt engagement, thinking, and the making of cognitive

connections, and the associated teacher actions that support the use of

such tasks, including addressing the needs of individual learners. The

challenge for mathematics teachers is to foster mathematical learning,

and the key media for pedagogical interaction between teacher and

students is the tasks in which the students engage. This is the essence of

teaching problem solving.

2 Assumptions About Problem Solving and Classroom Activity

Our research is based on assumptions about posing problems and tasks,

including the need for teachers to challenge all students while offering

support for students experiencing difficulty. We draw on a socio-cultural

perspective (Lerman, 2001) which extends the work of Vygotsky

Tasks and Pedagogies that Facilitate Mathematical Problem Solving 19

including his (1978) zone of proximal development (ZPD) which he

described as the “distance between the actual developmental level as

determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential

development as determined by problem solving under adult guidance or

in collaboration with more capable peers” (p. 86). A key aspect of the

notion of the ZPD as it applies to teaching is that it defines the work of

the individual or class as going beyond tasks or problems that students

can solve independently, so that the students are working on challenges

for which they need support. In other words, the teacher’s task is to pose

to the class problems that most students are not yet able to do.

Another key aspect of ZPD is that it provides a metaphor for the

support that teachers can offer to students experiencing difficulty. If, for

example, the teacher poses problems that are challenges for all students,

in most classes there will be some students who are not already at the

level of independent problem solving for this particular problem. We

argue that adult guidance or peer collaboration might be offered to such

students through adapting the task on which they are working, as distinct

from, for example, grouping students together and having a group

undertake quite different work.

3 Fostering Problem Solving by Posing Open-Ended Tasks

Within our approach, we suggest that the type of problems posed by

teachers, in this case open-ended tasks, provide a way of mediating the

learning between the student and mathematics. Essentially, we assume

that operating on open-ended tasks can support mathematics learning by

fostering operations such as investigating, creating, problematising,

communicating, generalising, and coming to understand—as distinct

from merely recalling—procedures.

There is a substantial support for this assumption. Examples of

researchers who have found that tasks or problems that have many

possible solutions contribute to such learning include those working on

investigations (e.g., Wiliam, 1998), those using problem fields (e.g.,

Pehkonen, 1997), those exploring problem posing by students (e.g.,

Leung, 1997), and the open approach (e.g., Nohda & Emori, 1997). It has

been shown that opening up tasks can engage students in productive

Mathematical Problem Solving 20

exploration (Christiansen & Walther, 1986), enhance motivation through

increasing the students’ sense of control (Middleton, 1995), and

encourage pupils to investigate, make decisions, generalise, seek

patterns and connections, communicate, discuss, and identify alternatives

(Sullivan, 1999). Open-ended tasks have been shown to be generally

more accessible than closed examples, in that students who experience

difficulty with traditional closed and abstracted questions can approach

such tasks in their own ways (see Sullivan, 1999). Well-designed open-

ended tasks also create opportunities for extension of mathematical

operations and dimensions of thinking, since students can explore a

range of options as well as considering forms of generalised response.

The tasks used as the basis of our research are an important

contribution to this field in that, as well as incorporating the important

positive characteristics of the above approaches they also have a specific

focus on aspects of the mathematics curriculum. We describe them as

content-specific open-ended tasks.

4 Content-Specific Open-Ended Mathematical Tasks

The nature of content specific open-ended tasks can best be illustrated by

some examples:

If the perimeter of a rectangle is 24 cm, what might be the area?

Draw as many different triangles as you can with an area of six

square units. (Drawn on squared paper)

The mean height of four people in this room is 155 cm. You are one

of those people. Who are the other three?

A ladder reaches 10 metres up a wall. How long might be the

ladder, and what angle might it make with the wall?

A train takes 1 minute to go past a signal. How long might the train

be, and how fast might it be travelling?

What are some functions that have a turning point at (1,2)?

Find two objects with the same mass but different volumes.

Tasks and Pedagogies that Facilitate Mathematical Problem Solving 21

Such tasks are content-specific in that they address the type of

mathematical operations that form the basis of textbooks and the

conventional mathematics curriculum. Teachers can include these as

part of their teaching without jeopardising students’ performance on

subsequent internal or external mathematics assessments.

In each open-ended task there is considerable choice in relation to

operations: different strategies and solution types are possible. Some

students might use trial and error to seek a variety of arithmetically

derived solutions, and others may apply or develop a generalised

algebraic approach using a formula and graphs, while others may satisfy

themselves by exploring further combinations and perhaps discovering

and employing patterns. Class discussion about the range of approaches

used and range of solutions found can lead to an appreciation of their

variety and relative efficiencies, key concepts like constant and variable,

and the power of some mathematical methods as well as the thinking that

underpins these. When all students can contribute to such discussions in

their own ways, there is potential for thoughtful questioning by the

teacher to draw students into new levels of engagement and learning. The

tasks foster many of the aspects of problem solving.

5 Mathematical Problem Solving and our Planning and

Teaching Model

We argue that teaching experiences designed to support mathematical

problem solving need five key elements that can be summarised as

follows.

5.1 The tasks and their sequence

As discussed above, open-ended tasks create opportunities for

mathematical problem solving, but they also need to be effectively

incorporated in a sequential development of learning. This relates

closely to what Simon (1995) described as a hypothetical learning

trajectory that

Mathematical Problem Solving 22

… provides the teacher with a rationale for choosing a particular

instructional design; thus, I (as a teacher) make my design

decisions based on my best guess of how learning might proceed.

This can be seen in the thinking and planning that preceded my

instructional interventions … as well as the spontaneous decisions

that I make in response to students’ thinking. (pp. 135–136)

Simon (1995) noted that such a trajectory is made up of three

components: the learning goal that determines the desired direction of

teaching and learning, the activities to be undertaken by the teacher and

students, and a hypothetical cognitive process, “a prediction of how the

students’ thinking and understanding will evolve in the context of the

learning activities” (p. 136).

During our research, the use of sequenced open-ended tasks

has improved students’ engagement, as evidenced by time on task,

participation in discussions, and increase in successful completion of the

teaching and learning activities focusing on mathematical problems (see

Sullivan, Mousley, & Zevenbergen, 2006).

5.2 Enabling prompts

Teachers offer enabling prompts to allow students experiencing difficulty

to engage in active experiences related to the initial problem. These

prompts can involve slightly lowering an aspect of the task demand, such

as the form of representation, the size of the number, or the number of

steps, so that a student experiencing difficult can proceed at that new

level, and then if successful can proceed with the original task. This

approach can be contrasted with the more common requirement that such

students (a) listen to additional explanations; or (b) pursue goals

substantially different from the rest of the class. The use of enabling

prompts has generally resulted in students experiencing difficulties being

able to start (or restart) work at their own level of understanding and

enabled them to overcome barriers met at specific stages of the solving

of the problems. This approach is derived from the work of Ginsburg

(1997), and Griffin and Case (1997).

Tasks and Pedagogies that Facilitate Mathematical Problem Solving 23

5.3 Extending prompts

Teachers pose prompts that extend the thinking of students who solve the

problems readily in ways that do not make them feel that they are merely

getting more of the same (see Association of Teachers of Mathematics,

1988). Students who complete the planned tasks quickly are posed

supplementary tasks or questions that extend their thinking and activity.

Extending prompts have proved effective in keeping higher-achieving

students profitably engaged and supporting their development of higher-

level, generalisable understandings.

5.4 Explicit pedagogies

Teachers make explicit for all students the usual practices, organisational

routines, and modes of communication that impact on approaches to

learning. These include ways of working and reasons for these, types of

responses valued, views about legitimacy of knowledge produced, and

responsibilities of individual learners. As Bernstein (1996) noted,

through different methods of teaching and different backgrounds of

experience, groups of students receive different messages about the overt

and the hidden curriculum of schools. We have listed a range of

particular strategies that teachers can use to make implicit pedagogies

more explicit and so address aspects of possible disadvantage of

particular groups (Sullivan et al., 2006). We have found that making

expectations explicit enables a wide range of students to work

purposefully, and to appreciate better the purpose of mathematical

problems that are posed.

5.5 Learning community

A deliberate intention is that all students progress through learning

experiences in ways that allow them to feel part of the class community

and contribute to it, including being able to participate in reviews and

summative class discussions about the work. To this end, we propose

that all students will benefit from participation in at least some core

problems that can form the basis of common discussions and shared

Mathematical Problem Solving 24

experience, both social and mathematical, as well as a common basis for

any following lessons and assessment items on the same topic. We have

found that the use of tasks and prompts that support the participation of

all students has resulted in classroom interactions that have a sense of

learning community (Brown & Renshaw, 2006), with wide-ranging

participation in leaning activities as well as group and whole-class

discussions.

The research, reported below, is about the implementation of this

teaching and planning model in a class, and this teacher’s approach to

teaching of subtraction using a problem solving orientation.

6 The Next Phase of the Research

The data reported below are from analysis of a sequence of lessons

created and taught by one of our project teachers. For this stage of the

research, we sought to

(a) examine whether teachers can use the planning and teaching

model to create and teach mathematical learning experiences based on a

problem solving approach;

(b) find out whether the model contributes to the goal of creating

inclusive experiences; and

(c) evaluate the impact of the model and tasks on the learning of the

students, especially those experiencing difficulty.

Essentially the goal of this stage of the research was to find out

whether the model is feasible in classroom contexts, and to evaluate the

impact of its implementation on student learning and problem solving.

While a larger number of teachers were involved in our research

overall, there were five teachers who participated in all phases of the

research and the associated professional development. The five teachers

clearly had a strong commitment to their own professional development

in that there were no incentives for their participation. In the research

phase being reported in this article, each of these five teachers planned a

unit of work on a topic of their choice, based on the planning and

teaching model described above. They designed a pre-test, a post-test,

and a sequence of activities and associated tasks to achieve their overall

Tasks and Pedagogies that Facilitate Mathematical Problem Solving 25

learning goals — usually determined by curriculum documents provided

by State authorities.

Generally, each planning unit covered an extended sequence of up

to eight lessons. A trained observer observed two lessons for each

teacher. Her observations included both a count of specific aspects of the

planning model, such as the number of enabling prompts posed, as well

as a concurrent naturalistic summary being written. The observer or

teachers collected samples of students’ work. The teachers kept written

records, and they were interviewed after the lessons.

The following data are from the teaching of one of these teachers,

Mr Smith (not his real name), and are illustrative of the elements of the

project and the teaching overall. Mr Smith was similar to the other

teachers in most respects. While he was highly professional, and had an

engaging personality, especially when interacting with his class, he was

not chosen because of any outstanding personal or professional

characteristics. Rather, he was seen to be representative of the group and

how they approached their teaching. The intention for this detailed

examination of one teacher’s adaptation of the planning model is to offer

a report on what is possible in terms of the objects of mathematical

learning, the activity, the tasks and the operations; rather than, for

example, considering less detailed reports of a larger number of teachers.

This gives new insights into the ways students respond to this type of

tasks.

We focus here on a two-week period where Mr Smith used a variety

of open-ended tasks that he created. This is a representative period, and

not one where the teaching and learning was outstanding in any way.

Indeed the examples he created are somewhat mundane, but they do

create opportunities for students to make choices about their approach

and to seek patterns. We describe here the overall intent of his teaching,

use extracts from the observation notes to verify incorporation of the

elements of the above model, and consider the students’ pre- and post-

test results. By focussing on nine students who represent a range of

abilities and outcomes, we seek to describe their responses to specific

open-ended tasks as well as some opportunities for learning.

Mathematical Problem Solving 26

All project teachers considered early drafts of this report, and they

verified that the report represents fairly the students’ experience in

their own class as well as their own experience of teaching. Mr Smith

affirmed the report and the student descriptions as being accurate

representations of his experience.

6.1 Mr Smith’s context and goals

Mr Smith taught a Grade 6 class in a regional primary school, serving a

community with both middle class and low SES families. The unit of

work he developed focused on the topic of subtraction and was taught

over two weeks for approximately one hour each day. Mr Smith gave the

following as a summary of the activity:

Further developing understanding of subtraction and the processes

involved. Looking more closely at assessing students’ progress

with single/double digit problems (no trading), double-digit

problems with trading, from 100 and from 1000 subtraction

problems with trading.

In actuality, though, the tasks the children worked on included

subtraction of decimals as well as whole numbers, and use of numbers

above 1000, and some students added these operations spontaneously.

6.1.1 Pre- and post-test results

The particular focus of this chapter is on whether the open-ended

approach also developed the fluency and accuracy of students at

subtraction tasks. Therefore, three key questions from both the pre-test

and matching post-test were selected to allow comparison of the

students’ skill development. The test had some open-ended items, such

as “How many subtraction equations can you make using these numbers?

Show examples”. However, the skill development of the students can be

better determined by examining responses to the following assessment

items.

Tasks and Pedagogies that Facilitate Mathematical Problem Solving 27

Question 6 consisted of 4 conventional subtraction items, set 533

Out vertically, the easiest example being - 296

The question was scored as correct only if all four answers were correct.

Question 8 was “The Jones family completed a trip around Australia of

1389 km. When they arrived home the odometer read 40142.6 km. What

might the reading have been before the trip began?

Question 10, headed “Missing Numbers”, was set out like 5 ∋ 2 – ∋ ∋ 4 =

68. There was no specific prompt nor were multiple responses sought

explicitly, even though these were possible.

Table 1 presents the profile of responses of students who completed both

the pre-test and the post–test. The symbols √ and × are used to represent

“Correct” and “Incorrect” respectively.

Table 1

Comparison of Pre- and Post-test Responses for 3 Subtraction Questions (n = 20)

Pre × Post × Pre √ Post × Pre × Post √ Pre √ Post √

Question 6 4 2 1 13

Question 8 13 2 1 4

Question 10 10 2 3 5

From inspection, it does not appear that the two-week unit had

much impact on the students’ ability to complete such tasks. Most of the

group were competent at skill exercises (Question 6) even at the start,

and the unit did not have much impact on the students who could not

complete the exercises by the end of the 2 weeks. Questions 8 and 10

were multiple step tasks requiring more than procedural fluency, and

even though there were some students who could do them in the post-test

but not in the pre-test, there were also some students for whom the

reverse was the case.

Mathematical Problem Solving 28

6.1.2 Nature of the teaching

To illustrate the form of the teaching, the following was the first of the

open-ended tasks to be described in the observer’s notes: Subtracting

from 100, 1000, … (This is termed Task A, below.) To introduce the

task, Mr Smith had written the following on the board:

What might the answer be?

10 50 200 5000 10000

- - - - -

The observer recorded the beginning of the lesson as follows:

Mr Smith directed the students to focus on the first problem on the

board and to think what the answer could be. He then asked the

students to write down some of the possible answers. Some

clarifying questions from the students followed. In reply Mr Smith

suggested that it didn’t matter in what order they wrote their

answers and they could use any strategy or system if they wished.

Some discussion followed between a few students and Mr Smith as

to the limit of whole-number answers available for the first

example.

This is a clear illustration of the explicit pedagogies in the model

above, in that Mr Smith drew the students’ attention to what he

considered important (use of personal strategies), to the multiplicity of

possible responses, and to their role in choosing the nature of the

responses, before attending to questions from the students. It is the

explicit mentioning of these aspects of the students’ approach to the tasks

that we see as essential.

Once the class was set to work, Mr Smith then engaged individually

with the students, offering encouragement and using enabling prompts as

described in the model above. The observer recorded how he included

prompts that were subtly challenging, relating to possible numbers of

Tasks and Pedagogies that Facilitate Mathematical Problem Solving 29

responses, the potential use of fractions and negative numbers, the

possibility of creating a generalised system, and the use of technology.

However, he continued to make his expectations of the class and of

individuals explicit. The observer wrote:

Mr Smith positively acknowledged students’ queries and attempts:

“Nine, well done!” [referring to the numbers of responses] “Yes,

well done, there could be ten …”

“Good question, does the answer need to be a whole number? ...

No it doesn’t have to be …”

“Are you going to leave it as a decimal or a fraction?”

He continued to assist around the room:

“Kyal, you’re looking puzzled. What could you put there? …

Minus one, yes. What might the answer be? Nine….”

Mr Smith noted John’s “lovely system”, and in reply to another

student’s query he suggested that “a system” would make the task

“nice and easy to follow”.

Mr Smith kept assisting students around the room. “Alec, use my

calculator. Does anyone else need a calculator?”

Students asked Mr Smith how many examples they needed to do.

“How many?” Mr Smith replied humorously, “For you fifteen,

everyone else three!”

Students were quietly engaged in this activity while Mr Smith

coached students as needed.

One student said, “I don’t like carrying figures!” Mr Smith: “Sorry

Buddy, if you haven’t got them in, I’ll say you’ve cheated.”

Mr Smith re-focussed a boy at the front table by coaching him,

using a calculator, and reminding him to do maths first before

resuming his drawing activity.

Such responses directed students’ attention to elements of the task

and helped to maintain their engagement, as well as proposing variations

that could assist students experiencing difficulty. The task itself was

graduated and so specific task variations were not necessary, but some of

his comments did suggest a challenge.

Mathematical Problem Solving 30

The responses illustrate the conjecture that it is the task that

provides the basis for the interactions between teacher and students, even

those interactions that are about building personal relationships.

Mr Smith also used extending prompts, as illustrated in the

following record by the observer:

Mr Smith continued monitoring students’ work. To one student he

said, “Can you do one without zeros?”

A query from another, “Can we have a 5 digit answer?” Discussion

followed about possibilities of finishing up with a decimal or a

negative number.

Mr Smith’s comments, audible to the whole class, gave enough

prompts to get them thinking and working along similar lines,

exemplifying one way of building a learning community.

Another strategy that assisted this aim, as well as in building a sense

of community, was his use of short reviews that were conducted after

each phase of the lesson. These were not only teaching opportunities but

also a chance to develop some common understandings that could be

used as a basis for the next stage of the lesson. For example, at the end of

the first phase, the observer recorded:

Three students were then chosen to write one of their answers to

the first example on the board. As a result, particular

characteristics of the examples were highlighted and discussed; the

need for careful spacing to denote place value, the use of a zero to

assist place value separation, and the need to use the minus sign.

The earlier discussion about having 9 or 10 possible answers was

again in dispute. Students were then asked to look at the second

example on the board. Students suggested that there would be

“heaps and heaps” of possible answers.

As intended, all students participated in the various stages of the

lesson, and all were able to contribute to each of the discussion periods

as well as a significant closure activity about general principles that

Tasks and Pedagogies that Facilitate Mathematical Problem Solving 31

could be inferred from the activity. In other words, there were many

instances of the class operating as a learning community.

The observer also attempted to quantify the lesson elements in each

observation. In the case of this lesson, she identified 7 enabling prompts,

5 extending prompts, 2 instances of explicit pedagogies, and 5 occasions

in which the teacher’s intent was described as “building learning

communities”. In other words, this lesson, as did many of the others

observed, incorporated many examples of the features of the elements of

teaching proposed in the model above.

6.1.3 Analysis of students’ responses to various tasks

To allow consideration of the impact of learning on individual students,

the students’ written work was later examined. Three students who were

incorrect on the each of each of questions 6, 8, 10 (Jenni, John, and Eric)

were identified and termed by us as the “stragglers”; 3 students who

scored question 6 correct, but question 8 and 10 incorrect on both tests

(Elaine, Sheryl, and Jeremy) were termed the “competent group”; and 3

students who completed all 3 questions correctly on both tests (Diane,

Ellen, Becky) were termed the “achievers”. The responses made by these

groups of students to particular open-ended learning tasks are described

in the following. The intention of this analysis was to allow detailed

and comparative examination of selected students’ responses to the

assessments, and to the class based tasks.

Task A: Subtracting from 100, 1000,... All students gave multiple

responses to the tasks, some giving more that 70 possibilities altogether.

The illustrative examples presented below were given by the particular

groups of students. The particular responses of the “stragglers” were as

follows:

Jenni gave more than 20 responses, most of which were simple

(e.g., 10 – 1 = 9). Where she attempted difficult exercises, she got

them incorrect (e.g., 200 – 199 = 111).

Josh gave more than 15 responses, most simple (e.g., 5000 – 3000

= 2000), all correct.

Mathematical Problem Solving 32

Eric gave 6 responses, 4 were simple, and 2 were more difficult

but incorrect (e.g., 50 – 21 = 28).

The responses of the “competent” group were as follows:

Elaine gave more than 20 responses: some were substantial (such

as e.g., 50 – 15 = 35; 200 – 170 = 30); others were simple.

Sheryl also gave more than 20 responses. In some cases these were

more complex (e.g., 200 – 64 = 136; 10000 – 9635 = 365), but the

rest were simple.

Jeremy gave more than 20 responses: some simple but others more

complex

(e.g., 50 – 24 = 26, 200 – 103 = 97; 10000 – 4996 = 5004).

The responses of the “achievers” were as follows:

Diane gave more than 70 responses, all correct, some decimals

(e.g., 10 – 4.5 = 5.5), with many requiring exchanging before

calculating a response.

Ellen gave 40 responses, all correct, with most being substantial

(e.g., 10000 – 2962 = 7038).

(Becky missed this class.)

In other words, it seems that the “achievers” chose examples that

extended their thinking. The open-ended nature of the task and extending

prompts not only created opportunities to practise their skills, but also to

extended their understanding of subtraction. The task and pedagogy also

allowed the “competent” group to demonstrate competence in a range of

skills and understandings, and this group used the open-ended nature of

the task as well as the teacher’s prompts to choose at least some

examples that extended themselves. However, not all students reaped the

benefits as the “stragglers” either gave responses that would not have

allowed opportunity for skill practice, at least at the level of the test

items, and may have even reinforced some misconceptions. The

implications of this for teaching and for the model are described below.

To give a sense of some of the other lessons and tasks used by

Mr Smith and the responses of these students, the following are three

other open-ended tasks used as part of the unit.

Task B: Given the difference, create the question. The students

were give a sheet divided into four parts, with a number in each part

(respectively, 26, 982, 3193, 5.78). The students were invited to create—

Tasks and Pedagogies that Facilitate Mathematical Problem Solving 33

and to write in that part of the paper—subtraction questions that gave

that number as the answer.

Once more, all students in the class gave multiple responses, with

most students giving more than 20 different possibilities. Responses of

the “stragglers” for this task were:

Jenni gave more than 20 responses, most non trivial, using a

pattern of responses with whole numbers mostly correctly (e.g.,

3205 – 12 = 3193; 3206 – 13 = 3193), but extended the patterns to

decimal numbers incorrectly (e.g., 5.79 – 1 = 5.78; 5.80 – 2 = 5.78,

and so on)

Josh gave 23 responses, most trivial (e.g., 3197 – 4), and gave

similar responses to Jenni for the decimal part.

Eric gave 9 responses, some non trivial (e.g., 200 – 174; 2000 –

1018). All were correct, although he did not attempt the decimal

task.

Responses of the “competent” group were, once again, mixed:

Elaine gave more than 20 responses. In the first two tasks she used

trading even when not necessary (e.g., 990 – 8). Her response to

the third task was simple and her responses to the decimal task

were incorrect like Jenni’s.

Sheryl also had greater than 20 responses, generally simple, all

correct with the exception of the decimals task in which the

responses were also similar to Jenni’s.

Jeremy gave a substantial number of correct responses to each of

the tasks (e.g., 200 – 174 = 26; 1000 – 18 = 982; 4000 – 907 =

3193; 6.78 – 1.0 = 5.78).

Responses of the “achievers” again demonstrated creative solutions, the

use of generalisable patterns, and extended thinking. It was clear that this

group benefited once more from the open-ended challenge of the task

and the teacher’s extending prompts:

Diane gave 18 responses, some substantial (e.g., 333 – 307), with no

errors.

Ellen gave 23 responses, many substantial (e.g., 7.94 – 2.16), with

no errors.

Becky gave 15 responses, some substantial (e.g., 9.20 – 3.42), with

no errors.

Mathematical Problem Solving 34

Of the class overall, there were 9 students who gave multiple incorrect

responses, 8 students who were predominantly correct but generally used

simple examples and sometimes possibly reinforced misconceptions, and

7 students whose responses that could be categorised as insightful and

building on patterns (e.g., 10 – 4.22 = 5.78; 11 – 5.22 = 5.78). This

suggests that the 9 focus students are fairly representative of the spread

of responses overall.

It was notable that the “achievers” and the “competent” students

chose examples that extended their thinking on subtraction, and at least

gave them practice at the appropriate skill and conceptual level. The

“stragglers” proved more likely to choose examples within their level of

competence, and not beyond, and in some cases were reinforcing

misconceptions. This is a key challenge for the model, and we propose a

variation as is discussed below. However, all were able to participate in

the whole class discussions and describe their reasoning well when asked

to explain correct examples. The observer and the teacher both noted a

strong sense of participation and community in this lesson, not only for

the higher-achieving students.

We have noted many incidents throughout the research where

relatively open-ended questions allowed teachers to see where

individuals and groups of students had a misunderstanding that needed

whole-class attention. With this task, for example, Jenni’s misconception

was common, so Mr Smith could determine where more didactic

teaching would be required.

Task C: Giving an answer in a range. In this lesson, the task

had two parts: “What subtraction problems would give an answer

(i) between 40 and 50; and (ii) around 57?”

All students in the class gave multiple responses to the first part of

this task, and most gave multiple responses to the second part. Of the

“stragglers”:

Jenni gave more than 40 responses, generally non trivial. To the

first part, she such gave responses such as 100 – 52, and to the

second she used a pattern (e.g., 70 – 13; 71 – 14, and so on).

Josh gave 5 responses to the first part, all of which were simple

(e.g., 49 – 2), and none to the second task.

Tasks and Pedagogies that Facilitate Mathematical Problem Solving 35

Eric gave 10 responses: some to the first part were substantial

(e.g., 100 – 56 = 44) and likewise for some to the second task (e.g.,

350 – 293 = 57).

Of the “competent” group:

Elaine gave more than 15 responses. Some responses to the first

task were simple (e.g., 48 – 4 = 44), while the rest were more

complex (e.g., 246 – 189 = 57).

Sheryl gave multiple responses most of which were substantial

(e.g., 56 – 7 = 49; 209 – 152 = 57). All responses were correct.

Jeremy also had most responses correct, most of which were

substantial (e.g., 50.2 – 4.1 = 46.1; 100 – 43 = 57).

Of the “achievers”:

Diane gave more than 15 responses, most substantial (e.g., 62 – 14

= 48; 249 – 192 = 57) to the respective tasks.

Ellen gave 14 responses, all substantial (e.g., 70.29 – 28.14 =

42.15; 222 – 165 = 57).

Becky had more than 14 responses, most of which were substantial

such as 235 – 185 = 50 and 626 – 569 = 57.

All students participated well throughout the lesson and their work

showed evidence of attention to Mr Smith’s subtle prompts and

challenges. It seems that Eric (a “straggler”) as well as all the

“competent” students and the “achievers” were working at the level of

the items in Question 6, and close to the complexity of the tasks implied

by Question 10. Other than Jenni and Josh, all of these students gave

substantial responses to parts of the task. However, it seemed that Jenni

also did some productive work, although below the complexity of the

Question 6 items. This is discussed further below.

Note that for the “stragglers” and “competent” group, the responses

were generally less sophisticated than required by Questions 8 and 10 on

the tests, but not by much. It would be reasonable to assume from

observation alone that the open-ended classroom tasks were successful in

promoting both physical and conceptual engagement throughout the

lesson period, the class was progressing well. The observer noted that

there was an atmosphere of communal learning with the “stragglers”, in

particular, participating in the lesson’s review stage.

Mathematical Problem Solving 36

Task D: What’s wrong: Simulating correction of subtraction

questions. Mr Smith told the class that he had completed five subtraction

exercises which he wrote on the board horizontally (e.g., 100 – 21 = 89),

with some correct and some incorrect; and also five calculations

presented vertically that also had also had some correct and some

incorrect answers. The latter were set out like:

4 6 7

– 2 9 8

3 3 1

Mr Smith asked the class to work out which were correct and which

were not, and to advise him on how to avoid the errors in the future. In

our view, this is an excellent task for both school students and student

teachers in that it invites them to consider some common subtraction

computational errors, and the nature of possible advice.

Mr Smith demonstrated explicit pedagogy by being specific about

the task, saying that he expected the students to think of a range of

possible causes for the errors. The responses of the class overall

indicated that it was a successful lesson. As it happens, Jenni, Diane,

Ellen were absent for this class.

In terms of the “stragglers”, both Josh and Eric correctly scored the

responses appropriately as either correct or incorrect respectively, but

gave relatively superficial advice indicating that they had not identified

any patterns of errors. Jeremy corrected the examples appropriately, and

noticed the patterns in the responses, providing thoughtful advice. It

would seem that the challenge of this classroom task, that Jeremy was

able to respond to, was more substantial than the questions posed on the

test.

For the “competent” group, Elaine provided corrected responses to

the incorrect examples. In her advice she said, “Mr Smith you need to

carry and you have to stop adding instead of taking, look at the signs and

start concentrating, don’t rush, and take your time”. Sheryl also corrected

her examples well, she gave correct but relatively simplistic advice that

did not recognize the pattern of errors evident in the responses.

Tasks and Pedagogies that Facilitate Mathematical Problem Solving 37

For the “achievers”, Becky offered detailed and sophisticated

advice, indicating that she recognised the patterns of errors and could

articulate the patterns and erroneous thinking involved.

All students seemed to demonstrate competence and fluency with

the calculations, and the best students and some of the competent group

showed deeper insight and evidence of error analysis. In fact, given the

apparent success of these learning experiences, it would have been

anticipated that there would be more improvement shown on the post-

test.

In summarising the performance of the students overall, both in

class and on the tests, Jenni and Josh were able to participate in all of the

tasks but reinforced some misconceptions at times. While doing

respectable work in class and engaging at all stages of the lessons, they

did not reach the standard required by question 6 of the pre- and post-

tests (3 digit subtraction with trading), so it was not surprising that they

did not improve on question 6 on the post-test. Eric showed improvement

in class and we might have anticipated improvement in his scores, but he

did not demonstrate greater skill or understanding on the test Elaine and

Sheryl were clearly working at the level of Question 6, but not beyond,

and we would not have anticipated that they would correctly answer 8

and 10. Jeremy did well and we could have anticipated improvement. All

three “achievers” coped well with the tasks and achieved well in the

tests.

6.1.4 The delayed post test

To examine further the possibly that growth did occur as a result of using

open-ended questions and aspects of the pedagogical model, but over a

longer period than the unit, the class was presented again with Questions

6, 8 and 10 about 4 months after the teaching of the unit-firstly in a test

format, with only these three questions, and then one day later in a

worksheet format.

The “stragglers” Josh and Eric scored all of Question 6 correct on

the worksheet but not on the test, indicating some improvement. On the

four parts of question 6, Josh achieved respectively on the three test

Mathematical Problem Solving 38

administrations, 3 out of 4 correct, 2 out of 4 correct, and then 3 out of

4 correct. Eric showed further development with respective figures of

0 out of 4 correct, 2 out of 4 correct, and 3 out of 4 correct. Jenni had

Questions 6 and 8 correct on both the delayed post test and the

worksheet. She had earlier got 0 out of 4 correct (for question 6) in both

the pre-test and post-test. Thus in Jenni’s case the improvement was

substantial.

In the “competent” group, Sheryl answered Question 6 correctly as

previously on both the delayed post test and the worksheet, and also got

Question 10 correct on the worksheet. Elaine also got Question 6 correct

again on both original tests, then was correct on both test and worksheet

for Question 10. Jeremy got all three questions correct in both forms. All

the students improved, and Jeremy improved to the level of the

“achievers” on the post-test.

The achievers demonstrated competent performance overall. Diane

and Ellen got all three questions correct in both forms of delayed

assessment. Becky was absent for the delayed post-test and worksheet.

The overall longer-term improvement is of interest because the

teacher, Mr Smith, reported that there has been no explicit teaching of

subtraction in the intervening period. Even though it is not possible to

identify the impetus for the improvement in the skill levels of these

students, it is possible that the nature of the experiences in the

subtraction unit created sufficient awareness of the conceptual

possibilities and skill development to support the potential for further

growth to continue after the teaching period.

7 Summary and Conclusion

The intention of the research was to examine whether the planning and

teaching model, which used a problem solving approach based on

content specific open-ended tasks, is feasible and effective in classroom

contexts, whether it contributed to the goal of creating inclusive

experiences, and what is the nature of the learning of the students,

especially those experiencing difficulty.

This report is of one teacher’s implementation of the model, and the

impact on the learning of his students. It should be noted that the lessons

Tasks and Pedagogies that Facilitate Mathematical Problem Solving 39

were those created by the teacher for a unit of work with a focus on

subtraction as curriculum content, and while they contained some useful

open-ended tasks we do not claim that they are exemplary, or even

carefully sequenced. However, the lesson descriptions illustrate specific

features of the model being implemented. Mr Smith’s use of the model

was fairly typical of that of the other project teachers, and there were

similar responses from selected groups of target students in other

classrooms.

In terms of the goal of creating inclusive experiences for the wide

range of student capabilities that one finds in mathematics classrooms, in

the lessons reported, competent students increased their mathematical

proficiency and managed to progress their own learning through

undertaking the subtraction tasks. The more capable students generally

reacted positively to the challenge of open-ended tasks and further

opportunities for problem solving were stimulated by extending prompts

offered by the teacher. The more capable students created some

examples that were much more difficult than those they would have

faced with traditional textbook tasks, and it was clear that they remained

productively engaged, both physically and cognitively, and enjoyed the

challenge as well as some subtle competition and interesting discoveries.

The focus of our interest in our project overall was on students

experiencing difficulties, especially those from particular equity groups.

In this case, we did not seek data on socioeconomic background or other

factors, but were interested in the responses of students to the

mathematics tasks. It was clear that less capable students needed closer

attention from the teacher but at least they were able to participate fully

in the lessons, to contribute to discussions, and to use and explain

strategies that were meaningful to them. They responded well to explicit

instructions and were all able to commence the tasks then listen to, and

possibly benefit from, enabling prompts offered by the teacher. However,

it is clearly necessary for teachers using such tasks to monitor the work

of students experiencing difficulties to ensure that they are extending

their current levels of competence and understanding, to provide teaching

or enabling prompts in order to support such students as required, and

also to ensure that they are not merely reinforcing misconceptions by

Mathematical Problem Solving 40

practising incorrect procedures. This point will be incorporated into our

model of planning and teaching.

In terms of the planning and teaching model, we examined whether

teachers, including the one reported on above, could use the model,

incorporating the use of a sequence of open-ended tasks that could create

opportunities for personal constructive activity by students; enabling

prompts to allow those experiencing difficulty to engage in the class

work; and supplementary, extending prompts for students who complete

the initial task readily. This report indicates that it was possible for the

teacher to plan and teach a unit of work based around content specific

open-ended questions that engaged the students in mathematical

experiences, building students’ skills from their current levels, and

utilising prompts as appropriate. We note that the open-ended tasks that

Mr Smith developed were less challenging that the ones used by other

project teachers, but we stress that these tasks were his creation, and in

any case were likely to allow more opportunities for problem solving

than would comparable closed text book exercises.

We also explored the nature of constraints experienced, but teachers

reported none and few were obvious to observers. All of the teachers

reported that the students were willing to take the necessary risks, and in

this case, the better students seemed willing to take the most risk, which

is contrary to the Dweck (2000) hypothesis. The “stragglers” did not

extend themselves in relation to skill development. Generally, the

teachers reported that they were comfortable using each of the aspects

of the model in planning lessons and conducting them, although as

Mr Smith reported, “It takes time to come to grips with the range of

strategies”.

We also recorded evidence of the learning by the students of

particular skills, because it appears that teachers generally are reluctant

to experiment with alternate strategies because of potential threats to the

skill learning of students. We noted that merely examining differences

between matching pre- and post-test items did not fully illustrate the

students’ mathematical development. In fact, while there was limited

improvement during the course of the unit of work, there was substantial

improvement after the end of the teaching of Mr Smith’s unit of work —

and this was also experienced in several other classrooms. It is possible

Tasks and Pedagogies that Facilitate Mathematical Problem Solving 41

that this improvement may have been a result of awareness that was

created through the use of challenging open-ended tasks. This is a

question worthy of further exploration. Somewhat connected is the

possibility that either the original time lapse of two weeks or the test

itself did not allow the measurement of growth. In other words, Question

6 may not have been complex enough to detect smaller amounts of

growth by the “stragglers” and Questions 8 and 10 might have been too

much of a leap for the “competent” group. The nature of classroom

assessment of skill learning may also require further investigation.

References

Association of Teachers of Mathematics (1988). Reflections on teacher intervention.

Derby, UK: ATM.

Bernstein, B. (1996). Pedagogy, symbolic control, and identity: Theory, research,

critique. London: Taylor & Francis.

Brown, R., & Renshaw, P. (2006). Transforming practice: Using collective

argumentation to bring about change in a year 7 mathematics classroom.

In P. Grootenboer, R. Zevenbergen, & M. Chinnapan (Eds.), Proceedings of the

29

th

Conference of the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia

(pp. 99–107). Canberra: MERGA.

Christiansen, B., & Walther, G. (1986). Task and activity. In B. Christiansen,

A. G. Howson, & M. Otte (Eds.), Perspectives on Mathematics Education

(pp. 243–307). Dordrecht: Reidel.

Dweck, C. S. (2000). Self theories: Their role in motivation, personality, and

development. Philadelphia: Psychology Press.

Ginsburg, H. P. (1997). Mathematical learning disabilities: A view for developmental

psychology. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 30(1), 20–33.

Griffin, S., & Case, R. (1997). Re-thinking the primary school with curriculum: An

approach based on cognitive science. Issues in Education, 3(1), 1–49.

Lerman, S. (2001). Cultural, discursive psychology: A socio-cultural approach to

studying the teaching and learning of mathematics. Education Studies in

Mathematics, 46(1–3), 87–113.

Leung, S. S. (1998). On the open-ended nature of mathematical problem solving. In

E. Pehkonen (Ed.), Use of open-ended problems in mathematics classrooms

(pp. 26–35). Helsinki: Department of Teacher Education, University of Helsinki.

Middleton, J. A. (1995). A study of intrinsic motivation in the mathematics classroom: A

personal construct approach. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education,

26(3), 254–279.

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Nohda, N., & Emori, H. (1997). Communication and negotiation through open approach

method. In E. Pehkonen (Ed.), Use of open-ended problems in mathematics

classrooms (pp. 63–72). Helsinki: Department of Teacher Education, University of

Helsinki.

Pehkonen, E. (1997). Use of problem fields as a method for educational change. In

E. Pehkonen (Ed.), Use of open-ended problems in mathematics classrooms

(pp. 73–84). Helsinki: Department of Teacher Education, University of Helsinki.

Simon, M. (1995). Reconstructing mathematics pedagogy from a constructivist

perspective. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 26, 114–145.

Sullivan, P. (1999). Seeking a rationale for particular classroom tasks and activities.

In J. M. Truran & K. N. Truran (Eds.), Making the difference. Proceedings of

the 21st annual conference of the Mathematics Educational Research Group of

Australasia (pp. 15–29). Adelaide: MERGA.

Sullivan, P., Mousley, J., & Zevenbergen, R. (2006). Developing guidelines for

teachers helping students experiencing difficulty in learning mathematics. In

P. Grootenboer, R. Zevenbergen & M. Chinnappan (Eds.), Identities, cultures and

learning spaces, proceedings of the 29th annual conference of the Mathematics

Education Research Group of Australasia (pp. 496–503). Sydney: MERGA.

Vygotsky, V. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wiliam, D. (1998). Open beginnings and open ends. Unpublished manuscript.

43

Chapter 3

Learning through Productive Failure in

Mathematical Problem Solving

Manu KAPUR

Findings from two quasi-experimental studies on productive failure

for a two-week curricular unit on average speed are summarized. In

the first study, 75 year seven mathematics students from a Singapore

school experienced either a traditional lecture and practice teaching

cycle or a productive failure cycle, where they solved complex, ill-

structured problems in small groups without the provision of any

support or scaffolds up until a teacher-led consolidation lecture.

Despite seemingly failing in their collective and individual problem-

solving efforts, students from the productive failure condition

significantly outperformed their counterparts from the lecture and

practice condition on both the well-structured and higher-order

application problems on the post-test. A second study with 109 year

seven students from the same school replicated and extended these

findings. Compared with students who experienced scaffolded

solving of complex, ill-structured problems, students in the

productive failure condition demonstrated greater representation

flexibility in working with graphical representations. Findings and

implications of productive failure for mathematics teaching and

learning are discussed.

1 Introduction

When and how to design structure in learning and problem-solving

activities is a fundamental research and design issue in education and the

Mathematical Problem Solving 44

learning sciences. Structure can be operationalized in a variety of forms

such as structuring the problem itself, scaffolding, instructional

facilitation, provision of tools, content support, expert help, and so on

(e.g., Hmelo-Silver, Duncan, & Chinn, 2007; Schmidt, Loyens, van Gog,

& Pass, 2007). Thus conceived, structure is designed to constrain or

reduce the degrees of freedom in learning and problem solving activities;

the lower the degree of freedom, the greater the structure (Woods,

Bruner, & Ross, 1976). By doing so, structure increases the likelihood of

novices achieving performance success during problem solving, which

they might not otherwise be able to in the absence of support structures.

Indeed, a vast body of research supports the efficacy of such an

approach. For example, when learners are provided with strong support

structures in the form of worked solution examples before problem

solving, it leads to better schema acquisition and learning (Sweller, 1988;

Sweller & Chandler, 1991). This has led some researchers to argue that

instruction should be heavily guided especially at the start, for without it,

little if any learning takes place (e.g., Kirschner, Sweller, & Clark, 2006).

Further support for starting with greater structure in learning and

problem solving activities with a gradual reduction (or fading) over time

as learners gain expertise comes from other research programs on

scaffolding and fading (e.g., Hmelo-Silver, 2004; Puntambekar &

Hübscher, 2005; Vygotsky, 1978; Woods et al., 1976)

More often than not therefore, both researchers and practitioners

have tended to focus on ways of structuring learning and problem-

solving activities so as to achieve performance success, whereas the role

of failure in learning and problem solving much as it is intuitively

compelling remains largely underdetermined and under-researched by

comparison (Clifford, 1984; Schmidt & Bjork, 1992). What is perhaps

more problematic is that an emphasis on achieving performance success

has in turn led to a commonly-held belief that there is little efficacy in

novices solving problems without the provision of support structures.

While this belief may well be grounded in empirical evidence, it is

also possible that by engaging novices to persist and even fail at tasks

that are beyond their skills and abilities can be a productive exercise in

failure.

Learning through Productive Failure in Mathematical Problem Solving 45

2 Arguments Supporting the Case for Productive Failure

I present three arguments supporting the abovementioned possibility:

Argument from measurement. We make use of measures such as

tests, interviews, and so on, to make inferences about students’ learning.

It is one thing to infer learning from observed success on measures of

performance. But the conclusion that a lack of success on those measures

implies a lack of learning does not logically follow. In other words, even

if A (success on performance measures) were to imply B (learning), not-

A does not necessarily imply not-B. A lack of learning is not a logical

necessity that follows from a lack of performance; one is limited by the

validity and scope of the measures of performance one adopts (Chatterji,

2003).

Argument from theory. It is also reasonable to argue that external

support structures and scaffold may create a lock-in that restricts a fuller

exploration of the problem and solution spaces (Reiser, 2004). While this

lock-in may be effective in constraining the degree of freedom in a task

thereby helping learners accomplish the task efficiently, such learning

may not be sufficiently flexible and adaptive in the longer term,

especially when learners are faced with novel problems (Schwartz &

Martin, 2004). On the other hand, without such a lock-in, learners may

explore, struggle, and even fail at solving problems. The process may

well be less efficient in the shorter term but it may also allow for learning

that is potentially more flexible and adaptive in the longer term.

Persisting with such a process may engender increasingly high levels of

complexity in the exploration of the problem and solution spaces. In turn,

this build-up of complexity may allow for learning that is potentially

more flexible and adaptive (Kauffman, 1995). Evidence from expert-

novice literature strongly supports the notion that it is the complexity,

density, and interconnectedness of conceptual schemas that differentiate

experts from novices (Chi, Feltovich, & Glaser, 1981; Hardiman,

Dufresne, & Mestre, 1989).

Argument from past research. Several scholars speak to the role of

failure in learning and problem solving. Clifford (1979)’s review of

theories related to the effect of failure (e.g., learner frustration,

Mathematical Problem Solving 46

attribution and achievement motivation) led her to conclude that

“educators who teach by the maxim, “Nothing succeeds like success,” at

least sometimes maybe doing more harm than good” (pg. 44). She

further postulated that not only is performance success compatible with

failure experiences but may at times be ensured by it (Clifford, 1984).

There is also a growing body of supporting empirical evidence in

educational research. For example, research on impasse-driven learning

(Van Lehn, Siler, Murray, Yamauchi, & Baggett, 2003) and preparation

for future learning (Schwartz & Bransford, 1998) provide strong

evidence for the role of failure in learning.

My own work on productive failure examined students solving

complex, ill-structured problems without the provision on any external

support structures (Kapur, 2008; Kapur & Kinzer, 2009). I asked year

eleven student triads from seven high schools in India to solve either ill-

or well-structured physics problems in a synchronous, computer-

supported collaborative learning (CSCL) environment. After

participating in group problem solving, all students individually solved

well-structured problems followed by ill-structured problems. Findings

revealed that ill-structured group discussions were significantly more

complex and divergent than those of their well-structured counterparts,

leading to poor group performance as evidenced by the quality of

solutions produced by the groups. However, findings also suggested a

hidden efficacy in the complex, divergent interactional process even

though it seemingly led to failure; students from groups that solved ill-

structured problems outperformed their counterparts from the well-

structured condition in solving the subsequent well- and ill-structured

problems individually, suggesting a latent productivity in the failure. I

argued that delaying the structure received by students from the ill-

structured groups (who solved ill-structured problems collaboratively

followed by well-structured problems individually) helped them discern

how to structure an ill-structured problem, thereby facilitating a

spontaneous transfer of problem-solving skills (Marton, 2007).

Taken together, the arguments from measurement, theory, and past

research give us reason to believe that by delaying structure in the

learning and problem-solving activities so as to allow learners to persist

in and possibly even fail while solving complex, ill-structured problems

Learning through Productive Failure in Mathematical Problem Solving 47

can be a productive exercise in failure. The goal of this chapter is to

describe an on-going, classroom-based research program on productive

failure in mathematical problem solving at a mainstream, public school

in Singapore. Two studies have been carried out thus far with successive

cohorts of year seven students over the past two years. The first study,

carried out with the 2007 cohort, was designed as an exploratory, proof-

of-concept study of productive failure. The second study, carried out

with the 2008 cohort, replicated and extended the findings of the first

study. Fuller manuscripts detailing both studies have either been

published or are currently under review (Kapur, in press; Kapur, under

review; Kapur, Dickson, & Toh, 2008). For the purposes of this chapter,

I will summarize the studies’ design and procedures, and focus on the

findings and their implications for mathematics teaching and learning.

3 Exploring Productive Failure in a Singapore Math Classroom

The first study was an exploratory study of productive failure targeting

the curricular unit on average speed. Seventy five year seven

mathematics students from two intact classes taught by the same teacher

experienced either a conventional lecture and practice (LP) instructional

design or a productive failure (PF) design. Both classes participated in

the same number of lessons for the targeted unit totaling seven, 55-

minute periods over two weeks. Thus, the amount of instructional time

was held constant for the two conditions. All students took a pre- and

post-test on average speed.

In the PF condition, student groups (triads) took two periods to

work face-to-face on the first ill-structured problem (see Appendix A for

an example). Following this, students took one period to solve two

extension problems individually. The extension problems were designed

as what-if scenarios that required students to consider the impact of

changing one or more parameters in the group ill-structured problem. No

extra support or scaffolds were provided during the group or individual

problem-solving nor was any homework assigned at any stage. The PF

cycle—group followed by individual problem solving—was then

repeated for the next three periods using another ill-structured problem

scenario and its corresponding what-if extension problems. Only during

Mathematical Problem Solving 48

the seventh (and last) period was a consolidation lesson held where the

teacher got the groups to share their problem representations and solution

methods and strategies. The goal was to compare and contrast the

effectiveness of those representations and solution methods. The teacher

then shared the canonical ways of representing and solving the problems

with the class. While doing so, the teacher explicated the concept of

average speed in the context of the problems. Finally, students practiced

three well-structured problems on average speed (see Appendix B for

examples), and the consolidation ended with the teacher going through

the solutions to these problems.

In the LP condition, students experienced teacher-led lectures

guided by the course workbook. The teacher introduced a concept (e.g.,

average speed) to the class, worked through some examples, encouraged

students to ask questions, following which students solved problems for

practice. The teacher then discussed the solutions with the class. For

homework, students were asked to continue with the workbook

problems. Note that the worked-out examples and practice problems

were typically well-structured problems with fully-specified parameters,

prescriptive representations, predictive sets of solution strategies and

solution paths, often leading to a single correct answer (see Appendix B

for examples). This cycle of lecture, practice/homework, and feedback

then repeated itself over the course of seven periods. Therefore, unlike in

the PF condition, LP students did not experience a delay of structure;

they received a high level of structure throughout the instructional cycle

in the form of teacher-led lectures, scaffolded solving of well-structured

problems, proximal feedback, and regular practice, both in-class and for

homework.

3.1 Findings

An in-depth qualitative and quantitative analysis of group discussion

transcripts and artifacts revealed that students from the productive failure

condition produced a diversity of linked problem representations (e.g.,

iconic, graphical, proportions, algebraic, etc.) and methods—domain-

general (e.g., trial and error) as well as domain-specific (e.g.,

proportions, algebraic manipulation)—for solving the problems but were

Learning through Productive Failure in Mathematical Problem Solving 49

ultimately unsuccessful in their efforts, be it in groups or individually.

Solving a problem successfully means that groups were able to build on

their representations to devise either domain-general and/or domain-

specific strategies, develop a solution, and support it with quantitative

and qualitative arguments (Anderson, 2000; Chi et al., 1981; Spiro,

Feltovich, Jacobson, & Coulson, 1992).

Figure 1. Success rate of groups and individual problem solving in the PF condition

% of Groups Successful/Unsuccessful in solving

Group Problems

89

79

0%

20%

40%

60%

80%

100%

Problem 1 Problem 2

%

o

f

g

r

o

u

p

s

% Unsuccessful

% Successful

% of Individuals Successful/Unsuccessful in solving

Extension Problems

97

80

0%

20%

40%

60%

80%

100%

Problem 1 Problem 2

%

o

f

i

n

d

i

v

i

d

u

a

l

s

% Unsuccessful

% Successful

Mathematical Problem Solving 50

Figure 2. Performance of PF and LP students on well-structured and higher-order

application items on the post-test. The y-axis represents mean score as a percentage of the

maximum score on well-structured and higher-order application items.

Figure 1 shows the percentage of groups and individuals from the

PF condition that were successful in solving the group and individual

extension problems respectively. The success rates (indicated by the

black portion of the bar graph) for groups were evidently low; only 11%

(i.e., 100-89) and 21% of the groups managed to solve problems 1 and 2

respectively. Likewise, the success rates for extension problems were

also low at only 3% for problem 1 and 20% for problem 2. Expectedly,

students also reported low confidence in their solutions. Therefore, on

conventional measures of performance success, accuracy, and efficiency,

these findings may be considered a failure on the part of the PF students

in spite of their persistent attempts at solving the complex, ill-structured

problems.

By statistically controlling for prior knowledge as measure by

students’ performance on a pre-test, analysis of variance of post-test

performance between the two conditions revealed (see Figure 2) that

despite seemingly failing in their collective and individual problem-

solving efforts, students from the PF condition significantly

Mean % Score on Post-test Items

96

64

90

41

0

20

40

60

80

100

120

well-structured items higher-order item

%

S

c

o

r

e

PF

LP

Learning through Productive Failure in Mathematical Problem Solving 51

outperformed their counterparts from the LP condition on both well-

structured and higher-order application problems on the post-tests. The

difference on the well-structured items, on average, was 6%, which is

remarkable given the fact that these were the very kinds of problems that

LP students had routinely practiced under strong instructional scaffolds

and guidance. The difference on the ill-structured item, on average, was

expectedly high at 23%. In terms of effect sizes, PF students were on

average .4 standard deviations above the LP students on the well-

structured items, and almost one standard deviation above the LP

students on the ill-structured item. This suggested that the productive

failure hypothesis held up to empirical evidence even within a relatively

short, two-week intervention.

However, as with any program of research, initial forays result in

more questions than answers. Two major issues stood out:

a. One could always argue that perhaps students in the PF condition

performed better on the post-tests because they had more collaborative

activities built into the larger design. This is a perfectly valid argument

that the first study was not designed to address. An immediate

implication for the second study was to design the LP condition to have a

similar emphasis on collaborative activities so as to unpack the effect of

collaboration.

b. One could also argue that had the PF students been provided

with some structure or scaffolds during their problem-solving efforts, it

might have resulted in even better learning outcomes than the ones

obtained in the first study (e.g., Sweller, Kirschner, & Clark, 2007). To

address this issue, a third condition was added in the second study.

Students in this third condition experienced all tasks and activity

structures that PF students experienced except that they were provided

with instructional structure and scaffolds by the teacher during group and

individual problem solving.

By designing more collaborative activities in the LP condition and

adding a third condition as described above, the second study built on the

first study by providing stricter comparison conditions for productive

failure.

Mathematical Problem Solving 52

4 Extending Productive Failure in a Singapore Math Classroom

The purpose of the second study was to a) replicate and extend the

findings of the first study and b) unpack the effects of collaboration and

instructional structure and scaffolds during activities that engage students

in solving complex, ill-structured problems. One hundred and nine, year

seven students from three intact classes from the 2008 cohort of the same

school took part in the second study. Once again, a quasi-experimental

design was used with one class assigned to the ‘Productive Failure’ (PF)

condition, another to the ‘Lecture and Practice’ (LP) condition, and the

third class to the ‘Scaffolded Ill-structured Problem Solving’ (SIPS)

condition. All three classes participated in the same number of lessons

for the targeted unit totaling seven, 55-minute periods over two weeks.

Thus, the amount of instructional time was held constant for the three

conditions. As in the first study, all students took a pre- and post-test on

average speed.

The design of the PF condition was exactly the same as in the first

study. The design of the LP condition was modified to incorporate a

roughly equal emphasis on collaborative and individual work. The SIPS

condition was designed to be exactly the same as the PF condition with

one important exception. Whereas students in the PF condition did not

receive any form of structure or scaffolding during the group or

individual problem solving process, students in the SIPS condition were

scaffolded during that process. This kind of scaffolding was typically in

the form of teacher clarifications, focusing attention on significant issues

or parameters in the problem, question prompts that engender student

elaboration and explanations, and mini lectures and whole-class

discussions to target one or a few critical aspects of problem solving

(Hmelo-Silver et al., 2007; Puntambekar & Hübscher, 2005; Schmidt

et al., 2007; Woods et al., 1976). After the scaffolded problem solving

phase, the teacher-led consolidation lesson was the same as in the PF

condition.

4.1 Findings

Figure 3 shows the percentage of groups from the PF and SIPS

conditions that were successful in solving the group problems. The

Learning through Productive Failure in Mathematical Problem Solving 53

success rates (indicated by the black portion of the bar graph) for PF

groups were evidently low; only 17% and 8% of the groups managed to

solve problems 1 and 2 respectively. In contrast, the success rates for

SIPS groups were about five times greater; 58% and 67% of the groups

managed to solve problems 1 and 2 respectively. Thus, the average

success rate was 62.5%, which was expectedly higher than that for the

PF condition because students were given instructional scaffolding by

the teacher in the form of representation scaffolds, instructional prompts

and discussion, and problem-solving strategies.

Figure 3. Success rate of group problem solving in the PF and SIPS conditions

Likewise, Figure 4 shows the percentage of students from the PF

and SIPS conditions that were successful in solving the individual

extension problems. The success rates for PF groups were again low;

only 11% and 8% of the PF students managed to solve problems 1 and 2

respectively. In contrast, the success rates for SIPS groups were about

four to seven times greater; 45% and 61% of the groups managed to

solve problems 1 and 2 respectively. The higher group and individual

problem solving success rates for SIPS students was not surprising,

because unlike PF students, SIPS students were given instructional

scaffolding by the teacher in the form of representation scaffolds,

% Groups Successful/Unsuccessful in solving Group Problems

83

92

42

33

0%

20%

40%

60%

80%

100%

Problem 1 Problem 2 Problem 1 Problem 2

PF PF SIPS SIPS

%

G

r

o

u

p

s

% Unsuccessful

% Successful

Mathematical Problem Solving 54

instructional prompts and discussion, and problem-solving strategies.

This was further reflected in the finding that self-reported confidence in

the solutions reported by SIPS students was on average twice as high as

that reported by PF students—an effect size of more than 1.5 standard

deviations! Thus, on conventional measures of efficiency, accuracy, and

performance success, students in the PF condition seemed to have failed

relative to their counterparts in the SIPS and LP conditions.

Figure 4. Success rate of individual problem solving in the PF and SIPS conditions

As in the first study, post-test performance revealed quite a different

story. For the second study, the post-test comprised three well-structured

problem items similar to those on the pre-test, one higher-order

application item, and two additional items designed to measure

representational flexibility, that is, the extent to which students are able

to flexibly adapt their understanding of the concepts of average speed to

solve problems that involve tabular and graphical representations. Note

that the tabular and graphical representations were not targeted during

instruction. Appendix C provides examples of the four types of items on

post-test 1. Figure 5 presents the breakdown of post-test performance as

a percentage of maximum score on the four types of items.

% Individuals Successful/Unsuccessful in solving Extension Problems

89

92

55

39

0%

20%

40%

60%

80%

100%

Problem 1 Problem 2 Problem 1 Problem 2

PF PF SIPS SIPS

%

I

n

d

i

v

i

d

u

a

l

s

% Unsuccessful

% Successful

Learning through Productive Failure in Mathematical Problem Solving 55

Figure 5. Breakdown of post-test 1 performance as a percentage of the maximum score

for the four types of items

By statistically controlling for prior knowledge as measured by

students’ performance on a pre-test, analysis of variance of post-test

performance between the three conditions revealed that students from

the PF condition significantly outperformed their counterparts from the

LP and SIPS conditions on both the well-structured items (8-11%; an

effect size of 0.6 standard deviations) as well as the higher-order

application item (13-18%; an effect size of 0.5 standard deviations),

thereby suggesting that the productive failure hypothesis held up to

empirical evidence (see Figure 2). The differences between SIPS and LP

conditions were not significant, though students from the SIPS class

performed marginally better than those from the LP class on both the

types of items. With regard to representational flexibility as measured by

performance on the tabular and graphical representation items, there

were no significant differences between the conditions on the tabular

representation item. This could be because of the relative concreteness of

a tabular representation, which may have been easier for students to work

with than a more abstract representation. However, on the graphical

representation item, students from the PF condition significantly

outperformed their counterparts from the SIPS and LP condition by 18-

Mean % Score on Post-test Items

89

60

74

92

81

47

69

74

78

42

68

73

40

50

60

70

80

90

100

well-structured items higher-order item tabular representation

item

graphical

representation item

%

S

c

o

r

e

PF

SIPS

LP

Mathematical Problem Solving 56

19% % (an effect size of 1.5 standard deviations). Overall, the

descriptive trend PF > SIPS > LP seemed surprisingly consistent across

the different types of items.

5 General Discussion

Findings from both the classroom-based studies summarized in this

chapter suggest that despite seemingly failing in their collective and

individual problem-solving efforts, students from the productive failure

condition significantly outperformed their counterparts from the lecture

and practice condition on the well-structured as well as higher-order

application items on the post-test. What is particularly interesting is the

fact that students from the productive failure condition outperformed

their counterparts in the other condition on the well-structured problems

on the post-test, the very kinds of problems that students in the lecture

and practice condition had solved repeatedly under strong instructional

guidance and support. More importantly, extending the findings of the

first study, findings of the second study suggest that when compared with

students from the scaffolded, ill-structured problem solving condition,

students from the productive failure condition performed better on both

the well-structured and higher-order application items on the post-test.

They also demonstrated greater representational flexibility in building

upon and adapting what they had learnt to solve problems involving

graphical representations—a representation that was not covered during

the instructional phase.

5.1 Explaining productive failure

There are three interconnected explanations for productive failure.

a. Learning to collaborate. The first explanation deals with the notion

that perhaps PF students learned how to collaborate with one another

over the course of two weeks, so that they could benefit from the

collaboration. However, collaboration alone cannot explain the findings

because students in the SIPS and LP condition were also involved in

collaboration.

Learning through Productive Failure in Mathematical Problem Solving 57

b. Learning the targeted mathematical concept. The second explanation

deals with the notion that perhaps PF students learned the mathematical

concept of average speed better. Perhaps what was happening in the PF

condition was that students were seeking to assemble or structure key

ideas, concepts, representations, and methods while attempting to

represent and solve the ill-structured problems, even though these efforts

were evidently not successful in the shorter term (e.g., Amit & Fried,

2005; Chi et al., 1981; Even, 1998; Kapur, 2008). It is plausible therefore

that having explored various representations and methods for solving the

complex ill-structured problems prepared them to better discern and

understand those very concepts, representation, and methods when

presented in a well-assembled, structured form during the consolidation

lesson (Marton, 2007; Schwartz & Bransford, 1998; Spiro et al., 1992).

In other words, when the teacher explained the “correct” representations

and methods for solving the problem, they perhaps better understood not

only why the correct representations and methods work but also why the

“incorrect” ones, the ones they tried, did not work (Greeno, Smith, &

Moore, 1993). This very process might also explain the representational

flexibility demonstrated by students from the PF condition.

c. Developing epistemic resources for mathematical problem

solving. The third explanation deals with the notion that perhaps PF

students had greater opportunities to learn how to solve mathematics

problems. This notion leverages the distinction between “learning about”

a discipline (as in the second explanation (b) above) and “learning to be”

like a member of that discipline (Thomas & Brown, 2007). The acts of

representing problems, developing domain-general and specific methods,

flexibly adapting or inventing new representations and methods when

others do not work, critiquing, elaborating, explaining to each other, and

ultimately not giving up but persisting in solving complex problems are

epistemic resources that mathematicians commonly demonstrate and

leverage in their practice. Perhaps the PF design helped student expand

their repertoire of epistemic resources situated within the context of

classroom-based problem solving activity structures (Hammer, Elby,

Scherr, & Redish, 2005). Perhaps these were the very resources they

leveraged to solve the post-test problems better. To be clear: I am not

Mathematical Problem Solving 58

arguing that there was some larger epistemological shift that took place

within a two-week intervention. What I am arguing instead is that

perhaps the PF design provided students with the opportunities to take

the first steps towards developing these context-dependent, epistemic

resources (Hammer et al., 2005). The more such opportunities are

designed for students, the better they will develop such epistemic

resources.

5.2 Implications for teaching and learning design

Many instructional designs make either implicit or explicit commitments

to a performance success focus (Clifford, 1979, 1984; Schmidt & Bjork,

1992). A focus on achieving performance success, therefore, clearly

necessitates the provision of relevant support structures and scaffolds

during problem solving. In designing for productive failure, the focus

was more on students persisting in problem solving than on actually

being able to solve the problem successfully. In contrast to a focus on

achieving performance success, a focus on persistence does not

necessitate a provision of support structures as long as the design of the

problem allows students to make some inroads into exploring the

problem and solution spaces without necessarily solving the problem

successfully. An important implication for the design of problems and

problem solving activities is that there is efficacy in persistence itself

even though it may not lead to success in performance.

However, this only begs the question: How does one design for

persistence? In productive failure, designing for persistence minimally

involved five interconnected principles:

a. Designing complex, ill-structured tasks. Two ill-structured problems

were designed such that they possessed many problem parameters with

varying degrees of specificity and relevance, as can be seen in the

problem scenario in Appendix A. Some of the parameters interacted with

each other such that their effect could not be examined in isolation. As a

result, the ill-structured problem scenarios were complex, possessed

multiple solution paths leading to multiple solutions (as opposed to a

single correct answer), and often required students to make and justify

Learning through Productive Failure in Mathematical Problem Solving 59

assumptions (Jonassen, 2000; Spiro et al., 1992; Voss, 1988). In contrast,

well-structured problems commonly found in textbooks afford normative

representations and methods for solving them, which often resulting in a

single correct answer. In such cases, either a student is able to solve the

problem quickly or simply gives up. Hence, well-structured problems

often do not afford opportunities for students to persist in problem

solving.

b. Designing collaborative activities. The activity structure of

collaboration helps students persist in solving problems more than what

they may do individually. Hence, the choice of having students engage in

collaborative problem solving was critical towards maximizing the

likelihood of persistence in problem solving.

c. Setting expectations for persistence. It is important that teachers set

appropriate expectations to assure students that it is okay not to be able

to solve the ill-structured problems as long as they try various ways of

solving them, especially highlighting to them the fact that there were

multiple solutions to the problems. This setting of expectation is

important because the usual norm in most classrooms (though not all) is

not one of persistence. Instead, it is getting to the correct answer, of

which there is only one, in the most efficient manner. Therefore,

designing for persistence requires substantial and constant effort on the

part of the teacher to set the appropriate expectations throughout the

series of lessons.

d. Withholding assistance. It is also important for teachers to get

comfortable with the idea of withholding assistance or help when

students ask for it, and instead get students to try working through the

problem themselves first. Students are used to asking their teachers for

help so much so that they do so even before trying to figure out an

answer by themselves, be it individually or in groups. At the same time,

teachers are just as used to offering help and assistance when it is asked

for so much so that sometimes opportunities for students to persist in

solving the problem are missed; opportunities that are critical for

realizing productive failure. In many ways, the first three principles of

Mathematical Problem Solving 60

designing ill-structured problems, collaboration, and setting appropriate

expectations may come to naught if teachers do not withhold assistance

during initial problem solving.

e. Iterative design. Finally, it is important to note that designing for

persistence is not a one-off design effort. Usually, one does not get it

right the first time around. Decisions around the above design principles

are not made in isolation but as part of an iterative design process that

involves other teachers and students so that the complexity of the ill-

structured problem scenarios can be developmentally calibrated with the

age, grade, and ability level of the students. Before classroom

implementation, multiple pilot tests with two to three groups of students

are used to provide insights into and help fine-tune the design decisions

described above. Classroom implementation provides additional insights

that lead to further iterations and fine tuning of the design.

The abovementioned five principles are but one set of principles for

designing for persistence. They are surely not the only way of doing so.

Needless to say, an emphasis on persistence comes with its own set of

problems because of students have varying levels of persistence, not all

students persist in problem-solving, the nature of their persistence varies,

and relationship between the extent to which students persist and the

nature of their persistence relates to learning remains an open and

important question for future research.

6 Conclusion

In the classrooms that I have been working in, the conventional bias has

typically been towards heavy structuring of instructional activities right

from the start. The basic argument being - why waste time letting

learners make mistakes when you could give them the correct

understandings? This arguably makes for an efficient process but what

productive failure suggests is that processes that may seem to be

inefficient and divergent in the short term potentially have a hidden

efficacy about them provided one could extract that efficacy. The

Learning through Productive Failure in Mathematical Problem Solving 61

implication being that by not overly structuring the early learning and

problem solving experiences of learners and leaving them to persist and

possibly fail can be a productive exercise in failure. I contend that the

work described in this chapter opens up an exciting line of inquiry into

the hidden efficacies in ill-structured, problem-solving activities. Perhaps

one should resist the near-default rush to structure learning and problem-

solving activities for it may well be more fruitful to first investigate

conditions under which instructional designs lead to productive failure as

opposed to just failure.

Acknowledgements

The research reported in this paper was funded by grants from the

Learning Sciences Lab of the National Institute of Education of

Singapore. I would like to thank the students, teachers, the head of the

department of mathematics, and the principal of the participating school

for their support for this project. I am particularly indebted to Leigh

Dickson who was instrumental in coordinating the logistics and data

collection efforts. I am also grateful to Professors Beaumie Kim, David

Hung, Kate Anderson, Katerine Bielaczyc, Liam Rourke, Michael

Jacobson, Sarah Davis, and Steven Zuiker for their insightful comments

and suggestions on this manuscript. This chapter summarized findings

from two studies on productive failure; fuller manuscripts of the first

study have already been published elsewhere (Kapur et al., 2008; Kapur,

in press), whereas the fuller manuscript of the second study is currently

under review (Kapur, under review).

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Appendix A

An Ill-structured Problem Scenario

It was a bright, sunny morning and the day of the Singapore Idol

auditions. Hady and Jasmine were going to audition as a team. They

were practicing at their friend Ken’s house and were planning to bike to

the auditions at Singapore Expo. The auditions were supposed to start

at 2 pm and Hady and Jasmine wanted to make sure that they could make

it in time.

Hady: Ken, how do we get to the Singapore Expo from here?

Ken: Well, follow this road (pointing to a map) until you reach the

expressway. I usually drive at a uniform speed of 90 km/h on

the expressway for about 3 minutes. After that there is a sign

telling you how to get to Singapore Expo.

Jasmine: How long does it take you to reach Singapore Expo?

Ken: It normally takes me 7 minutes to drive from my house when

I am traveling at an average speed of 75 km/h.

After getting the directions, Hady and Jasmine left Ken’s house and

biked together at Jasmine’s average speed of 0.15 km/min. After biking

for 25 minutes, Jasmine biked over a piece of glass and her tire went flat.

Jasmine: Oops! My tire is flat! What shall we do now? Can I just

ride with you on your bike or shall we take a bus the rest of

the way?

Hady: I don’t think that is a good idea. My bike is old and rusty and

it cannot hold both of us. Taking the bus is not a very good

idea either. There is no direct bus from here to Singapore

Expo, so we would have to take one bus and then transfer to

another one. All the waiting for buses would definitely make

us late. Do you have any money on you?

Learning through Productive Failure in Mathematical Problem Solving 65

Jasmine: Let me check….. I forgot to withdraw money today. I only

have $2.

Hady: I did not bring my wallet. I only have $1 for a drink.

Jasmine: Since we do not have enough money to take a taxi, shall we

just leave our bikes here and walk?

Hady: It takes me approximately 5 minutes to walk to school which

is about 250 meters from my home. How long does it take

you to walk to school?

Jasmine: It takes me about 13-15 minutes to walk to school which is

about 450 meters from my home.

Hady: No, no, no! Walking would take too much time. We will end

up late. Why don’t you lock up your bike and take my bike

and bike ahead. Leave my bike somewhere along the route

and begin walking to the audition. I will walk from here until

I get to my bike and ride it the rest of the way since I can bike

at a faster speed. My average biking speed is 0.2 km/min.

Jasmine: That sounds like a good idea! But how far should I ride your

bike before leaving it for you and walking the rest of the way.

Since we are auditioning together as a team, we have to reach

there at the same time!?

How far should Jasmine ride Hady’s bike so they both arrive at the

audition at the same time?

Mathematical Problem Solving 66

Appendix B

Examples of Well-structured Problems

1. The flight distance between Singapore and Sydney is about 6316 km.

A plane takes 7 h 20 min to fly from Singapore to Sydney.

a) Find the average speed of the plane from Singapore to Sydney.

Give your answer correct to the nearest km/hr.

b) Sydney’s time is 3 hours ahead of Singapore’s time. If the plane

departs from Singapore at 0955 hours, find its time of arrival in Sydney.

2. Jack walks at an average speed of 4 km/hr for one hour. He then

cycles 6 km at 12 km/hr. Find his average speed for the whole journey.

Learning through Productive Failure in Mathematical Problem Solving 67

Appendix C

Items on Post-test 1

A post-test well-structured item: David travels at an average speed of

4km/hr for 1 hour. He then cycles 6km at an average speed of 12 km/hr.

Calculate his average speed for the entire journey.

The higher-order application item: Hummingbirds are small birds

that are known for their ability to hover in mid-air by rapidly flapping

their wings. Each year they migrate approximately 8583 km from

Canada to Chile and then back again. The Giant Hummingbird is the

largest member of the hummingbird family, weighing 18-20 gm. It

measures 23cm long and it flaps its wings between 8-10 times per

second. For every 18 hours of flying it requires 6 hours of rest. The

Broad Tailed Hummingbird beats its wings 18 times per second. It is

approximately 10-11 cm and weighs approximately 3.4 gm. For every

12 hours of flying it requires 12 hours of rest. If both birds can travel 1

km for every 550 wing flaps and they leave Canada at approximately the

same time, which hummingbird will get to Chile first?

Tabular representation item: The property market has been on the

rise for the past few years. In the newspaper, you find the following table

with the growth rate over the past 5 years.

Year % Growth

2003 2%

2004 7%

2005 11%

2006 14%

2007 16%

Mathematical Problem Solving 68

Graph B

Some people are saying that the property market is growing. Other

are saying that it is slowing down. Based on the table above, what do you

think—is the property market growing or slowing down? Explain your

answer with calculations.

Graphical representation item: Bob drove 140 miles in 2 hours

and then drove 150 miles in the next 3 hours. Study the two speed-time

graphs A and B carefully. Which graph - A, B, or both - can represent

Bob’s journey? Show your working and explain your answer.

Graph A

Speed

Speed

69

Chapter 4

Note Taking as Deliberate Pedagogy:

Scaffolding Problem Solving Learning

Lillie R. ALBERT Christopher BOWEN Jessica TANSEY

This chapter provides two teaching episodes to illustrate what note

taking as a tool for thought might look like in scaffolding problem

solving learning. A theoretical discussion examines how note taking

can be deliberate in nature, highlighting the work of Bruner and

Vygotsky. This discussion includes the notion that learning and

thinking depend upon internal speech, which can be developed and

maintained through interaction within dynamic social contexts. The

teaching episodes illustrate practical models for instructing students

on how to take notes. The aim is to explore how conceptual hard

scaffolding influences the interactions between teachers and their

students. In addition, it includes a discussion of the role the teacher

educator in scaffolding the performance of the teachers. Finally,

conclusions are made regarding why the model works, noting some

of the issues that surface when note taking as a tool for thinking and

learning is applied in mathematics classrooms.

1 Introduction

Assigning a mathematics notebook is a common practice in middle

schools (Years 5 to 8) in the United States (US). The notebook is

typically a binder divided into sections consisting of work completed by

students: homework, daily class-work, group-work products, quizzes,

and journaling. If the notebook contains notes, they generally are

incorporated into the daily class-work section and are limited to

Mathematical Problem Solving 70

definitions and problems modeled by the teachers. Too often, this general

reason for the notebook seems to be for organizational purposes.

Furthermore, teachers seldom teach note-taking skills or require students

to use their notes as an aid in the problem solving process. For this

reason, there is very little evidence of students’ use of notes beyond

organizational purposes (Boch and Piolat, 2005). While these

organizational purposes may validate requiring students to take notes in

class, this practice does not expose students to the metacognitive aspect

of note taking—writing to learn new content (Piolat, Olive, and Kellogg,

2005), nor does it provide equitable mathematical learning experiences

for all types of students.

Note taking can serve as a tool for scaffolding learning. Scaffolds

are the supports provided by more knowledgeable others to help a learner

move from a current level of performance to a more advanced level.

Essential to scaffolding within instruction is the use of language for

mediation (Albert, 2000; Wertsch, 1979, 1980; Vygotsky, 1986). Note

taking, as written language, is an important communicative tool that can

serve as a cognitive function assisting learners in acquiring new

knowledge; it can also be a tool to express thoughts. In the ethos of

reform-oriented curricula, such as the Connected Mathematics Project

(CMP) in the US, teachers need to provide students with experiences to

learn how to skillfully write notes in ways that will help them develop

their own knowledge and thinking about mathematics. This position is

similar to a finding from a study by Boaler (2002) about the potential of

reform-oriented curricula to promote equity. Boaler asserts that practices,

which help students access reform approaches, may assist students in

understanding “questions posed to them, teaching them to appreciate the

need for written communication and justification, and discussing with

them ways of interpreting contextualized questions” (p. 253).

With the publication of Principles and Standards for School

Mathematics in 2000 (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics,

2000), the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM)

challenges mathematics teachers to reject the notion that only some

students can succeed in mathematics, and to replace this commonly held

belief with a philosophy that promotes equitable mathematics learning

for all students. The NCTM asserts that expectations must be raised –

Note Taking as Deliberate Pedagogy 71

“mathematics can and must be learned by all students,” (p. 13) and

deliberately organized note taking may act as a tool through which

mathematics teachers can promote equity in their mathematics classroom

and make mathematics content more accessible to their students with

diverse learning needs. To do so, teachers must deliberately increase the

expectations for note taking that they hold for all students in a way that

parallels the increased expectations NCTM places on them to promote

equity in their classrooms. These increased expectations, together with

appropriately scaffolded instruction on deliberate note taking, may lead

to increased equity on performance in mathematics classrooms.

In this chapter, we provide two teaching episodes to illustrate what

note taking as a tool for thought might look like in mathematics

classrooms. We begin with a brief discussion of how note taking can be

deliberate in nature, grounding this scheme of note taking in Bruner’s

(1963, 1966) idea that learning new knowledge should be a deliberate

process informed by teachers’ professional development. This discussion

includes the Vygotskian notion that learning and thinking depend upon

internal speech, which can be developed and maintained through

interaction within dynamic social contexts. Next, we present teaching

episodes to illustrate practical models for teaching students how to take

notes. The aim is to explore aspects of the teaching episodes and how

conceptual hard scaffolding influences the interactions between teachers

and their students. This section also includes a discussion of the role the

teacher educator play in scaffolding the performance of the teachers.

Finally, we consider why the model works, noting some of the issues that

surface when note taking as a tool for thinking and learning is applied in

mathematics classrooms.

2 The Deliberate Nature of Note Taking: Bruner and Vygostsky

From a philosophical viewpoint, note taking in this chapter is discussed

under the principle of epistemology, which encompasses the study of the

origin, nature, limits, and methods of knowledge. How might teachers

encourage students to use their notes to discern what they know about

the mathematical knowledge learned through their problem solving

Mathematical Problem Solving 72

reform-oriented textbooks? How does the deliberate nature of note taking

scaffold students in their learning of new mathematical concepts

presented in these texts? Implicated in the epistemology of mathematical

learning via note taking is the work and research of Bruner (1996, 1966,

& 1963) and Vygotsky (1994, 1986, 1981, & 1978). Their work is useful

in explaining what processes trigger student performance when

participating in practices directed by deliberate pedagogy and when

identifying what resources or experiences may form the basis for student

learning of mathematics. Both Bruner and Vygotsky position their notion

of learning and development within a practical view in which the

authenticity of learning is deduced, negotiated, and consensual. Such a

view suggests that mathematical learning calls attention to the ways in

which learning is changed and continuously renewed as learners interact

in contexts that scaffold sense-making of the content (Driscoll, 1994).

Note taking then, as a tool, allows students to demonstrate their

conceptual understanding of mathematics on an abstract level in that

writing is a concrete representation of thought (Albert, 2000).

Bruner (1973) asserts that learners move from a concrete

understanding to an abstract understanding of the mathematical concepts

they encounter. When used deliberately and purposefully, note taking

acts as a bridge that connects the concrete domain to the abstract domain

presented in reform-oriented texts. This can be seen when mathematics

teachers apply deliberate pedagogical methods for taking notes in their

classrooms; metacognition fosters students’ awareness of what they need

to learn, when and how they need to learn it, and self-knowledge of

personal and intellectual qualities. Thus, “[k] nowing is a process, not a

product” (Bruner, 1973, p. 72). From Bruner’s perspective, students can

best operate at a high metacognitive level when pedagogical processes

are deliberate and intentional.

Like Bruner, Vygotsky (1994, 1978) believed that learning in the

classroom must coalesce with deliberate pedagogy. Vygotsky introduced

the notion of the zone of proximal development to explain how

students make the transition from interpsychological functioning to

intrapsychological functioning; deliberate pedagogical practices that

include note taking may assist students in making this transition. The

zone of proximal development is the distance between a student’s “actual

Note Taking as Deliberate Pedagogy 73

developmental level as determined by independent problem solving” and

the higher level of “potential development as determined through

problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more

capable peers” (1978, p. 86). This idea is useful in explaining, at least in

part, why the phenomenon of using note taking as a tool for scaffolding

mathematical learning makes sense. Greenfield (1984) suggests that the

metaphorical nature of a scaffold, as it is known in building construction,

has five attributes. “It provides a support; it functions as a tool; it extends

the range of the workers; it allows the worker to accomplish a task not

otherwise possible; and it is used selectively to aid the worker where

needed…a scaffold would not be used for example, when a carpenter is

working five feet from the ground” (p. 118). The attributes of a scaffold

also make clear how note taking can be a tool that assists students in

solving problems that may be difficult or unfamiliar. For example, as

students apply strategies and techniques to solve difficult or unfamiliar

problems, they use their written notes to help them begin to connect their

thinking to mathematical ideas. Note taking provides students with

opportunities to learn through writing while extending their

understanding of concepts and content; the inner dialogue with self

unequivocally offers students opportunities to write, practice, and make

their thinking visual and concrete (Albert, 2000).

Note taking can be viewed as a “conceptual hard scaffold” that

guides students in the problem solving process (Saye and Brush, 2002).

Hard scaffolds are fixed supports or guides based on teachers’ prior

expectations and knowledge of difficulties students might encounter as

they engage in problem solving tasks. Therefore, conceptual hard

scaffolds can provide directions that help students seek relevant

information to use when problem solving. Conceptual hard scaffolds may

be models of approaches or processes (Simons and Klein, 2007). For

example, a teacher may provide a model of a simpler problem so

students can apply it to solve a complex problem. Then, the students can

use their written notes as a model of how to start a difficult problem or as

a hint and support in the problem solving process. Such an approach may

promote higher-order thinking as well as a way for students to make

connections between simple and complex problems.

Mathematical Problem Solving 74

Students need proper scaffolding to be introduced to the deliberate

process of note taking; similarly, their teachers need proper scaffolding

to learn how to teach this new approach to note taking. Professional

development provides the opportunity for teachers to develop an

understanding of and to improve upon the pedagogical practices needed

to effectively practice deliberate note taking. The implementation of this

approach to note taking is successful in the practical teaching episodes

presented largely because the teachers received instruction and feedback.

Their learning, just as their students’ learning, is scaffolded so as to

prompt a progression of cognitive functioning that results in an

improved, more equitable approach to mathematics instruction.

3 Practical Applications of Deliberate Note Taking

The preceding theoretical discussion establishes the deliberate practice of

note taking as a process that promotes learning, which compels students

to approach mathematical knowledge and ideas with higher cognitive

functions such as analysis and synthesis. It helps develop students’

thinking, requiring them to evaluate their thoughts so as to organize

information in ways that may not have been immediately visible to them,

which in turn leads to independent thinking and problem solving. The

following practical cases emerge from our research and work with two

middle school teachers, Mr. Orland and Miss Lipan, using the CMP

curriculum in their Algebra I classrooms. These classrooms contain

students with very diverse learning styles and needs, including students

who perform at an advanced level and others who have documented

learning disabilities. The two teachers vary in their experiences and

backgrounds; Mr. Orland is a second-year teacher and Miss Lipan is a

fifth-year teacher. Both teachers originally required students to maintain

notebooks and encouraged students to take notes during class discussions

and interactions. The teachers seldom mentioned students’ notes,

however, and rarely encouraged students to use their notes beyond

preparing for a weekly or unit test. As part of their professional

development plan, which included goals to improve their implementation

of CMP, the teachers wanted to encourage writing to learn and build

Note Taking as Deliberate Pedagogy 75

collaborative groupwork into their pedagogical practices. In these

collaborative groups, Mr. Orland and Miss Lipan launch multi-step

problems and require written statements explaining strategies and

procedures applied to solve the problems explored by students.

In Mr. Orland and Miss Lipan’s previous attempts to use writing

techniques for multi-step problems, they found that their students

experienced difficulties in providing coherent written explanations of

how they solved problems. Furthermore, Mr. Orland and Miss Lipan

stated that modeling similar problems in front of the class did not seem

to resolve this issue because many of the students only recorded

computational information and formulas in their notebooks. Because

these notes were too brief, the students did not refer to them when

transitioning into group or individual work. To address this shortcoming,

we developed a process that would scaffold students’ learning and

exploration of the studied content. The idea was to develop and

implement an explicit and deliberate pedagogical model that not only

engaged students in the learning process during the launching and

modeling phases of the lesson but also helped them when they worked in

groups (especially in the area of providing written explanations). The

teacher educator, lead author of this chapter, met with Mr. Orland and

Miss Lipan the day before the lesson to assist them in creating reflection

questions for their students. These same questions would aid the teacher

educator in focusing her observations of the classroom teachers during

the launching and modeling phase of their lessons. The next day involved

observing Mr. Orland and Miss Lipan model problems to their classes.

The day following the lesson, the teacher educator met again with Mr.

Orland and Miss Lipan to share and discuss observations and thoughts

with them.

3.1 Scaffolding in the zone of proximal development

The practice that emerged is grounded in the Vygotskian construct of

the zone of proximal development on two levels. First, the more

knowledgeable other (in this case the teacher educator) works with

Mr. Orland and Miss Lipan, scaffolding their learning and understanding

Mathematical Problem Solving 76

of how to model problems for their students. Second, the Mr. Orland and

Miss Lipan provided the reflection questions to students, while modeling

the problems for their students. Using a think-aloud-protocol, they

showed thinking and reflection in action and demonstrated to students

what information is essential to include in their notes.

Mr. Orland and Miss Lipan stimulate students within their zone of

proximal development through the think-aloud-protocol, which teachers

use to show how they are thinking throughout the problem-solving

process. The core of the zone of proximal development is the

collaborative discourse between students and teachers—a social system

that is actively constructed, supported, and scaffolded by the students’

interactions with their teachers. The practice is designed so all students

will write to focus, write to reflect, and write to apply what they are

learning. When students are writing to focus, they are gathering relevant

information about the content. In other words, the students engage in

mental interaction with the teacher. At this time, students attempt to

summarize what the teacher says, models, or demonstrates. Then,

students write to reflect on key questions about the problem. At this

stage, students make judgments about the content they are learning. The

teacher must form the questions in a way that requires students to use

their notes to grapple with the content and to extend their thinking

beyond simple rote memory tasks such as recalling information or

performing computational procedures. The model needs to support

student learning and must equally support the pedagogy by

complementing the instruction that students receive. Next, students work

in groups, pairs, or independently of the teacher and write to apply their

knowledge while referring to their notes. During this phase, students

might work closely with other students as the teacher continues to

scaffold their thinking. Overtime, during the academic year, students

need their teacher’s scaffolding less because they have repeatedly

participated in the collaborative activity and made use of their written

notes, and can increasingly use their notes as scaffolds. The following

two episodes reflect this approach to mathematics instruction of effective

note taking to solve problems.

Note Taking as Deliberate Pedagogy 77

3.2 Episode one: Mr. Orland

Mr. Orland launches a problem in which the objective is to model for

students how to identify and compare the rate of growth in exponential

relationships. He scaffolds students’ progress in each mathematical

learning activity, presenting the Note Taking Model illustrated in

Figure 1. The page is folded to hide the questions so that students would

focus on summarizing information presented during the launching and

modeling phase of the lesson. Students made notes of the teacher

modeling on the following problem (Lappan, Fey, Fitzgerald, Friel and

Philips, 2004, p. 7):

One day in the ancient kingdom of Montarek, a peasant

saved the life of the king’s daughter. The king was so

grateful that he told the peasant she could have any reward

she desired. The peasant–who was also the kingdom’s chess

champion–made an unusual request: “I would like you to

place 1 ruba on the first square of a chessboard, 2 rubas on

the second square, 4 on the third square, 8 on the fourth

square, and so on, until you have covered all 64 squares.

Each square will have twice as many as the previous square.”

When the king told the queen about the reward he had

promised the peasant, the queen said, “You have promised

her more money than we have in the entire royal treasury!

You must convince her to accept a different reward.” [The

king revised the plan.] He would place 1 ruba on the first

square, 3 on the next, 9 on the next, and so on. Each square

would have three times as many rubas as the previous

square.

Make a table showing the number of rubas the king will place on

squares 1 through 16 of the chessboard. As the number of squares

increase, how does the number of rubas change? What does the

pattern of change tell you about the peasant’s reward? What is the

growth factor or rate? Write an equation for the relationship

between the number of the square, n, and the number of rubas, r.

Mathematical Problem Solving 78

Notes

Reflection Questions

1. List strategies your teacher used to help him

understand the problem.

2. How did the strategies help the teacher

understand the problem?

3. Name another strategy you might use to solve a

similar problem.

Figure 1. Note Taking Model (Adapted from Paul, 1974)

Mr. Orland presented the objective by writing it on an overhead

transparency and then proceeded by analyzing the situation and showing

students how to approach the problem, progressing gradually from one

phase of the problem to the next. He constructed a table to show the

results of the two plans, which included a discussion of how the patterns

of change in the number of rubas under the two plans are similar and

different. Then he wrote an equation for the relationship and used the

data generated to decide which plan the peasant should take. In launching

the problem, he focused on the language of the problem (e.g. underlining

key terms and grappling with word meaning) and used algebraic

thinking. This component required translation from a verbal

representation to a symbolic representation using a letter as a variable to

represent any number with the underlying aim of arriving at an

expression. He articulated his thoughts orally, illustrating that the

algebraic expression 2

n-1

justifies the result that one obtains empirically

by trying several particular numbers. Figure 2 contains a selection from

the teacher educator’s observation of Mr. Orland’s launching and

modeling phase of the lesson.

Note Taking as Deliberate Pedagogy 79

Teacher Educator’s Observation Notes

Mr. Orland explicitly explains what he is doing to solve the problem: “I can

use this picture to help me understand the problem…I am going to keep going by

making a table.”

He illustrates metacognitive thinking: “Have I seen this problem before? How

is it connected to what I have done before? I need to read the next part of the

problem… I think I will look back to help me understand the problem.”

He reviews and reads the next part of the problem, underlining key terms

(e.g., pattern of change) and highlighting unfamiliar terms (e.g., growth factor).

Then he models how to look up unfamiliar terms: “I’m not sure what growth factor

means; so I need to look it up…Sometimes, I forget what a term means.”

Mr. Orland constructs a table:

Number of Rubas Square

Plan 1 Plan 2

1 1 1

2 2 3

.

.

.

8

.

.

.

128

.

.

.

2187

Figure 2. Observation Excerpts, Mr Orland’s Lesson

After completing the modeling phase of the lesson, Mr. Orland

gives students five minutes to use their notes to answer the reflection

questions and then to share their answers with their group. Then,

Mr. Orland engaged the whole class in a discussion about some of the

strategies he used to understand and solve the problem. He asked

students, “What strategies did I use to help me understand the problem?”

Students responded:

S

1

: “Tried one step at a time.”

S

2

: “Circled words you did not know.”

S

3

: “You looked at the picture.”

S

4

: “You asked yourself questions.”

S

5

: “You eliminated unimportant facts to get to the question…”

Mathematical Problem Solving 80

Next, using their notes, students completed several similar problems

in which they made graphs that they compared to the graph modeled for

Plan 1. Some of the students struggled with representing a general

statement and using the statement to justify numerical arguments.

Observation of students suggests that even when they are successfully

taught symbolic manipulation, they may be unsuccessful in seeing the

power of algebra as a tool for representing the general structure of a

situation. For example, some students wrote 2

n

– 1 or 2n – 1. Students

needed continued scaffolding and interaction with the teacher to move

toward an appropriate generalization.

3.3 Episode two: Miss Lipan

Miss Lipan began the modeling process by selecting and identifying for

students an irregular shape, the area of which she would compute.

Through a systematic approach, which she identified by name (“the

surround-and-subtract strategy”), she promoted the development of

students’ understanding of how to find the area of an irregular shape. She

then recorded the steps, while communicating her thinking and reasoning

to students, of how to apply the surround-and-subtract strategy. She

concluded the modeling process by reviewing the steps for using the

strategy and by providing an explanation of the mathematical procedures

she applied. Students wrote notes during the modeling phase of the

lesson and used their notes to answer the following reflection questions:

What was the name of the strategy that Miss Lipan used to solve the

problem? Describe in words what she did to find the area of the shape.

Name another strategy you might use to find the area of an irregular

shape. Figure 3 presents a selection from the teacher educator’s

observation about Miss Lipan’s lesson as it progressed.

Miss Lipan gave students a chance to use their notes to answer the

Guiding Questions. After the teacher reviewed students’ answers, they

moved into their groups and computed the area for a number of irregular

figures as well as wrote explanations that describe the strategies used to

find the areas. Figure 4 shows a student’s approaches to the problems. In

the first problem, the student counted squares to determine the area but

Note Taking as Deliberate Pedagogy 81

Teacher Educator’s Observation Notes

Miss Lipan presents the objective, which is to help students learn about how

to find the area of an irregular shape. She proceeds by analyzing the situation and

showing students how to approach area. “I am modeling one strategy. You need to

write down what I do. I am modeling a strategy for finding the area of an irregular

shape. I am going to name my strategy and prove to you how I can use it to find the

area.”

Miss Lipan records the steps for using the surround-and-subtract strategy,

modeling how to apply the steps. “So, the total area is 9, which is 3 x 3.” She

provides a summary of how to apply the steps of the surround and subtract

strategy by reviewing the steps. “First, I… then I…so I subtract from the original

shape…” At this point, a student asks a question, “Does this strategy work for

every irregular shape?”

She draws the following, showing how

to surround the original shape. In her

modeling, she demonstrates how to figure out

the area of a given region and, at the same

time, relates it to other figures with which

students are familiar, such as finding the area

of a square or triangle.

Figure 3. Observation Excerpts, Miss Lipan’s Lesson

applied a different approach to the next problem. For the second

problem, the student explained that she divided the figure into two

triangles, found the area of the triangle, and then added the area of both

triangles to solve for the area of the figure. It is important to note that

although some students made use of the strategy demonstrated by the

teacher, many of them applied other strategies that emerged from prior

experiences involving area. Then again, it was the Miss Lipan’s

launching and modeling of the problem that prompted students to ask

themselves, “Why is this not working?” “Should I try something else?”

These questions, the consistent reference to their notes, and students’

continued interaction with the teacher scaffolded their application of the

surround-and-subtract strategy and others strategies, as well.

Mathematical Problem Solving 82

Figure 4. A Student’s Description of Strategies Used to Find the Area

3.4 Lesson debriefing with the teacher educator

Immediately after the lessons, Mr. Orland, Miss Lipan, and teacher

educator convened for an initial debriefing session to discuss

observations about the level at which the students made use of their

notes. A much longer debriefing session occurred the next day, which

focused on how well Mr. Orland and Miss Lipan scaffolded students

through the process, how effectively the reflection questions assisted

students’ examination of their notes to identify key ideas that helped

them understand the content at hand, and how successful the model is in

helping students manage information for later use. At this time,

observations of the lesson were shared, which included specific thoughts

about the mathematical ideas that the teachers modeled during the

Note Taking as Deliberate Pedagogy 83

lessons. For example, Mr Orland’s discussion focused on whether the

launching and modeling of the problem helped students to understand

how to translate the numerical data into a variable expression and

whether students were able to examine the pattern as well as manipulate

the data to yield an algebraic expression. We also discussed the extent to

which students made use of their notes to appropriately produce the

algebraic expression 2

n-1

or 3

n-1

.

The discussion with Miss Lipan centered on determining if the

launching of the lesson should be the time at which students are provided

with the definition of an irregular shape. She realized that she could have

stated at the beginning of the modeling phase that, “Some shapes are not

shaped like squares or triangles. They are irregular shapes. For example,

many buildings are irregular.” We also talked about whether or not too

much emphasis was placed on the mechanics of carrying out the

procedure. We concluded that because of the various learning disabilities

represented in the classroom, it was necessary because the intent was for

students to understand how to apply what they knew about finding the

area of a square or a triangle. Furthermore, it was noted that as she

recorded and modeled how to use the strategy, many students were

taking notes. We concurred that the figure challenged some students

because it was not immediately solvable. Repeating the steps during the

review of the problem also helped students understand the procedures

needed to arrive at an appropriate solution.

3.5 Why does this model work?

The section provides an explanation of how deliberate pedagogy serves

as a scaffold for assisting students in learning how to take notes and then

use these notes to solve mathematical problems. Most important, the

reform-oriented curriculum places unusual demands on the students than

that of a more traditional curriculum. It is imperative that these demands

be taught to students who are compelled to meet them. Manouchehri and

Goodman (2000) suggest that when using problem solving based

curriculum, teachers need to include approaches that facilitate “guiding

students’ inquiry, mapping gradual development of both the content and

Mathematical Problem Solving 84

learner’s thinking, and creating a balance between fostering students’

conceptual understanding while assisting them in acquisition of basic

skills” (p. 29). According to the model described in this chapter, the

teachers went beyond simply requiring students to take notes. Mr. Orland

and Miss Lipan modeled their own thought processes through both

writing and oral statements. These two modalities generate a quasi-

interaction with students, in which students focus on capturing their

teacher’s application of an effective strategy and then restating in their

own words what they observed and understood about the problem

launched and modeled. This model allows both the teacher and students

to make metacognitive advances; the teacher and students think about the

way they are learning the mathematics at hand, as opposed to merely

thinking about the mathematics content itself. This occurs because the

teacher provides deliberate and explicit modeling of note taking, which

helps the students to develop the metacognitive skills necessary for

learning how to take notes that will subsequently help them to think

about the concepts they are learning.

Metacognition refers to the abstract thought process through which

an individual thinks about and reflects upon one’s own thinking. In Miss

Lipan’s modeling, for example, she states, “I am going to name my

strategy and prove how I can use it to find the area. My strategy is called

surround-and-subtract.” Then she both says and writes, “Step 1:

Surround the original shape. Draw a square/rectangle around the borders

of the original shape. Step 2: Find the total area of the square/rectangle

you drew around the original shape. Step 3: Subtract the area of the

outside shape from the total area of the square/rectangle you drew. This

is Total Area – Outside shape = Area of Original Shape.” In addition,

Miss Lipan demonstrates how to solve the problem, making her implicit

thinking and knowledge explicit for her students. Maccini, Mulcahy, and

Wilson (2007) assert that, given the difficulties many students with

learning disabilities in mathematics have accessing reform-based

curriculum, it is essential to integrate pedagogical practices that are both

deliberate and explicit.

Another reason that this model is an improvement over current use

of note taking in mathematics instruction is that the teacher allows time

for students to review and reflect on their notes, which are scaffolded

Note Taking as Deliberate Pedagogy 85

by the written reflection questions. Giving crucial scaffolding is

fundamental in the learning phase of note taking as learners progress

through the zone of proximal development. Mr. Orland and Miss Lipan

engage students in dialogue about the problem to provide any

clarification that they might need about the task set before them. With

respect to this approach, Farmer (1995) offers the explanation, “the

ability to solve problems through dialogue with [teachers] or peers is a

harbinger of competencies that will later become internalized” (p. 305).

In this instance, the teachers also used many of the techniques that

Rogoff (1990) describes as “scaffolded learning supports.” These

include the following: elaborating, linking, prompting, simplifying, and

providing affective support.

An important observation is that because of organizing and applying

a deliberate instructional approach, the actual situation may also be

described as nominative. In other words, Mr. Orland and Miss Lipan set

criteria pertaining to the most effective way of taking notes and, at the

same time, state the requirements for meeting those criteria. The central

point here is that the mathematics learning community, as in these two

classrooms, exists as a means for appropriating deliberate discourse that

is within reach for all learners. Students’ note taking skills improve over

time as students grow in their understanding of how their notes help them

to organize, understand, and shape their ideas in a meaningful way. In

addition to note taking as a deliberate part of instruction, teachers need to

explicitly communicate their expectations regarding the use of written

notes for completing a problem-solving task. These expectations must be

generalized to classroom norms and procedures that are applied to all

classroom activities; students must become accustomed to their teacher

setting high expectations to prevent negative fallout that could result in

low problem solving performance.

A final explanation of why this model works involves the

collaborative nature of the model. As noted earlier, the teacher educator

served as the more knowledgeable other in assisting Mr. Orland and

Miss Lipan throughout the planning phase, observing and taking notes

during the launching and modeling phase, and meeting with the teachers

after the lesson to share observation notes, which included critical

reflection and questions about the recent mathematics instruction. We

Mathematical Problem Solving 86

worked together to achieve a shared understanding of the teaching and

learning of mathematics. As Vygotsky (1978, 1981) theorizes, when

teachers are challenged to work on activities collectively and are

encouraged to achieve what they are not capable of doing individually,

they are likely to move forward in their development as mathematics

teachers, especially when the dialogue between the teacher and the other

is sustained long enough to become a deliberate process. This, in turn,

benefits students because it provides them with teachers that are more

knowledgeable about how to make reform-oriented curricula accessible

to all learners.

4 Conclusion

Bruner’s conception of knowledge representation and Vygotsky’s

construct of the zone of proximal development have a place in

contemporary discussion of the importance of creating effective learning

communities that support all learners, especially when using reform-

oriented curricula. Teachers need to understand how to assist all learners

in their zone of proximal development, providing opportunities for

problem-solving and inquiry-based activities that encourage the

development of complex thinking and logical reasoning. Professional

development activities that coalesce with Bruner and Vygotsky’s

research can assist teachers in the development of deliberate pedagogical

practices. These practices must be designed to enhance mathematical

learning experiences, such as supporting development of the students as

effective note takers. Such a framework calls for a reconceptualization of

the traditional role of teacher and learner. The emphasis is on processes

and strategies rather than products and solutions. In other words, teachers

must call attention to the why and how of mathematics, instead of merely

focusing on the what—the final answer. This method of deliberate

pedagogy allows teachers to move beyond the function of imparting

knowledge and organizational skills. What discerns the note taking

instructional approach described in this chapter is that it reflects the

needs of the learner, the demands and purposes of the mathematical

content, and the attributes of the context in which the launching and

Note Taking as Deliberate Pedagogy 87

modeling transpired. As practicing teachers strive to work with diverse

learners using reform-oriented mathematics curricula, the learner, the

content, and the instructional context must be given considerable

attention to be effective and successful (Albert, 2003; Draper, 2002;

Maccini, Mulcahy, & Wilson 2007; White, 2003). Note taking can

provide students with a structure for organization; further, when teachers

deliberately use it to model the thinking and learning processes, note

taking can provide much more—a metacognitive tool to enhance

students’ mathematical understanding.

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egocentric, and inner speech. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 5, 120-162.

Wertsch, J. V. (1979). From social interaction to higher psychological processes: A

classification and application of Vygotsky’s theory. Human Development, 22, 1-22.

White, D. Y. (2003). Promoting productive mathematical classroom discourse with

diverse students. Journal of Mathematical Behavior, 22, 37-53.

89

Chapter 5

Japanese Approach to Teaching

Mathematics via Problem Solving

Yoshinori SHIMIZU

Japanese approach to teaching mathematics via problem solving

is overviewed with a description of typical organization of

mathematics lessons in Japanese schools. The selected findings of

large-scale international studies of classroom practices in

mathematics are examined for discussing the uniqueness of how

Japanese teachers structure and deliver their lessons. The

fundamental assumption that underlies the Japanese approach is

discussed. In particular, how teachers plan a lesson by trying to

allow mathematics to be problematic for students, to focus on the

methods used to solve problem, and to tell the right things at the

right times. Examples of textbook problems and anticipated

students’ solutions to them are presented to show how teachers

share and analyze the solutions in the classroom discussion for

achieving their goal of teaching mathematics. Finally, some

practical ideas in the classroom shared by Japanese teachers are

presented.

1 Introduction

Japanese mathematics teachers often organize an entire lesson by posing

just a few problems with a focus on students’ various solutions to them.

They seem to share a belief that learning opportunities for their students

are best raised when they are posed a challenging problem. Why do

Mathematical Problem Solving 90

teachers in Japan consider teaching mathematics via problem solving

beneficial? How do they achieve their goal of teaching mathematics

content through the process of problem solving?

In this chapter, Japanese approach to teaching mathematics via

problem solving is overviewed with a description of typical organization

of mathematics lessons in Japanese classrooms. The fundamental

assumption that underlies the Japanese approach is discussed. In

particular, how teachers plan a lesson by trying to allow mathematics to

be problematic for students, to focus on the methods used to solve

problem, and to tell the right things at the right times. Examples of

textbook problems and anticipated students’ solutions to them are

presented to show how teachers share and analyze the solutions in the

classroom discussion for achieving their goal of teaching mathematics.

Finally, some practical ideas in the classroom shared by Japanese

teachers are presented.

2 Mathematics Lesson as Structured Problem-Solving

2.1 A typical organization of a lesson

Japanese teachers, in elementary (grades 1 to 6) and junior high (grades

7 to 9) schools, in particular, often organize an entire mathematics

lesson around the multiple solutions to a few problems in a whole-class

instructional mode. This organization is particularly useful when

a new concept or a new procedure is going to be introduced during

the initial phase of a teaching unit. Even during the middle or final

phases of the teaching unit, teachers often organize lessons by posing a

few problems with a focus on the various solutions students come up

with.

A typical mathematics lesson in Japan, which lasts forty-five

minutes in the elementary schools and fifty minutes in the junior high

schools, has been observed to be divided into several segments (Becker,

Silver, Kantowski, Travers, & Wilson, 1990; Stigler & Hiebert, 1999).

These segments serve as the “steps” or “stages” in both the teachers’

Japanese Approach to Teaching Mathematics via Problem Solving 91

planning and delivery of the teaching-learning processes in the classroom

(Shimizu, 1999):

• Posing a problem

• Students’ problem solving on their own

• Whole-class discussion

• Summing up

• Exercises or extension (optional depending on time and how

well students are able to solve the original problem.)

Lessons usually begin with a word problem in the textbook or a

practical problem that is posed on the chalkboard by the teacher. After

the problem is presented and read by the students, the teacher determines

whether the students understand the problem well. If it appears that some

students do not understand some aspect of the problem, the teacher may

ask these students to read it again, or the teacher may ask questions to

help clarify the problem. Also, in some cases, he or she may ask a few

students to show their initial ideas of how to approach the problem or to

make a guess at the answer. The intent of this initial stage is to help the

students develop a clear understanding of what the problem is about and

what certain unclear words or terms mean.

A certain amount of time (usually about 10-15 minutes) is assigned

for the students to solve the problem on their own. Teachers often

encourage their students to work together with classmates in pairs or in

small groups. While students are working on the problem, the teacher

moves around the classroom to observe the students as they work. The

teacher gives suggestions or helps individually those students who are

having difficulty in approaching the problem. He or she also looks for

students who have good ideas, with the intention of calling on them in a

certain order during the subsequent whole-class discussion. If time

allows, the students who have already gotten a solution are encouraged

by the teacher to find an alternative method for solving the problem.

When whole-class discussion begins, students spend the majority of

this time listening to the solutions that have been proposed by their

classmates as well as presenting their own ideas. Finally, the teacher

reviews and sums up the lesson and, if necessary and time allows, then

Mathematical Problem Solving 92

he or she poses an exercise or an extension task that will apply what the

students have just learned in the current lesson.

2.2 The Japanese lesson pattern

The video component of the Third International Mathematics and

Science Study (TIMSS) was the first attempt ever made to collect and

analyse videotapes from the classrooms of national probability samples

of teachers at work (Stigler & Hiebert, 1999). Focusing on the actions of

teachers, it has provided a rich source of information regarding what

goes on inside eighth-grade mathematics classes in Germany, Japan and

the United States with certain contrasts among the three countries. One

of the sharp contrasts between the lessons in Japan and those in the

other two countries relates to how lessons were structured and delivered

by the teacher. The structure of Japanese lessons was characterized

as “structured problem solving”, here again, while a focus was on

procedures in the characterizations of lessons in the other two

countries.

Table 1 shows the sequence of five activities described as the

“Japanese pattern”. In this lesson pattern, the discussion stage, in

particular, depends on the solution methods that the students actually

come up with. In order to make this lesson pattern work effectively and

naturally, teachers need to have not only a deep understanding of the

mathematics content, but also a keen awareness of the possible solution

methods their students will use. Having a very clear sense of the ways

students are likely to think about and solve a problem prior to the start of

a lesson makes it easier for teachers to know what to look for when they

are observing students work on the problem. The pattern seems to be

consistent with the description of mathematics lessons as problem

solving in the previous section, though there are some differences

between them such as “reviewing the previous lessons” above and

“exercises or extension” in the previous section.

Japanese Approach to Teaching Mathematics via Problem Solving 93

Table 1

The Japanese lesson pattern (Stigler & Hiebert, 1999, pp.79-80)

Reviewing the previous lesson

Presenting the problems for the day

Students working individually or in groups

Discussing solution methods

Highlighting and summarizing the main point

2.3 Beyond the pattern

Characterization of the practices of a nation’s or a culture’s mathematics

classrooms with a single lesson pattern was, however, problematised by

the results of the Learner’s Perspective Study (LPS) (Clarke, Mesiti,

O’Keefe, Jablonka, Mok & Shimizu, 2007). The analysis suggested that,

in particular, the process of mathematics teaching and learning in

Japanese classrooms could not be adequately represented by a single

lesson pattern for the following two reasons. First, lesson pattern differs

considerably within one teaching unit, which can be a topic or a series of

topics, depending on the teacher’s intentions through out the sequence of

lessons. Second, elements in the pattern themselves can have different

meanings and functions in the sequence of multiple lessons. Needless to

say, it is an important aspect of teacher’s work not only to implement a

single lesson but also to weave multiple lessons that can stretch out over

several days, or even a few weeks, into a coherent body of the unit. It

would not be possible for us to capture the dynamic nature of activities

in teaching and learning process if each lesson was analysed as

isolated.

An alternative approach was proposed to the international

comparisons of lessons by the researchers in LPS team. That is, a

postulated “lesson event” would be regarded to serve as the basis for

comparisons of classroom practice internationally. In LPS, an analytical

approach was taken to explore the form and functions of the particular

lesson events such as “between desk instruction”, “students at the

front”, and “highlighting and summarizing the main point” (Clarke,

Emanuelsson, Jablonka & Mok, 2006).

Mathematical Problem Solving 94

In particular, the form and functions of the particular lesson event

“highlighting and summarizing the main point”, or “Matome” in

Japanese, were analyzed in eighth-grade “well-taught” mathematics

classrooms in Australia, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Mainland China

(Shanghai), and the USA (Shimizu, 2006). For the Japanese teachers, the

event “Matome” appeared to have the following principal functions: (i)

highlighting and summarizing the main point, (ii) promoting students’

reflection on what they have done, (iii) setting the context for introducing

a new mathematical concept or term based on the previous experiences,

and (iv) making connections between the current topic and previous one.

For the teachers to be successful in maintaining these functions, the goals

of lesson should be very clear to themselves, activities in the lesson as a

whole need to be coherent, and students need to be involved deeply in

the process of teaching and learning.

The results suggest that clear goals of the lesson, a coherence of

activities in the entire lesson, active students’ involvement into the lesson,

are all to be noted for the quality instruction in Japanese classrooms.

Also teachers need to be flexible in using a “lesson pattern”, when they

plan and implement a lesson as “structured problem-solving”.

2.4 A story or a drama as a metaphor for an excellent lesson

Associated with the descriptions of “structured problem-solving”

approach to mathematics instruction discussed above, several key

pedagogical terms are shared by Japanese teachers. These terms reflect

what Japanese teachers value in planning and implementing lessons

within Japanese culture.

“Hatsumon”, for example, means asking a key question to provoke

and facilitate students’ thinking at a particular point of the lesson. The

teacher may ask a question for probing students’ understanding of the

topic at the beginning of the lesson or for facilitating students’ thinking

on a specific aspect of the problem. “Yamaba”, on the other hand,

means a highlight or climax of a lesson. Japanese teachers think that

every lesson should include at least one “Yamaba”. This climax usually

Japanese Approach to Teaching Mathematics via Problem Solving 95

appears as a highlight during the whole-class discussion. The point here

is that all the activities, or some variations of them, constitute a coherent

system called a lesson that hopefully includes a climax. Further, among

Japanese teachers, a lesson is often regarded as a drama, which has a

beginning, leads to a climax, and then invites a conclusion. Japanese

teachers often refer to the idea of “KI-SHO-TEN-KETSU”, which was

originated in the Chinese poem, in their planning and implementation of

a lesson. The idea suggests that Japanese lessons have a particular

structure of a flow moving from the beginning (“KI”, a starting point)

toward the end (“KETSU”, summary of the whole story).

If we take a story or a drama as a metaphor for considering an

excellent lesson, a lesson needs to have a highlight or climax based on

the active role of students guided by the teacher in a coherent way.

Stigler and Perry (1988) found reflectivity in Japanese mathematics

classroom. They pointed out that the Japanese teachers stress the process

by which a problem is worked and exhort students to carry out procedure

patiently, with care and precision. Given the fact that the schools are part

of the larger society, it is worthwhile to look at how they fit into the

society as a whole. The reflectivity seems to rest on a tacit set of core

beliefs about what should be valued and esteemed in the classroom. As

Lewis noted, within Japanese schools, as within the larger Japanese

culture, Hansei—self-critical reflection—is emphasized and esteemed

(Lewis, 1995).

In sum, the selected findings of large-scale international studies of

classroom practices in mathematics examined above suggest that

“structured problem solving” in the classroom with an emphasis on

students’ alternative solutions to a problem can be a characterization of

Japanese classroom instruction from a teacher’s perspective. Also, a

coherence of the entire lesson composed of several segments, students’

involvement in each part of the lesson, and the reflection of what they

did are all to be noted for the approach taken by Japanese teachers. To

comprehend what Japanese teachers value in their instruction with a

cultural bias, a story or a drama can be a metaphor for characterizing an

excellent lesson in Japan.

Mathematical Problem Solving 96

3 Preparing a Lesson by Focusing on Students’ Problem Solving

To prepare a lesson with a focus on students’ problem solving, teachers

need to plan it by trying to allow mathematics to be problematic for

students, to focus on the methods used to solve problem, and to tell the

right things at the right times. The following example illustrates these

points.

Here is a typical construction problem of an angle bisector (see

Figure 1). The topic is taught in 7

th

grade within the current national

curriculum standard in Japan. Students are expected to learn how to draw

the bisector to any given angle by using compass and straightedge.

Draw the bisector to the following angle by using

compass and straightedge.

Figure 1. The angle bisector problem

To make the mathematics problematic for students, the teacher first

needs to pose a thought-provoking, but not too difficult, problem for the

students to solve. As for the angle bisector problem, teacher can use a

paper on with the problem is printed and tear it off in front of the

students as shown in Figure 2.

Japanese Approach to Teaching Mathematics via Problem Solving 97

When you were going to draw the bisector to the angle by

using compass and straightedge, the paper was torn off as below.

Can you still draw the bisector to the original angle?

Figure 2. The angle bisector problem revised

By setting the context for the angle as described above, students are

involved in the problem situation and will start to think about it deeply.

Students will come up with various methods by using mathematical ideas

they have learned. The “torn- off” angle bisector problem can be used in

the classroom of 8

th

or 9

th

grade students. Figures 3a, 3b, and 3c show

some of the solutions that were found by the students in 9

th

grade

mathematics classroom. Figures 3a and 3b are the solutions by using

inscribed circle to the given lines in different ways. The student who

produced Figure 3c used parallel line (l3) to have triangle ABC. By

extending the line BC to get point D on the other given line (l2), we can

see the large “triangle”. The angle bisector line is drawn as the

perpendicular line to the “bottom” BD.

In the lesson, certain amount of time is to be assigned for the

students to solve this challenging problem on their own. Teachers may

encourage their students to work together with classmates in pairs or in

small groups, if they have difficulty understanding it. While students are

working on the problem, the teacher needs to observe the students as

they work. The teacher may give suggestions or help individually those

students who are having difficulty in approaching the problem and also

look for the students who have good ideas with the intention of calling

Mathematical Problem Solving 98

Figure 3a

Figure 3b Figure 3c

Figure 3. Students’ alternative solutions to the problem

on them in a certain order during the subsequent whole-class discussion.

The students who have already gotten a solution should be encouraged

by the teacher to find an alternative method for solving to the problem.

In a whole-class discussion, students’ solutions are presented and

discussed. The focus here is not just presenting alternative solutions but

to reflect on them to consider similarities and differences among the

methods from mathematical points of view. There are many ideas used to

solve the problem. The mathematical ideas used to solve the problem can

be classified into groups and then integrated. Through the discussion the

students can understand that the key to the solutions can be regarded as

transforming the “missing angle” to appear again on the paper. Before

implementing the lesson, teachers need to think about aspects described

above. Throughout the process of preparation and implementation of a

lesson, teachers need to analyze the topic carefully in accordance with

the objective(s) of a lesson. The analysis includes analyses of the

mathematical connections both between the current topic and previous

topics (and forthcoming ones in most cases) and within the topic,

anticipation for students’ approaches to the problem presented, and

planning of instructional activities based on them.

4 Some Practical Ideas Shared by Japanese Teachers

Various teachers with whom I have worked over the past several years

have made numerous suggestions to me regarding the Japanese approach

Japanese Approach to Teaching Mathematics via Problem Solving 99

to teaching mathematics (Shimizu, 2003). Among these suggestions, five

are especially pertinent to the focus of this chapter.

Suggestion 1: Label students’ methods with their names

During the whole-class discussion of the students’ solution methods,

each method is labeled with the name of the student who originally

presented it. Thereafter, each solution method is referred by the name of

student in the discussion. This practical technique may seem to be trivial

but it is very important to ensure the student’s “ownership” of the

presented method and makes the whole-class discussion more exciting

and interesting for the students.

Suggestion 2: Use the chalkboard effectively

Another important technique used by the teacher relates to the use of the

chalkboard, which is referred as “bansho” (board writing) by Japanese

teachers. Whenever possible, teachers put everything written during the

lesson on the chalkboard without erasing. By not erasing anything the

students have done and placing their work on the chalkboard in a logical,

organized manner, it is much easier to compare multiple solution

methods. Also, the chalkboard can be a written record of the entire lesson,

giving both the students and the teacher a birds-eye view of what has

happened during the lesson.

Suggestion 3: Use the whole-class discussion to polish students’ ideas

The Japanese word, “neriage,” is used to describe the dynamic and

collaborative nature of a whole-class discussion in the lesson. This word,

which can be translated as “polishing up”, works as a metaphor for the

process of “polishing” students’ ideas and getting an integrated

mathematical idea through a dynamic whole-class discussion. Japanese

teachers regard “neriage” as critical to the success or failure of the entire

lesson.

Mathematical Problem Solving 100

Suggestion 4: Choose the context of the problem carefully

The specific nature of the problem presented to the students is very

important. In particular, the context for the problem is crucial for the

students to be involved in it. Even the numbers in word problems are to

be carefully selected for eliciting a wide variety of student responses.

Careful selection of the problem is the starting point for getting a variety

of student responses.

Suggestion 5: Consider how to encourage a variety of solution methods

What else should the teacher do to encourage a wide variety of student

responses? There are various things the teacher can do when the students

come up with only a few solution methods. It is important for the teacher

to provide additional encouragement to the students to find alternative

solution methods in addition to their initial approaches.

5 Final Remarks

The Japanese approach to teaching mathematics via problem solving

usually takes a form of organizing an entire lesson around posing one or

two problems with a focus on the subsequent discussion of various

solution methods generated by the students. The students’ own ideas are

incorporated into the classroom process of discussing multiple solution

methods to the problem. In this approach problem solving is an essential

vehicle for teaching mathematics. This instructional approach is not used

only on special occasions or once per week. Rather, it is the standard

approach followed for teaching ALL mathematics content.

In order for lessons to be successful, teachers have to understand

well the relationship between mathematics content to be taught and

students’ thinking about the problem to be posed. Anticipating students’

responses to the problem is the crucial aspect of lesson planning in the

Japanese approach to teaching mathematics through problem solving.

Japanese Approach to Teaching Mathematics via Problem Solving 101

References

Becker, J.P., Silver, E.A., Kantowski, M.G., Travers, K.J., & Wilson, J.W. (1990,

October). Some observations of mathematics teaching in Japanese elementary and

junior high schools. Arithmetic Teacher, 38, 12-21.

Clarke, D., Emanuelsson, J., Jablonka, E., & Mok, I.A.C., (Eds.). (2006). Making

connections: Comparing mathematics classrooms around the world. Rotterdam:

Sense Publishers.

Clarke, D., Mesiti, C., O’Keefe, C., Jablonka, E., Mok, I.A.C., & Shimizu, Y. (2007).

Addressing the challenge of legitimate international comparisons of classroom

practice. International Journal of Educational Research, 46, 280-293.

Lewis, C. (1995). Educating hearts and minds: Reflections on Japanese preschool and

elementary education. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Shimizu, Y. (1999). Aspects of mathematics teacher education in Japan: Focusing on

teachers’ role. Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, 2(1), 107-116.

Shimizu, Y. (2003). Problem solving as a vehicle for teaching mathematics: A Japanese

perspective. In F.K. Lester (Ed.,), Teaching mathematics through problem solving:

Grades Pre K - 6, (pp. 205-214). Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of

Mathematics.

Shimizu, Y. (2006). How do you conclude today’s lesson? The form and functions of

“Matome” in mathematics lessons. In D. Clarke, J. Emanuelsson, E. Jablonka &

I. A. C. M. (Eds.) Making Connections: Comparing Mathematics Classrooms

Around the World (pp. 127-145). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Stigler, J.W., & Hiebert, J. (1999). The teaching gap: Best ideas from the world’s

teachers for improving education in the classroom. New York: NY, The Free Press.

Stigler, J.W., & Perry, M. (1988). Cross cultural studies of mathematics teaching and

learning: Recent findings and new directions. In D.A. Grouws, & T.J. Cooney

(Eds.) Perspectives on research on effective mathematics teaching (pp. 194-223).

Mahwah, NJ.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates & Reston, VA: National Council of

Teachers of Mathematics.

102

Chapter 6

Mathematical Problem Posing in Singapore

Primary Schools

YEAP Ban Har

Mathematical problem posing is the generation of mathematics

problems as well as the reformulation of existing ones. The chapter

focuses on problem-posing process that primary school students

engaged in. These processes include (a) posing primitives, (b) posing

related problems, (c) constructing meaning for a mathematical

operation, (d) engaging in metacognition, and (e) connecting to

one’s experiences. In this chapter, examples on the use of problem

posing before, during and after problem solving are given and

illustrated. The use of problem posing for various instructional goals

such as to develop concepts, for drill-and-practice, for problem

solving, to assess understanding, and to provide differentiated

instruction is described and illustrated using cases from Singapore

schools.

1 Introduction

Mathematical problem posing is defined as the generation of new

problems, as well as the reformulation of existing ones (Silver, 1994).

Silver delineated three types of problem posing, namely problem posing

that occurs before, during or after problem solving. Silver’s definition

suggests that it is necessary to consider mathematical problem posing in

any discussion on mathematical problem solving.

Mathematical Problem Posing in Singapore Primary Schools 103

In Singapore, the mathematics curriculum framework focuses on

mathematical problem solving. Among the aims of the curriculum, it is

hoped that students are able to “formulate and solve problems (p. 5,

Ministry of Education, 2006a; p.1, Ministry of Education 2006b.)”. The

other chapters in this book focus on various aspects of mathematical

problem solving. This chapter focuses on mathematical problem posing.

Problem-posing tasks are also common in primary school textbooks used

in Singapore (e.g. Fong, Ramakrishnan & Gan, 2007).

The benefits of using problem-posing tasks in the mathematics

classrooms has been investigated across grade levels and cannot be

ignored as such tasks can influence, among other things, students’ (1)

aptitude in mathematics, including understanding and problem-solving

ability, (2) attitudes towards mathematics, including curiosity and

interest, and (3) ownership of their work (English, 1997a; Grundmeier,

2002; Knuth, 2002; Perrin, 2007).

In the first part of the chapter, some research on mathematical

problem posing are presented. In particular, selected research on the

relationship between problem solving and problem posing are described.

The findings from one research on Singapore students focusing on the

problem-posing processes are presented. In the second part of the

chapter, the different roles of problem-posing tasks in the classroom are

described.

2 Mathematical Problem Solving and Problem Posing

The relationship between mathematical problem solving and problem

posing has been the subject of many research studies. Students who were

better in non-routine problem solving were better problem posers. Silver

and Cai (1996) found that problem-solving ability of American middle

school students highly correlated with their ability to pose semantically

complex problems in one type of problem-posing task. In a series of

investigations on third, fifth and seventh graders in Australia, English

(1997b, 1997c, 1998) found some relationship between problem solving

and problem posing. In particular, she found that competence in routine

Mathematical Problem Solving 104

problem solving is associated with posing of computationally complex,

but not necessarily structurally complex, problems. Competence in novel

problem solving is associated with posing of structurally complex

problems. Among Singapore students, it was found that good problem

solvers had significantly higher problem-posing scores than poor

problem solvers (Yeap, 2002). In addition, it was found that when the

students had no prior experience in problem posing, the relationship

between problem solving and problem posing was not dependent on

grade level. In all these research studies, students were asked to pose the

problems given some stimulus. Research on problem posing during and

after problem solving is comparatively less established.

3 Mathematical Problem-Posing Processes

Kilpatrick (1987) argued that one of the basic cognitive processes

involved in mathematical problem posing is association, which was

confirmed in a study by Silver and Cai (1996). Winograd (1990) found

that many students generated and selected information from their

experiences or immediate physical environment when they posed

problems. More recently, Christou, Mousoulides, Pittalis, Pantazi and

Sriraman (2005) studied sixth graders to understand processes that

students used during mathematical problem posing. Among others, it was

found that the students were engaged in selecting quantitative

information during problem posing.

In a study on third grade and fifth grade Singapore students posing

arithmetic word problems, it was found that primary school students

engaged in five categories of problem-posing processes (Yeap, 2002).

The categories included:

1. posing primitives,

2. posing related problems,

3. constructing meaning for a mathematical operation,

4. engaging in metacognition, and

5. connecting to one’s experiences.

Mathematical Problem Posing in Singapore Primary Schools 105

3.1 Posing primitives

According to Krutetskii (1976), students who are good in mathematics

can see the ‘hidden’ questions when presented with text containing

numerical information. For example, in a test to identify mathematically-

able students, the test requires students to pose a question that

follows the text “25 pipes of lengths 5 m and 8 m were laid over a

distance of 155 m.” The unstated question is “How many pipes of each

kind were laid?” Silver and Cai (1996) referred to such questions as

primitives.

Figure 1 shows a problem-posing task used in the study to

investigate problem-posing processes (Yeap, 2002). The first statement is

a relational one which compares the number of girls in two classes. The

second statement is an assignment one which describes the number of

boys in the two classes.

The students’ responses were of four types (see Table 1). Many

students posed questions to determine the number of boys in the two

classes. Responses in Category A were common as were responses in

Category B, where students posed questions to determine the number of

There are 3 more girls in Primary 4A than in Primary 4B.

There are 15 boys in each class.

Write three mathematics questions about the two classes.

You can include other numbers, if you like.

Figure 1. A Task for Mathematical Problem Posing (Task 1)

girls in Primary 4A, given the number of girls in Primary 4B.

Significantly fewer students posed questions to determine the number of

girls in Primary 4B, given the number of girls in Primary 4A. Similarly,

significantly fewer students posed questions to determine the number of

Mathematical Problem Solving 106

girls in one class, given the number of children in the class, or to

determine the number of children in one class, given the number of girls

in that class.

Table 1

Responses to Task 1

Category of Response Sample Responses

A How many boys are there in both classes?

B How many girls are there in Primary 4A if there are

33 girls in Primary 4B?

C If there are 40 girls in Primary 4B, how many girls are

there in Primary 4A?

D Miss Sem teach 4A. 4A has 27 girls. How many pupils

are there in 4A?

If there are 40 pupils in Pr. 4A, how many girls are there

(in 4A)?

Note: The sample responses were taken verbatim from the data (Yeap, 2002).

3.2 Posing related problems

Kilpatrick (1989) argued that one of the basic cognitive processes

involved in problem posing is making associations. Silver and his

associates have previously explored this process in several studies

(Leung, 1993; Silver & Cai, 1996; Silver et al., 1996).

Using the task shown in Figure 1, Yeap (2002) found that students

posed three types of related questions to a given situation. Two of the

three types of relatedness are described here. The first type of related

questions is called serial questions. Students are said to have posed serial

questions when each question requires information from the previous one.

Figure 2 shows two such responses.

Mathematical Problem Posing in Singapore Primary Schools 107

Response 1

How many girls are there in Primary 4A?

How many girls are there in Primary 4B?

Response 2

If there are 24 girls in 4B, how many girls are there in 4A?

How many students are there in 4A?

How many students are there in the two classes?

Figure 2. Serial questions

Response 1

If there are 20 girls in Primary 4A. How many pupils are there in Primary 4B.

If there are 33 pupils in Primary 4A. How many pupils are there in Primary 4B.

Response 2

There are 30 children in 4A. How many children are there in 4B?

There are 32 children in 4B. How many children are there in 4A?

There are 21 girls in 4A. How many girls are there in 4B?

Figure 3. Parallel questions

The second type of related questions is called parallel questions.

Students are said to have posed parallel questions when each of the

questions have the same structure. The answer of the preceding question

does not facilitate the answering of the one that follows. Figure 3 shows

two such responses.

3.3 Constructing meaning for mathematical symbols

Yeap (2002) found that when students were asked to pose a word

problem that has as one of its solution steps the multiplication sentence

4 × 6, they posed problems to show the meanings of multiplication that

they had been taught. For example, none of the third graders posed

Mathematical Problem Solving 108

problems involving area as they had not been taught the concept. Neither

the third graders nor the fifth graders had any experiences with

combinatorial problems, hence none of them posed such problems.

Although it was expected that equal groups problem would have been

easier, it was found that the students were just as likely to pose the more

difficult multiplicative comparison type problems. This could be because

the Singapore third grade textbooks emphasize the more difficult

multiplicative comparison and rate problems. Previous studies with

students in the same age group (English, 1996) found that students

tended to pose equal group problems and few of them posed

multiplicative comparison problems. Table 2 shows examples of the

students’ responses.

Table 2

Meanings Students Associated Multiplication with

Type of Situation Sample Responses

Equal Groups There are 4 boxes of oranges. Each box, there are 6 oranges.

How many oranges are there?

Comparison Tom collected 6 phone cards. I collected 4 times as many

phone cards as him. How many phone cards did I collected?

Rectangular Array There are 6 chairs in a row. If there are 4 rows how many

chairs were there?

Area A rectangular room has a breadth o4 m and a length 6 m.

What is the area of the rectangular room?

Rate Ahmad bought a box for $4. He needs to buy another 5 more

boxes. How much money would he have spent for all the

boxes?

3.4 Engaging in metacognition

A few examples of students engaging in metacognition as they

posed problems are given below. A student demonstrated substantial

monitoring of his problem-posing process from the way he edited his

Mathematical Problem Posing in Singapore Primary Schools 109

problem as he posed it. When asked to pose a problem that has an answer

of 10, he initially wrote: Mary has $60. which he edited to Mary has $30.

He then continued: Ali has

1

6

of Mary’s money. And included a third

person, probably to make the problem more complex: if Jane and Mary

have the same amount of money. However, he changed Mary to Ali and

his eventual statement was: if Jane and Ali have the same amount of

money, what is … At this point, he edited his text because he probably

realized the answer would not be 10. He deleted his pending question

and continued: and peter has spent all his money how much is their

Average money altogether?

Another student wrote: Britney Spears has 100 balloons. 10 of them

burst. 20 of them flied away. 30 of them had been stole and 30 of them

had been given away. to satisfy the condition that the answer must be 10.

Her initial question was: How many balloons had been stole than been

given away? She decided to make hers a two-part problem and wrote

the second part: How many balloons are there left? The student

demonstrated ability to monitor her thoughts as she went back to her

original text and changed two numbers. Her final text read: Britney

Spears has 100 balloons. 10 of them burst. 20 of them flied away. 40 of

them had been stole and 20 of them had been given away.

3.5 Connecting to one’s experiences

Ellerton (1986) found that the content and style of students’ problems

uniquely reflect their mathematical experiences and ideas. Menon (1995)

found that children tended to pose problems based on their non-

mathematical experiences. Yeap (2002) found that students in Singapore

were making connections to their non-mathematical experiences as well

as to their experiences with textbook problems.

A primary five student used the names of real people in his

problems. All the names he included were his good friends’ and his. He

also used an object that he was probably familiar with (a popular toy

called pokemon) in some of his problems. He was evidently using his

non-mathematical experiences when he posed his problems. The effect

was, however, on superficial features of the problems. Figure 4 shows an

example of the problems posed by this student.

Mathematical Problem Solving 110

Qiwen has 25 pokemon. Iman has 10 pokemon and Huang Yong has

5 pokemon. Iman and Huang Yong decided to combine their pokemon together.

What is the difference of Iman and Huang Yong pokemon and Qiwen’s

pokemon.

Figure 4. Iman’s problem

In a rare case, a student used her knowledge in another school

subject to pose her problems. She wrote a problem based on science facts

she knew, that an insect has 6 legs and that an ant is an insect. She

wrote: There are 4 ants. Each ant has 6 legs. How many legs are there

altogether?

The textbooks seemed to have a big influence on the problems

posed by the students. Among the primary three students, it was

surprising that more of them posed comparison problems (Tom has 4

stamps. Kelvin has 6 times as much as Tom. How many stamps did

Kelvin have?) than equal group problems (There are 4 boxes oranges.

Each box, there are 6 oranges. How many oranges are there?) although

the former is structurally more challenging. Textbook analysis revealed

that the primary three textbook emphasized the comparison problems

when dealing with multiplication. There were 16 comparison problems

and eight equal group problems in the textbooks used by the students in

the study.

The textbooks also influenced the students in more superficial ways.

Many students used names commonly used in the textbook word

problems such as John and Mary, although these names were rare among

the peers of the students in the study. For example, John was the

character in two word problems among nine that appeared on two pages

of a textbook. And children would pose problems about John and Mary:

John has 11 sweets. If he eats 1 sweet. How many will he has now? Mary

has 956 stickers. John has 326 stickers more than Mary. How many

stickers do they have altogether? And John has 5 balls. Mary has twicw

as many as John. How many ball had Mary?

In modelling their word problems after textbook ones, some

students suspended their sense of reality. A primary five students, when

Mathematical Problem Posing in Singapore Primary Schools 111

asked to pose a problem that has an answer of 4 × 6, wrote John is 6 m

tall and his sister is 4 times as tall as him. How tall is the sister?. Others

ignored relationships. A primary three student posed this problem: There

are 12 adults in the hall. There are 3 times as many women as adults.

How many women are there?. The student failed to see that women are a

subset of adults.

The preceding sections describe some processes that students

engage in when they pose mathematical problems. In the next section,

the roles of mathematical problem posing in the classroom are discussed.

4 Mathematical Problem Posing in the Classroom

The use of mathematical problem posing to develop concepts, to provide

drill-and-practice, for problem solving, as an assessment tool, as a

motivational tool and to cater to mixed-ability classes are described with

specific examples.

4.1 Developing a concept

Mrs Pang showed a class two rectangles and asked the primary three

students to ask questions about the two rectangles. Among the questions

posed was one about the relative size of the two rectangles: Which

rectangle is bigger?

Based on the question posed by students, Mrs Pang conducted a

lesson on the use of square tiles to help students develop the concept of

area of a figure.

The use of problem posing helps students achieve a focus in a

lesson. The question posed, Which rectangle is bigger?, became the

focus of the lesson on area. When problem posing is used on a regular

basis, students also develop the ability to focus on significant aspects of

situations presented to them.

4.2 Providing drill-and-practice

Mr Osman asked his primary six students to sketch composite figures

that included circles or part of circles such that the area of each figure

Mathematical Problem Solving 112

was 154 cm

2

instead of asking students to compute the areas of

composite figures drawn for them. The students were allowed the use of

calculators.

In coming up with the required figures, students practiced

repeatedly the use of formulae to calculate area of various figures

including circles. In addition, students had the opportunity to evaluate if

their figures satisfied the given conditions. They also had the opportunity

to make adjustments to ‘incorrect’ figures to obtain the required ones.

The students also had the chance to exercise their creativity and tried to

out-do each other by coming up with figures that none of their peers had

come up with.

The use of problem posing allows teachers to add value to drill-and-

practice activities by engaging students in a range of higher-order

thinking skills and habits of mind.

4.3 Problem solving

Miss Siti asked her primary six students to pose questions based on the

text of a word problem she was using to teach problem solving in the

topic of speed. The students were given the text shown in Figure 5.

David and Michael drove from Town A to Town B at different speeds.

Both did not change their speeds throughout their journeys. David started his

journey 30 minutes earlier than Michael. However, Michael reached Town B 50

minutes earlier than David. When Michael reached Town B, David had travelled

4

5

of the journey and was 75 km away from Town B.

Figure 5. Text used in Miss Siti’s class

Some of the questions asked by the students are:

• What was the distance between the two towns?

• Who took more time for the journey? How much more?

• How much time did David take? How much time did Michael

take?

• What was David’s speed? What was Michael’s speed?

Mathematical Problem Posing in Singapore Primary Schools 113

Subsequently, Miss Siti asked students to decide the questions that

can be answered directly using the information in the text and those that

require further information before they can be answered.

In solving a complex, multi-step problem, students have to know the

intermediate questions they need answers to. By giving students, many

opportunities to pose problems in problem-solving lessons, teachers are

essentially teaching them the problem-solving process.

4.4 Assessing understanding

Mr Iqbal asked his primary three students to make up three word

problems that can be solved by doing 4 × 6. He also encouraged them to

make the problems as different as possible.

He was able to assess his students conceptual understanding of

multiplication by looking at the situations the students used in the word

problems. Students who lacked an understanding of multiplication posed

problems such as Ani has 4 sweets and Bala has 6 sweets. How many

sweets do they have altogether? and David had 20 books and he bought

another 4 books. How many books did David have after buying the 4

books?

Students who had the appropriate concept of multiplication posed

problems such as: Bob had 6 bags of flowers each bag of flower had 4.

How many does she had. and Tom collected 6 phone cards. I collected 4

times as many phone cards as him. How many phone cards did I

collected?

Mr Iqbal was also able to see that some of his students were more

advanced as they posed problems with situations that most primary three

students do not often associate with multiplication. Such students posed

problems involving array (There are 6 chairs in a row. If there are 4

rows how many chairs were there?) and rate (Mr Tan bought 6 kg of fish.

Each fish costs $4 each. How much did he pay?)

By using a problem-posing task Mr Iqbal was able to go beyond

assessing procedural knowledge. He was able to get a glimpse of the

students’ conceptual understanding.

Mathematical Problem Solving 114

4.5 Differentiating instruction

Madam Gowri likes to use problem-posing in her mixed-ability class. In

asking her primary four students to write a word problem that includes

the numbers

2

3

, 6 and 24, she allowed her struggling students to leave

out one of the whole numbers and encouraged her advanced students to

make their problems multi-step. She asked the latter to also make their

problems more challenging.

This allows the struggling students to handle the tasks at their level

and that in itself is motivating. Problem posing also prevents the

advanced students from becoming bored with standard tasks as they were

able to challenge themselves by trying to figure out how to compose the

three numbers in a way that the problem is solvable. While the average

student may pose a problem such as: Primary 3A has 6 boys and 24 girls.

2

3

of the students say they like pizza. How many students like pizza? An

advanced student may pose problem: John read 6 pages of a book on

Monday. He read

2

3

of the remaining pages on Tuesday and still has 24

pages left. How many pages does the book have?

Miss Gan often uses what-if questions with her students. When she

asked her primary three students to use the digits 0 to 9 exactly once to

make a correct addition sentence, some managed to do it quickly while

others struggled for a long time.

+

She asked students who managed to find possible solutions quickly

to ask themselves what-if questions. Some of them asked what if the sum

is a four-digit number. Other asked what if they were not allowed to use,

say, the digit 0. Miss Gan then asked these students to solve the problem

based on the what-if questions. This provided advanced students to be

Mathematical Problem Posing in Singapore Primary Schools 115

engaged with challenging, self-directed tasks which in turn was a form of

motivation.

5 Conclusion

This chapter outlines some processes that students engage in when they

pose mathematical problems. An understanding of these processes allows

teachers to choose appropriate problem-posing tasks for classroom use.

Different types of problem-solving tasks including problem posing

before problem solving (such as Mr Iqbal’s example), problem posing

during problem solving (such as Miss Siti’s example) and problem

posing after problem solving (such as Miss Gan’s example) illustrates the

various roles that problem-posing tasks can play in the classroom.

Some ideas for classroom research include investigating the

problems students posed as well as investigating the effects of problem

posing as an intervention. Investigations into problems posed by students

can be used to explore students’ mathematical understand as well as

generic ability such as creativity. Investigations using problem posing as

an intervention can show it effects on problem solving and attitudes.

References

Ellerton, N. F. (1986). Children’s made up problems: A new perspective of talented

mathematicians. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 17, 261-271.

English, L. D. (1996). Children’s problem-posing and problem-solving preferences.

In J. Mulligan & M. Mitchelmore (Eds.), Children’s number learning (pp. 227-242).

Adelaide, Australia: The Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers Inc.

English, L. D. (1997a). Promoting a problem-posing classroom. Teaching Children

Mathematics, 4, 172-179.

English, L. D. (1997b). The development of fifth-grade children’s problem-posing

abilities. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 34(3), 183-217.

English, L. D. (1997c). Seven-grade students problem posing from open-ended situations.

In F. Biddulph & K. Carr (Eds.), People in Mathematics Education (pp. 39-49).

Sydney: Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia Inc.

English, L. D. (1998). Children’s problem posing within formal and informal context.

Journal of Research for Mathematics Education, 29(1), 82-106.

Mathematical Problem Solving 116

Fong, H. K., Ramakrishnan, C., & Gan, K. S. (2007). My Pals Are Here! Maths Second

Edition. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Education.

Grundmeier, T. A. (2002). University students’ problem-posing abilities and attitudes

towards mathematics. PRIMUS, 12, 122-134.

Kilpatrick, J. (1987). Problem formulating: Where do good problems come from? In A. H.

Schoenfeld (Ed.), Cognitive science and mathematics education (pp. 123-147).

Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Knuth, E. J. (2002). Fostering mathematical curiosity. Mathematics Teacher, 95, 126-130.

Krutetskii, V. A. (1976). The psychology of mathematical abilities in school children.

Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Leung, S. S. (1993). The relations of mathematical knowledge and creative thinking to

the mathematical problem posing of prospective elementary school teachers on

tasks differing in numerical content. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University

of Pittsburg.

Menon, R. (1995). The role of context in student-constructed questions. Focus on

Learning Problems in Mathematics, 17(1), 25-33.

Ministry of Education (2006a). Mathematics syllabus: Primary. Singapore: Curriculum

Planning and Development Division.

Ministry of Education (2006b). Mathematics syllabus: Secondary. Singapore: Curriculum

Planning and Development Division.

Perrin, J. R. (2007). Problem posing at all levels in the calculus classroom. School

Science and Mathematics, 107(5), 182-192.

Silver, E. A. (1994). On mathematical problem posing. For The Learning of Mathematics,

14, 19-28.

Silver, E. A. & Cai, J. F. (1996). An analysis of arithmetic problem posing by middle

school students. Journal of Research for Mathematics Education, 27(5), 521-539.

Silver, E. A., Mamona-Downs, J., Leung, S. S., & Kenney, P. A. (1996). Posing

mathematical problems: An exploratory study. Journal of Research for Mathematics

Education, 27(3), 293-309.

Winograd, K. (1990). Writing, solving and sharing original math story problem:

Case studies of fifth grade children’s cognitive behavior. Unpublished doctoral

dissertation, University of Northern Colorado.

Yeap, B. H. (2002). Relationship between children’s mathematical word problem posing

and grade level, problem-solving ability and task type. Unpublished doctoral

dissertation, Nanyang Technological University.

117

Chapter 7

Solving Mathematical Problems by

Investigation

Joseph B. W. YEO YEAP Ban Har

Most educators would think of heuristics when it comes to solving

closed mathematical problems, while many researchers believe that

mathematical investigation must be open and is different from

problem solving. In this chapter, we discuss the relationship

between problem solving and investigation by differentiating

investigation as a task, as a process and as an activity, and we show

how the process of investigation can occur in problem solving if

we view mathematical investigation as a process consisting of

specialising, conjecturing, justifying and generalising. By looking at

two examples of closed mathematical tasks, we examine how

investigation can help teachers and students to solve these problems

when they are stuck and how it can aid them to develop a more

rigorous proof for their conjectures. We also deliberate whether

induction is proof and how heuristics are related to investigation.

Finally, we consider the implications of the idea of solving

mathematical problems by investigation on teaching.

1 Introduction

The use of problem-solving heuristics or strategies to solve mathematical

problems was popularised by Pólya (1957) in his book How to solve it

(first edition in 1945). Few educators would talk about solving

mathematical problems by investigation. In fact, many educators (e.g.,

HMI, 1985; Lee & Miller, 1997) believe that mathematical investigation

Mathematical Problem Solving

118

must be open and that it must involve problem posing. Thus the idea of

solving closed mathematical problems by investigation is a contradictory

notion. Although many educators (e.g., Evans, 1987; Orton & Frobisher,

1996) have observed that there are overlaps between problem solving

and investigation, they usually ended up separating them as distinct

processes: problem solving is convergent while investigation is divergent

(HMI, 1985). Some educators (e.g., Pirie, 1987) have even claimed that

it is not fruitful to discuss the similarities and differences between them,

but we agree with Frobisher (1994) that this is a crucial issue that may

affect how and what teachers teach their students. Therefore, the main

purposes of this chapter are to clarify the relationship between problem

solving and investigation, to illustrate how investigation can help

teachers and students to solve two closed mathematical problems when

they are stuck, and to discuss how they can make use of investigation to

develop a more rigorous proof for their conjectures.

We begin by examining what constitutes a problem to a particular

person, whether problems must be closed or whether they can be open,

and how investigation is related to problems. Subsequently, we discuss

the relationship between investigation and problem solving by first

separating investigation into investigative tasks, investigation as a

process and investigation as an activity, and then characterising the

process of mathematical investigation as involving the four core thinking

processes of specialising, conjecturing, justifying and generalising. We

argue that investigation as a process can occur when solving closed

mathematical problems and we examine how investigation can aid

teachers and students to solve these problems when they are stuck by

looking at two closed mathematical tasks. In particular, we observe how

investigation can help them to develop a more rigorous proof for their

conjectures. Then we deliberate whether induction is proof by looking at

the different meanings of the terms ‘induction’, ‘inductive observation’

and ‘inductive reasoning’, and we consider how investigation is related

to problem-solving heuristics after establishing that investigation is

a means to solve closed problems. The chapter ends with some

implications for teaching.

Solving Mathematical Problems by Investigation 119

2 Relationship between Problem Solving and Investigation

Whether a situation is a problem or not depends on the particular

individual (Henderson & Pingry, 1953). If the person is “unable to

proceed directly to a solution” (Lester, 1980, p. 30), then the situation is

a problem to him or her. Reys, Lindquist, Lambdin, Smith, and Suydam

(2004) believed that this difficulty must require “some creative effort

and higher-level thinking” (p. 115) to resolve. Thus most textbook

‘problems’ are actually not problems to many students partly because

they know how to ‘solve’ them and partly because the main purpose of

these ‘problems’ is to practise students in the procedural skills that have

been taught in class earlier (Moschkovich, 2002). Therefore, it may be a

better idea to use the term ‘mathematical task’ instead of ‘mathematical

problem’ when we are referring to the task itself. For example, the

Professional Standards for Teaching Mathematics (NCTM, 1991) used

the phrase ‘mathematical tasks’ instead of ‘mathematical problems’ (see,

e.g., p. 25) and Schoenfeld (1985) wrote, “… being a ‘problem’ is not a

property inherent in a mathematical task [emphasis mine]” (p. 74).

However, we do use the terms ‘mathematical problems’ and ‘problem

solving’ in this chapter, but whenever such terms are used, it implies that

the task is a problem to the person because if otherwise, then there is no

need to solve the task.

One of the contentious issues among educators concerns the closure

or openness of mathematical problems. Henderson and Pingry (1953)

believed that a problem must have a clearly defined goal, and Orton and

Frobisher (1996) claimed that very few mathematics educators would

classify mathematical investigations as problems because they were of

the opinion that investigations must have an open and ill-defined goal.

But we agree with Evans (1987) that if a student does not know what to

do when faced with an investigation, then the investigation is still a

problem to the student. Orton and Frobisher (1996) also observed that

educators in some countries, e.g., the United States of America, would

call investigations ‘open problems’. But this phrase is an oxymoron if

one holds on to the view that problems must be closed. Nevertheless, this

suggests that many educators seem to separate mathematical problems

Mathematical Problem Solving

120

from investigations in that the former must be closed while the latter

must be open.

Others (e.g., Cai & Cifarelli, 2005; Frobisher, 1994) have suggested

that investigation should involve both problem posing and problem

solving. Although many educators have claimed that there are overlaps

between problem solving and investigation, they still ended up separating

them. For example, HMI (1985) stipulated that there is no clear

distinction between problem solving and investigation but it still

ended up separating problem solving as a convergent activity from

investigation as a divergent activity partly because the writers believed

that investigation should involve problem posing as well (Evans, 1987).

However, school teachers are often not so clear about the

differences between problem solving and investigation. Some of them

even feel that their students are doing some sort of investigation when

solving certain types of closed problems (personal communication). For

example, consider the following mathematical task which is closed:

Task 1: Handshakes

At a workshop, each of the 70 participants shakes hand once with

each of the other participants. Find the total number of handshakes.

If students do not know how to solve this task, then this task is a

problem to them. Some teachers believe that these students can begin by

investigating what happens if there are fewer numbers of participants,

which may help the students to solve the original problem. But there

seems to be very little literature on this subject of solving a closed

problem by investigation. However, a thorough search has revealed a few

writings. For example, in the synthesis class in Bloom’s taxonomy of

educational objectives in the cognitive domain, Bloom, Engelhart, Furst,

Hill, and Krathwohl (1956) wrote about the “ability to integrate the

results of an investigation [emphasis mine] into an effective plan or

solution to solve a problem [emphasis mine]”. The Curriculum and

Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics stipulated that “our ideas

about problem situations and learning are reflected in the verbs we use to

describe student actions (e.g., to investigate, to formulate, to find, to

verify) throughout the Standards” (NCTM, 1989, p. 10), thus suggesting

Solving Mathematical Problems by Investigation 121

that the Standards do recognise investigation as a means of dealing with

problem situations.

Yeo and Yeap (2009) tried to reconcile the differences between the

view that mathematical investigation must be open and the view that

investigation can occur when solving closed problems. The conflict

appears to arise from the different uses of the same term ‘investigation’.

Just as Christiansen and Walther (1986) distinguished between a task and

an activity, Yeo and Yeap (2009) differentiated between investigation as

a task, as a process and as an activity. They called the following an open

investigative task, rather than the ambiguous phrase ‘mathematical

investigation’:

Task 2: Polite Numbers

Polite numbers are natural numbers that can be expressed as the

sum of two or more consecutive natural numbers. For example,

9 = 2 + 3 + 4 = 4 + 5,

11 = 5 + 6,

18 = 3 + 4 + 5 + 6.

Investigate.

When students attempt this type of open investigative tasks, they are

engaged in an activity, which is consistent with Christiansen’s and

Walther’s (1986) definitions of a task and an activity. Yeo and Yeap

(2009) called this an open investigative activity which involves both

problem posing and problem solving: students need to pose their own

problems to solve (Cai & Cifarelli, 2005). However, Yeo and Yeap

(2009) observed that when students pose a problem to solve, they have

not started investigating yet. This led them to separate investigation as a

process from investigation as an activity involving an open investigative

task.

An analogy is Pólya’s (1957) four stages of problem solving for

closed problems. During the first stage, the problem solver should try to

understand the problem. But the person has not started solving the

problem yet. The actual problem-solving process begins during the

second stage when the person tries to devise a plan to solve the problem

and it continues into the third stage when the person carries out the plan.

Mathematical Problem Solving

122

After solving the problem, the person should look back, which is the

fourth stage. Therefore, the actual problem-solving process occurs in the

second and third stages although problem solving should involve the first

and fourth stages also: what the person should do before and after

problem solving.

Similarly, when students attempt an open investigative task, they

should first try to understand the task and then pose a problem to solve.

However, this is before the actual process of investigation. After the

investigation, the students should look back and pose more problems

to solve. Therefore, there is a difference between the process of

investigation and an open investigative activity: the former does not

involve problem posing but the latter includes problem posing. From this

point onwards, the term ‘investigation’ will be used in this chapter

to refer to the process while the activity will be called an ‘open

investigative activity’. This distinction is important because we would

like to argue that investigation can occur when solving closed problems.

But first, we need to characterise what investigation is.

Yeo and Yeap (2009) observed that when students investigate

during an open investigative activity, they usually start by examining

specific examples or special cases which Mason, Burton, and Stacey

(1985) called specialising. The purpose is to search for any underlying

pattern or mathematical structure (Frobisher, 1994). Along the way, the

students will formulate conjectures and test them (Bastow, Hughes,

Kissane, & Mortlock, 1991). If a conjecture is proven or justified, then

generalisation has occurred (Height, 1989). Thus investigation involves

the four mathematical thinking processes of specialising, conjecturing,

justifying and generalising, which Mason et al. (1985) applied to

problem solving involving closed problems. Therefore, mathematical

investigation can occur not only in open investigative activities but also

in closed problem solving. But if investigation must involve problem

posing, then investigation cannot happen when solving closed problems.

This is why the separation of problem posing in open investigative

activities from the process of investigation is very important.

Hence, if we view investigation as a process involving specialising,

conjecturing, justifying and generalising, then we can solve closed

mathematical problems by investigation when we are stuck.

Solving Mathematical Problems by Investigation 123

3 Solving Mathematical Problems by Investigation

In this section, we will illustrate how investigation can help teachers

and students to solve two closed mathematical problems when they are

stuck, and how the result of an investigation can be used to develop a

more formal or rigorous proof for their conjectures. Furthermore, we

deliberate two important issues: whether induction is proof and how

heuristics are related to investigation. Let us start by looking at the

following task:

Task 3: Series

Find the value of

2008 ... 3 2 1

1

...

3 2 1

1

2 1

1

1

1

+ + + +

+ +

+ +

+

+

+ .

This task was given to a group of in-service primary school teachers

during a workshop at Mathematics Teachers Conference 2008 in

Singapore. All of them had not seen this question before and they did not

know how to solve it immediately, so this was a problem to them. Most

of them were stuck: they did not even know how to begin. After some

pondering, some of them tried to evaluate the denominators of all the

fractions but it led to nowhere. So the first author guided them to

investigate some specific examples by starting with smaller sums, i.e.,

what is the sum of the first two fractions, the sum of the first three

fractions, etc., to see if there is any pattern:

.

5 4 3 2 1

25

5 4 3 2 1

1

4 3 2 1

1

3 2 1

1

2 1

1

1

1

4 3 2 1

16

4 3 2 1

1

3 2 1

1

2 1

1

1

1

3 2 1

9

3 2 1

1

2 1

1

1

1

2 1

4

2 1

1

1

1

5

4

3

2

+ + + +

=

+ + + +

+

+ + +

+

+ +

+

+

+ =

+ + +

=

+ + +

+

+ +

+

+

+ =

+ +

=

+ +

+

+

+ =

+

=

+

+ =

S

S

S

S

Mathematical Problem Solving

124

Some teachers were able to observe that

n

n

S

n

+ + + +

=

... 3 2 1

2

. The

sum of the numbers in the denominator can be found easily as

( 1)

2

n n +

,

so

1

2

+

=

n

n

S

n

. Therefore,

2009

4016

2008

= S .

Unfortunately, most of the teachers thought that this was the

answer. Some of them knew that this was only a conjecture because the

observed pattern might not be true but they forgot to test the conjecture,

while most of them did not even realise that this was only a conjecture.

This is probably due to how they were taught number patterns in schools

when they were students themselves, and now they are teaching their

students the same thing: there is always a unique answer for the missing

term in a sequence. For example, in the following sequence, what is the

next term?

1, 4, 7, ____

Most of the teachers were taught that the answer must be 10 and so

it is unique. However, the missing term is only 10 if the sequence is an

arithmetic progression, in which case, the general term is T

n

= 3n − 2. In

theory, the next term can be any number. For example, the fourth

term for the above sequence can be 16 if the general term is

T

n

= n

3

− 6n

2

+ 14n − 8 (the reader can check that T

1

= 1, T

2

= 4, T

3

= 7

and T

4

= 16 using this formula). If you want the missing term in the

above sequence to be any number, e.g., 22, all you need to do is to form

and solve four simultaneous equations with four unknowns, and a

polynomial with four parameters is of degree 3, i.e., the cubic

polynomial T

n

= an

3

+ bn

2

+ cn + d. So the four equations are:

. 22 4 16 64

7 3 9 27

4 2 4 8

1

4

3

2

1

= + + + =

= + + + =

= + + + =

= + + + =

d c b a T

d c b a T

d c b a T

d c b a T

Solving Mathematical Problems by Investigation 125

Solving the equations simultaneously, we obtain a = 2, b = −12,

c = 25 and d = −14. So T

n

= 2n

3

− 12n

2

+ 25n − 14 (the reader can check

that T

1

= 1, T

2

= 4, T

3

= 7 and T

4

= 22 using this formula). However, the

coefficients may not always be ‘nice’ integral values or the simultaneous

equations may have no solutions. For the latter, you can always try

another polynomial that has more parameters, e.g., a polynomial of

degree 4, and sooner or later, you will find a suitable polynomial. You

can even try non-polynomials like a sine function.

Therefore, there is no unique answer for the missing term of a

sequence. The answer that we want when we set this type of question is

‘the most likely number’ and what this means is that we prefer the

formula for the general term to be less complicated. Thus the more terms

we give for a sequence, the pattern should become more obvious and

most of us may agree on one ‘most likely number’. For example, ‘the

most likely number’ for the missing term in the above sequence is 10 but

some people may disagree. So, to avoid ambiguity, if we increase the

number of given terms as shown below, then fewer people would

disagree that ‘the most likely number’ for the missing term in the

following sequence is 10, although it can still be any other number if we

settle for a complicated formula for the general term, such as a

polynomial of degree 6.

1, 4, 7, ____, 13, 16, 19

However, we cannot go for ‘the most likely number’ if the sequence

has a context and is linked to some underlying pattern. For example, if

we just consider the following sequence, then ‘the most likely number’ is

32 because the general term T

n

= 2

n−1

is less complicated than a formula

such as T

n

=

n

C

4

+

n−1

C

2

+

n

C

1

.

1, 2, 4, 8, 16, ____

But if this sequence has a context and is linked to some underlying

pattern, then we cannot just assume that the missing term is 32. For

example, consider the following circle:

Mathematical Problem Solving

126

Figure 1. Circle with five points

There are five arbitrary points on the circumference of the circle,

and each point is connected to every other point by a chord such that no

three chords interest at the same point inside the circle. The chords

divide the circle into regions. In this case, when n = 5 (where n is the

number of points on the circumference of the circle), there are 16 regions

inside the circle. If we consider the case when n = 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, … , then

the total number of regions inside the circle, T

n

, will form the following

sequence:

1, 2, 4, 8, 16, …

If n = 6, what will be the total number of regions? The teachers in

the workshop predicted that there would be 32 regions although a few of

them suspected that this might not be the answer, or else the first author

would not be giving them this counter example. Then the teachers

counted the total number of regions for the following circle manually:

Figure 2. Circle with six points

Solving Mathematical Problems by Investigation 127

When they found out that there were only 31 regions in the circle in

Figure 2, some of them thought that they had counted wrongly and so

they recounted the number of regions, while others realised that it was

possible to have a sequence as follows:

1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 31, …

However, some of them concluded that the above sequence has no

pattern. The first author reiterated that there is still a pattern in the above

sequence, but the underlying pattern is not T

n

= 2

n−1

which is the ‘more

obvious’ observed pattern in the sequence 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, … In fact, there

is even a formula for the total number of regions: T

n

=

n

C

4

+

n−1

C

2

+

n

C

1

(the reader can check that T

1

= 1, T

2

= 2, T

3

= 4, T

4

= 8, T

5

= 16 and

T

6

= 31 using this formula).

Let us return to the observed pattern in Task 3. The teachers finally

realised that this was only a conjecture and they needed to test it. At first,

no one was able to prove or refute it. After some time, a teacher managed

to develop a rigorous proof. In fact, this teacher did not even solve the

problem by investigation: she did not follow the hint of the first author

above but she did the following on her own:

2009

4016

2009

2

2

2

1

2009

2

2008

2

...

5

2

4

2

4

2

3

2

3

2

2

2

1

2009 2008

2

...

5 4

2

4 3

2

3 2

2

1

2

2009 2008

1 ...

2

5 4

1

2

4 3

1

2

3 2

1 1

2008 ... 3 2 1

1

...

10

1

6

1

3

1

1

2008 ... 3 2 1

1

...

4 3 2 1

1

3 2 1

1

2 1

1

1

1

=

− + =

− + +

− +

− +

− + =

×

+ +

×

+

×

+

×

+ =

×

÷ + +

×

÷ +

×

÷ +

×

÷ + =

+ + + +

+ + + + + =

+ + + +

+ +

+ + +

+

+ +

+

+

+

Line #5

Line #3

Mathematical Problem Solving

128

All the other teachers were very impressed that this teacher was able

to devise such a proof

1

. The first author asked the teacher how she

managed to think of Line #3 and Line #5 which were the key steps in her

proof, but she herself could not explain how and why she did it this way.

All the other teachers agreed that they themselves would never have

thought of this type of rigorous proofs that seem to come out of nowhere,

which agrees with what Lakatos (1976) wrote when he observed that “it

seems impossible that anyone should ever have guessed them” (p. 142).

There is a more elegant but similar proof:

Similarly, most people would never have thought of finding half the sum

in this second proof. But how did the originator of this proof know what

to do? The person most likely had to do some investigation first.

1

Actually, there is more to the (first) proof than is shown here. There must be good

reasons to believe that the patterns in Lines #3 and #5 will continue. We will leave it to

the reader to find the reasons.

( )

2009

2008

20009

1

1

2009

1

2008

1

...

5

1

4

1

4

1

3

1

3

1

2

1

2

1

1

2009 2008

1

...

5 4

1

4 3

1

3 2

1

2 1

1

2008 ... 3 2 1 2

1

...

20

1

12

1

6

1

2

1

2

1

Then

=

− =

− + +

− +

− +

− +

− =

×

+ +

×

+

×

+

×

+

×

=

+ + + +

+ + + + + = S

Line #5

.

2008 ... 3 2 1

1

...

10

1

6

1

3

1

1

2008 ... 3 2 1

1

...

4 3 2 1

1

3 2 1

1

2 1

1

1

1

Let

+ + + +

+ + + + + =

+ + + +

+ +

+ + +

+

+ +

+

+

+ = S

2009

4016

= ∴S

Solving Mathematical Problems by Investigation 129

However, what might have helped in the investigation were some prior

mathematical knowledge and skills which the person might have relied

upon, which Schoenfeld (1985) called resources which were necessary

for effective problem solving. For example, the person might have

known the method of differences (which is the key step of the proof: see

Line #5 of the second proof), and he or she might also be familiar with

expressing

1

( 1) n n +

as

1

1 1

+

−

n n

. The person might also have recalled

that the numbers 1, 3, 6, 10, … , which appear in the denominators of the

original series, are triangular numbers, and that the general term for

triangular numbers is

1

( 1)

2

n

T n n = + , which is one step away from getting

1 1 1

( 1) 1 n n n n

= −

+ +

. These might have helped the person to think of

starting with half the sum after some investigation. But if anyone does

not have all these resources at his or her disposal, then the person may

have to do more investigation to discover these first, or perhaps the

person can conjure the first proof provided by the teacher above (this

teacher has admitted that she knows the method of differences) and then

refine it later to become a more elegant proof like the second one.

To summarise, this example (Task 3) illustrates the two main

approaches to solve a closed mathematical problem: by investigation or

by ‘other means’ (which is rigorous proof in this case), and that very few

teachers were able to solve it using a rigorous proof directly.

Let us look at another example: the Handshakes task in the previous

section (see Task 1). The first author has given this task to primary and

secondary school students, and pre-service and in-service teachers. Some

of the teachers and students have seen this question before, and they

were able to give the answer almost immediately, so this task was not a

problem to them. For those who saw this for the first time and were

unable to solve it immediately, this was a problem to them. After a while,

the teachers and the better students were able to solve it by ‘other

means’, which in this case is simple deductive reasoning: since the first

participant must shake hand with the other 69 participants, the second

Mathematical Problem Solving

130

participant must shake hand with the remaining 68 participants and so

forth, then the total number of handshakes is 69 + 68 + 67 + … + 1.

Some high-ability students can even use a combinatorics argument that

the total number of handshakes is equal to the total number of different

pairs of participants, i.e.,

70

C

2

, because every different pair of participants

will give rise to one distinct handshake. This type of deductive proofs,

unlike the formal proofs for Task 3, is within the grasp of many teachers

and students.

But for the weaker ones who were unable to reason it in this way,

many of them tried to solve the problem by drawing a diagram for

smaller numbers of participants (see Figure 3 where n is the number of

participants and T

n

is the total number of handshakes) in order to observe

some patterns so as to generalise to 70 participants. This is specialising

in order to form a conjecture towards a generalisation, which are

essentially the core processes in a mathematical investigation.

n = 1 n = 2 n = 3 n = 4 n = 5

T

1

= 0 T

2

= 1 T

3

= 3 T

4

= 6 T

5

= 10

Figure 3. Handshakes task

Many of them were able to observe from their diagrams that the

total number of handshakes for n participants is 0, 1, 3, 6, 10, … for

n = 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, … respectively. However, most of them were unable to

find a formula for the general term of this sequence. But they were able

to observe this pattern:

Solving Mathematical Problems by Investigation 131

0, 1, 3, 6, 10, …

+1 +2 +3 +4

Using this pattern as a scaffold, the first author guided the teachers

and students by asking them how to obtain T

4

from T

2

. This enabled most

of them to observe that T

4

= 1 + 2 + 3. Similarly, to obtain T

5

from T

2

,

most of the teachers and students were able to see that T

4

= 1 + 2 + 3 + 4.

Therefore, they were able to observe that T

70

= 1 + 2 + 3 + … + 69,

which is the total number of handshakes for 70 participants.

Unfortunately, most of them, including the teachers and the better

students, thought that this was the answer, without realising that this was

only a conjecture to be proven or refuted. If the conjecture is wrong, you

can refute it by using a counter example. But if the conjecture is correct,

then do you really need a formal or rigorous proof to prove it? Some

educators (e.g., Holding, 1991; Tall, 1991) believe in using rigorous

proofs while others (e.g., Mason et al., 1985) support justification using

the underlying mathematical structure. We shall illustrate these two

approaches of justification using the Handshakes task.

The first author began by asking the teachers and students whether

there was any reason to believe that the observed pattern would continue.

Not a single person was able to find a reason. So the first author guided

them with this question: if you go from T

4

= 1 + 2 + 3 to T

5

, what

happens? Some of them were able to observe that if you add the fifth

participant to T

4

, then the fifth participant must shake hand with each of

the four participants, so there are four additional handshakes and thus

T

5

= 1 + 2 + 3 + 4. Using the same argument, if you add the sixth

participant to T

5

, then the sixth participant must shake hand with each of

the five participants, so there are five additional handshakes and thus

T

6

= 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5. Therefore, this is a good reason to believe that the

observed pattern will continue in this manner because this argument can

always be applied from T

n

to T

n+1

. But this is not a proof. However,

Mason et al. (1985) believed that this type of argument using the

underlying mathematical structure is good enough for school students.

The next question is how to guide these teachers and students

to construct a more rigorous proof for their conjecture from their

Mathematical Problem Solving

132

investigation. From the underlying mathematical structure discovered in

the above investigation (i.e., if you add one participant to n participants,

then the new participant must shake hand with the n participants,

thus resulting in n additional handshakes and so the total number

of handshakes for T

n+1

is 1 + 2 + 3 + … + n), a few teachers and students

were able to realise that they could use the same argument in the reverse

manner: start from the first participant, and he or she has to shake hands

with all the other 69 participants; then the second participant has only 68

participants to shake hand with, and so forth; thus the total number of

handshakes for T

70

is 69 + 68 + 67 + … + 1. In this way, the teachers and

students have managed to use their investigation to develop a more

rigorous proof for their conjecture. This agrees with what Pólya (1957)

believed when he wrote that “we need heuristic reasoning when we

construct a strict proof as we need scaffolding when we erect a building”

(p. 113). According to Pólya, heuristic reasoning is based on induction or

analogy, but both induction and analogy involve specialising in order to

discover the underlying mathematical structure. Therefore, Pólya’s idea

of heuristic reasoning is very similar to the concept of the process of

investigation outlined in the previous section.

One major issue to deliberate in this section is whether induction is

proof. Yeo and Yeap (2009) believed that the problem lies in the

different meanings of the terms ‘induction’, ‘inductive observation’ and

‘inductive reasoning’. If students observe a pattern when specialising, the

pattern is only a conjecture and Lampert (1990) called this ‘inductive

observation’. But if students use the underlying mathematical structure

(Mason et al., 1985) to argue that the observed pattern will always

continue, then it involves rather rigorous reasoning and so this can be

called ‘inductive reasoning’ (Yeo & Yeap, 2009). Thus there is a big

difference between inductive observation and inductive reasoning:

inductive observation is definitely not a proof but inductive reasoning

is considered a proof by some educators (e.g., Mason et al., 1985).

Unfortunately, some educators (e.g., Holding, 1991) have used the

phrase ‘inductive reasoning’ to mean ‘inductive observation’. The same

goes for the word ‘induction’: it can mean either ‘inductive observation’

or ‘inductive reasoning’ or both. For example, Pólya’s (1957) idea of

induction is inductive observation only. Therefore, whether induction is

Solving Mathematical Problems by Investigation 133

proof or not depends on which meaning you attach to the term

‘induction’. In this chapter, the term ‘induction’ is used to include both

inductive observation and inductive reasoning.

Another main issue to discuss in this section is the relationship

between heuristics and investigation as a means to solve closed

mathematical problems. Literature abounds with problem-solving

heuristics (see, e.g., Pólya, 1957; Schoenfeld, 1985) but very few of

them mention the use of investigation to solve closed problems,

probably because few educators have ever characterised the process of

investigation. Now that we have observed that investigation involves

the four core processes of specialising, conjecturing, justifying and

generalising, we can compare investigation with heuristics. Any heuristic

that makes use of specialising can be considered an investigation (Yeo &

Yeap, 2009). For example, if students use the heuristic of systematic

listing or the heuristic of drawing a diagram for some specific cases, then

it involves specialising and so this can be viewed as an investigation

from another perspective. But if students use a deductive argument

directly, then this is not an investigation. It does not mean that students

cannot use deductive reasoning during an investigation. For example,

students can use a deductive argument when proving a conjecture that is

formulated during their investigation.

4 Conclusion and Implications

Differentiating between investigation as a task, as a process and as an

activity has helped to separate problem posing from the process of

investigation. This is important because if investigation entails both

problem posing and problem solving, then investigation cannot happen

during problem solving. Characterising the process of investigation as

involving specialising, conjecturing, justifying and generalising, it

becomes clear that investigation can also occur when solving closed

mathematical problems. This agrees with what some teachers believe

when they ask their students to investigate to solve a closed problem but

most of them have no idea what investigation actually involves. If

teachers have a vague idea of what investigation entails, then they may

Mathematical Problem Solving

134

not be able to teach their students how to investigate properly (Frobisher,

1994). Therefore, the implication of defining the process of investigation

more clearly in this chapter is to help teachers understand more fully

what investigation means and how to help their students to investigate

more effectively by focusing on each of the core thinking processes of

specialising, conjecturing, justifying and generalising.

Another implication for teaching is how to make use of the results

of an investigation as a scaffold to construct a more rigorous proof for a

conjecture (Pólya, 1957) instead of conjuring a formal proof out of

nowhere (Lakatos, 1976).

References

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Bloom, B. S., Engelhart, M. D., Furst, E. J., Hill, W. H., & Krathwohl, D. R. (1956).

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Evans, J. (1987). Investigations: The state of the art. Mathematics in School, 16(1),

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Holding, J. (1991). The investigations book: A resource book for teachers of

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Lakatos, I. (1976). Proofs and refutations: The logic of mathematical discovery. New

York: Cambridge University Press.

Lampert, M. (1990). When the problem is not the question and the solution is not the

answer: Mathematical knowing and teaching. American Educational Research

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Lee, M., & Miller, M. (1997). Real-life math investigations: 30 activities that help

students apply mathematical thinking to real-life situations. New York: Scholastic

Professional Books.

Lester, F. K., Jr. (1980). Problem solving: Is it a problem? In M. M. Lindquist (Ed.),

Selected issues in mathematics education (pp. 29-45). Berkeley, CA: McCutchan.

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Wokingham, UK: Addison-Wesley.

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136

Chapter 8

Generative Activities in Singapore (GenSing):

Pedagogy and Practice in Mathematics

Classrooms

Sarah M. DAVIS

This chapter discusses a new technology-supported classroom

pedagogy, Generative Activities. These activities are rooted in the

tradition of function-based algebra and utilize a classroom network of

handheld devices. A curricular intervention was done where the

algebra topics in the Secondary 1 Scheme of Work were rearranged

into three structural concepts; equals (where two expressions are

everywhere the same), equivalence (the intersection of two

expressions) and concepts of the linear functions (slope, rate,

intercept). Activities were created using the Generative Design

principles of space creating play, dynamic structure, agency and

participation. The teachers involved with the project put in much hard

work on changing their pedagogical practices to encourage creativity

and take advantage of the classroom network to further students’

conceptual understanding of mathematics. Results from the

Singapore classrooms show the creative potential of these types of

activities.

1 Introduction

To function in the 21

st

century students need deep conceptual

understanding of mathematics, specifically algebra as it is the gatekeeper

to higher-level mathematics. Research in mathematics education has

Generative Activities in Singapore (GenSing) 137

shown that educational environments in which students engage in

mathematics as mathematicians, sharing and discussing ideas, fosters this

deeper understanding (Boaler, 1998, 2002; Lampert, 1990, 2001). An

approach that shifts the focus from procedural computation with its

emphasis on right and wrong to an emphasis on ideas and structure,

requires a change in the pedagogical practices of the classroom

(Lampert, 1990). Traditional algebraic instruction has students arriving at

Secondary 3 and 4 with only a computation understanding of algebraic

topics. It has created students without robust conceptual connections

between the different algebraic representations of graph, expression

and table. Representational fluency, the ability to switch between

representations of mathematical concepts and to fully understand those

representations, is believed to be crucial to students success in

mathematics (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2000).

Representations should be treated as essential elements in

supporting students’ understanding of mathematical concepts and

relationships; in communicating mathematical approaches,

arguments, and understandings to one’s self and to others; in

recognizing connections among related mathematical concepts;

and in applying mathematics to realistic problem situations

through modeling. (National Council of Teachers of

Mathematics, 2000, pg. 66)

Successful models of instruction in algebra have employed a focus

on multiple representations and Generative Design principles as the basis

of instruction (Kaput, 1995, 1998; Stroup, Ares, Hurford, & Lesh, 2007;

Stroup & Davis, 2005; Stroup, Kaput, Ares, Wilensky, Hegedus,

Roschelle, Mack, Davis, Hurford, 2002). While the generative activities

discussed in the chapter may not be what one expects to see when

hearing the phrase “problem solving”, we believe that these activities

problematize mathematics. They create opportunities for students to

solve mathematical problems as a class, to harness the ideas of

everyone in the room to create a host of artifacts to explore. The

exploration of these artifacts, or representations of algebraic concepts,

builds representational fluency. This fluency, the ability to navigate

Mathematical Problem Solving 138

different ways of representing mathematical phenomena (e.g., symbolic,

graphical, tabular, verbally and with gesture), facilitates the development

of problem solving skills.

The projects discussed in this chapter, GenSing Pilot and GenSing1,

have implemented generative activities in mathematics classrooms in

Singapore (Davis, 2007). Both projects point to the effectiveness of a

focus on powerful mathematical ideas and new styles of interaction.

This chapter will discuss the theoretical foundations of Generative

Design with examples of classroom work from Singapore to illuminate

how the theory relates to practice.

2 What is a Generative Activity?

At the core of Generative Design is the belief that a well-designed

activity should “never ask a question with only one right answer” (Judah

Shwartz, Harvard). One of the great shortcomings of traditional

instruction is that it teaches students that “doing mathematics means

following the rules laid down by the teacher; knowing mathematics

means remembering and applying the correct rule when the teacher asks

a question” (Lampert, 1990, p 32). Generative activity work to change

that perception, instead of having the students simplify , they are

challenged to come up with 3 functions the same as 2x. In this way

doing mathematics is a process involving experimentation, creativity

and even failure (finding out what doesn’t work can be as valuable

as finding out what does), and knowing mathematics is using the

underlying structural concepts as to find answers that meet the criteria

(in this case that two expressions are equivalent if their graphs are

the same).

Before we continue with the theoretical aspects of Generative

Design is critical for the reader to have a good understanding of what

Generative Activities are, what they look like in a classroom and how

they contribute to a deep understanding of mathematics. To facilitate

the reader’s understanding of the types of activities and pedagogy this

paper will be discussing, the following narrative of an activity being

done at a Singapore Secondary school given below.

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Generative Activities in Singapore (GenSing) 139

3 Narrative

Function Activity 2, the class begins: The students log into the TI

Navigator network and are shown a Cartesian plane from -10 to10 on the

X axis and -20 to 20 on the Y axis. On their TI 84+ calculator they see

one point (their point), which they can move around their screen using

the arrow keys on the device. In the upfront projection of the teacher

computer, all of the students’ points are visible. The teacher computer

updates in real time; as the students move their point on their calculator,

their icon in the group display also moves. The calculator is their

private-space, the projection of the teacher computer is the public-space

(see Figure 1).

As with any new manipulative in the classroom, students need to be

given an opportunity to explore prior to settling in to the core task. The

students are given a series of “playful” tasks to help them learn the point

submission interface and explore the possibilities: “Move to a place on

the graph where your X and Y coordinates are positive. Move to the

second quadrant. Move to the origin.” This allows the students to learn

the calculator interface and get familiar with the group representation

before they are asked to do a more robust mathematical task. As will be

mentioned in other places in the paper, the students are not playing (as in

a game with no instructional goals), they are playfully interacting with

mathematics. While they are racing each other to get to the next

designated location, they are learning the interfaces and reviewing

concepts of the coordinate plane. The students are now ready to use the

technology as a tool to gain mathematical knowledge.

“Find a point whose Y value is twice the X value”, the teacher

challenges the class. This first activity has the students embodying the

definition of function. No two students can have the same X value but

different Y values. They are free to talk with their peers about what this

means, but each student must submit their own point. For the first

minutes of this task, the upfront display shows only the coordinate plane

with the points moving to follow the rule. After the students have had a

chance to try and figure out what “make your Y twice your X” means,

the teacher changes the upfront display so that in addition to the graph

Mathematical Problem Solving 140

Before Rule

After Rule

X=4 Y=8

window, the students can now see a list of the coordinate pairs created

by each point. For students who are struggling to translate the verbal

description to a mathematical relation, seeing the numeric values of their

classmates’ points can help to scaffold their understanding. The “more

knowledgeable peer” (Vygotsky, 1978) does not need to be sitting next

to them, the group display provides a venue for all students to mentor

and be mentored interchangeably. With this just-in-time modification of

the task, the teacher keeps all students engaged at a level and in a

way that is meaningful for them. After another minute, the activity is

stopped. This freezes the student devices and allows for the submitted

data to be discussed.

Figure 1. The group public-space is shown on the left and the students’ private-space

is shown on the right

“Do you see a pattern in the data? What is the pattern? Do you see

any points that don’t seem to fit the pattern? Can we fix those points?”

The teacher and students explore the data. The class works together to

fix all of the points that were not following the rule. The activity is re-

started in function mode. Now, instead of controlling a point, the

Generative Activities in Singapore (GenSing) 141

students can submit functions. On their calculator screen they can see

the set of points created by the class and have a prompt to input a

function to fit the data.

As with the points, while students are first struggling to figure out

what it would mean symbolically for Y to be twice X, the upfront display

only shows the set of points and any graphs of submitted functions.

After a number of students have found a function to fit the data set, the

teacher changes the display to show both the graph window and the

equation window. Once the students have found one function to go

through the data set, they are challenged to find two additional functions

that also go through the data set. Displaying the graphical and symbolic

forms of the functions accomplishes two things. First, for students who

are still struggling to find a first function to model the data set, seeing the

work of their peers can help them figure out a correct equation. More

importantly, the display of submitted functions helps to build a sense of

theater among the students. Wanting their function to standout, to get

noticed, students start to get more and more creative with the functions

they submit (Davis, 2003). For a sample of student created functions,

see Table 1.

The rich data in the group display gives the teacher formative

insight as to which concepts the students are or are not comfortable (for

example if there are no decimal coefficients). With this knowledge,

the teacher can guide discussion by privileging certain functions in

the group display. “Oh look, there is one using division of variables.

Wow, this one uses 15 terms. Can anyone figure out an expression using

multiplication with negative numbers?” As these different functions

are remarked upon by the teacher, or noticed by peers, students are

motivated to ascertain how they were created, and then try to submit one

even more interesting. Armed with the structural knowledge that two

expressions are the same if their graph is the same, students can

experiment and discover rules for what works. If the graphs are the

same, they got it right.

The teacher and class then discus the submitted functions, admiring

and analyzing the ones that were correct, and working together they

correct the ones that had errors. As the students focus on an incorrect

Mathematical Problem Solving 142

function, they have to try and determine what the person who submitted

it was trying to accomplish, and then correct the mistake. Was the error

in order of operations? Did the person make an addition error? Is there

an error due to a miss match in factoring variables? In fixing functions

submitted by their classmates, students focus on the strategies used by

other people.

4 GenSing Theoretical Foundations

There is a tendency to view schooling and especially mathematics

as individual work done in a group setting. Generative Activities,

facilitated by classroom networks, allow for the classroom to become a

true group space, a place where all individuals interact to form rich and

unique digital artifacts. These group artifacts represent a collective

intelligence that the teacher and students can investigate to come to

deeper understandings of mathematical concepts. By combining these

powerful networks with the new pedagogical practices and curricular

goals of Generative Design, classroom environments can be created that

thrive on the variety of answers students can create. This environment

allows the focus to be placed on ideas, and the exploration of many

different answers makes powerful mathematical discourses possible.

5 Generative Design Theory and Practice

Such Generative Activities as described above are at the heart of the

GenSing projects. This section will weave together the design principles

upon which Generative Activities are built and examples of what those

theoretical principles provoke in actual practice.

In 1995, Jim Kaput outlined what he felt would need to happen to

make algebra more accessible to more students and how that change

would most likely occur. First he laid out three dimensions of reform for

algebra, breadth, integration and pedagogy (Kaput, 1995). To achieve

breadth one must interweave the many different facets of what it is

to do algebra; modeling, working with functions, generalization and

Generative Activities in Singapore (GenSing) 143

abstraction. In addition to breadth within mathematics, he felt it would

be important for algebra to be integrated across other subjects. Finally,

he stated that the pedagogy for teaching algebra, especially as supported

by new technologies would have to change. Kaput then went on to

outline three phases of reform. Near term, where existing curriculums

were enhanced by the use of new technologies, mid-term where

algebra was more significantly implemented in the middle grades

and long term where the mathematics curriculum would be totally

restructured across all grade levels and algebra as a specific course

would disappear.

This section will discuss the ways in which the GenSing project has

used Kaput’s vision of reform to shape classroom implementation in

Singapore. Specifically the theories and practices surrounding breadth,

pedagogy and near and mid-term reform.

5.1 Breadth

The GenSing intervention uses a curriculum of function-based algebra

supported by a classroom network (TI Navigator), and is grounded

by the belief that most algebraic topics can fit within three key

areas; “equivalence (of functions), equals (one kind of comparison of

functions), and a systematic engagement with the linear function”

(Stroup, Carmona, & Davis, 2005, p 3). The classroom integration

of the TI Navigator network were described in the narrative. This

section will focus on large structural ideas on which the curriculum was

built.

Within typical introductory algebra topics there are three big areas

of instruction; ideas of equivalence, ideas of equals and ideas of the

linear functions. Equivalence is the idea that you can have two equations

that look completely different in their algebraic form but graphically

they are the same (Figure 2). Equivalence encompasses (but is not

limited to) simplifying, factoring, combining like terms and expanding

polynomials.

Mathematical Problem Solving 144

Figure 2. Equivalence: Two expressions that look nothing alike create the same graph

These ideas are usually completely disjoint for students for most of

their mathematic career. Other than exactly following the rules they

don’t understand why what they are doing works, why it is correct. The

big idea of equivalence gives students the ability to see that for

expressions, there are different ways of writing the same thing.

Figure 3. Equals: A special relationship between two expressions where they intersect.

“Doing the same thing to both sides”, preserves the solution set. Even in the extreme

example of multiplying both sides by sin(x), the solution set is preserved (new solutions

are added, but the original intersection point is preserved)

Generative Activities in Singapore (GenSing) 145

Equals and or Inequalities are the second big part of introductory

algebra. For example, solving systems of linear equations, solving

inequalities and finding where one expression is greater than another.

Here the focus is not on expressions that are everywhere the same. Here

the focus is on the place (or places) where two different expressions are

the same; the intersection(s) (Figure 3). Taking a function-based look at

the concept of equals helps students answer; Why am I supposed to do

the same thing to both sides?, Why do I flip the inequality if I multiply or

divide by a negative? and What does it matter if the X and the Y are

different sides of the equals sign? Take for example the two expressions

in Figure 4, 2x and -.5x+2. If we focus on where 2x is greater than -

.5x+2, we are looking at points that are in the first quadrant. If both sides

are multiplied by -1, the X-values which had been greater than, are now

less than. The rule of flipping the inequality when you multiply by a

negative ceases to be an obscure rule that is just memorized. The graphs

literally move, the region of greater-than less-than has to be changed

because the graphs aren’t in the same relationship to each other any

more. Without a visual representation of why the rules they are using to

solve algebraic problems work, students easily confound the rules for

Equals and Equivalence.

Figure 4. Graphs of Y=2X and Y=-.5X+2 and the same graphs multiplied by -1

The final idea is of linear function, specifically doing activities to

separate for the student the ideas of intercept and slope. The project

starts by tying ideas of physical motion to slope. Much work is done

with motion detectors. This allows students to see that moving towards

Mathematical Problem Solving 146

the motion detector is a positive slope, moving away is a negative slope,

faster motion is steeper, and slower is flatter. We believe that starting

with a linear function to explore ideas of slope and rate is like starting

with black to explore colors. There is not enough variety or richness of

information available for the students to build understanding. It is in the

slowing down and the speeding up, its in the changing points in the

graph that you start to make sense of where the fast parts and slow parts

are. If it is always moving the same speed, if it is always a straight line,

there is no complexity in it to see the changes in speed to make sense of

it. For this reason, we start with messy graphs and qualitative verbal

descriptions of motion.

Figure 5. Motion detector graph and expression

After the students have become proficient with describing changing

rates, we look at constant rates. As an example of an activity, one

student will act out a rule in front of a motion detector, start at a point

away from the motion detector and move at a constant moderate pace

towards it. The network is used to collect the one graph and send it out

to all the calculators in the classroom. The students then fit a function on

top of it (Figure 5). A series of these rules are done to tie the ideas of

what the person acted out to features of the expression. We start out with

wiggly graphs to give students a rich environment to explore the faster

and slower parts, then we move to constant motion connecting up with

functions to model that motion. In this way the student is mathematizing

the motion and quantifying the slope and intercept.

Generative Activities in Singapore (GenSing) 147

5.2 Pedagogy

The new pedagogy that the GenSing project employs is that of

Generative Design. There are four key principles for designing for the

generative space. Activities should have a dynamic structure, open up a

space for mathematical play, allow greater agency for the students and

increase participation (Stroup, Ares, & Hurford, 2005; Stroup et al.,

2002).

6 Space Creating Play and Dynamic Structure

Space creating play refers to the way in which activities are structured to

allow for many valid ways of participation. Play which can be seen as a

negative concept in schools does not have to be perceived in that fashion.

Games that students play have guidelines for appropriate participation.

During generative play, within the classroom, activities also have rules

and guidelines that all participants agree to abide by. The artifacts of that

participation are displayed back to the group in a way that is meaningful

for use in concept development. In this way, activities can be structured

to allow for exploration of the mathematical space or scientific. By

focusing on space creating play, activities can be designed to have a

dynamic type of input where students follow rules and create a multitude

of responses.

Dynamic structure referrers to the impact the emerging artifacts

have on how the activity will proceed. This fits in very closely with the

concept of space creating play. Space creating play is task dependent

and dynamic structure is people dependent. In the example, the

student response space is small. There is only one right answer. This

type of question gives the student little if no ability to impact the

direction of instruction. In contrast, the list of responses to the 2x

question will influence how the class proceeds. The displayed responses

dynamically structure what is available for discussion during the lesson.

This can create some uncertainty for the teacher. There is no way to

predict from one enactment to another exactly where the lesson is going

that day. In one class period there might be examples of the distributive

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Mathematical Problem Solving 148

property, in another class there might be errors with multiplication of

negatives to be discussed. The artifacts are a reflection of the students’

ideas and current understanding. As such they can be used to do on-the-

fly formative instructions. For example, if a class has just finished a unit

on negative numbers and no one uses negative numbers in the functions

that are being submitted, this can indicate that the students are not

comfortable with negatives yet. The teacher has formative information

as to what the students have and have not incorporated into their own

schemes of problem solving.

7 Agency and Participation

Agency refers to the students’ identity in the class, how they feel that

identity is valued, and how much influence they believe they have on

the content of the class. In generative activities, the entire space of

responses, the basis for all classroom dialogue, is from the students. It is

the ownership of the very authorship of classroom content which

increases students’ agency in generative activities. Anonymity of

response in the display space gives students the option of expanding their

agency to play different roles. In the class discussion a student can

comment on an answer as if it was theirs or as if it belonged to someone

else. Depending one the answer they choose to discuss, this allows them

to play the role of someone who got the answer right or to hypothesize

on the reasoning of someone who got it wrong. Both roles can be

assumed independent of the correctness of the actual answer submitted

by the student. By virtue of the anonymity in the display space all

answers become everyone’s answers.

This increase in agency provides opportunity for increased

participation. According to Seymour Papert, a technology should have a

high ceiling and a low threshold. The same can be said of generative

activities. By asking questions that have more than one right answer,

students are invited to participate in a way, and at a level, which is

meaningful to them. Returning to the example of the 2x activity, for

some students, valid participation is simply returning the original

function of 2x. For others it will be exploring rational expressions and

Generative Activities in Singapore (GenSing) 149

sending in 100x/50. Both are valid correct responses and let the student

enter the “game” in ways that make sense to them.

Finally, participation, unlike tutoring where only one student can

answer the question, every student can answer every question in the

generative classroom. All responses are learning opportunities, they are

either exemplars of the mathematic properties or in the case of incorrect

responses they are a chance for the class to explore what the other person

was thinking. What their logic process was. Fostering empathy. In

generative classrooms, when teachers are reviewing responses with the

class, they are encouraged to ask , “What is right about this?”. What is

right, then what needs to be fixed? Encouraging the students to focus

on the structure of the mathematics to determine where the solution

went wrong. Many wrong answers have been well thought out; just

somewhere in the process there was a mathematical error.

This section has explored the foundational ideas for generative

design. These ideas are what shape the school-based work of the

GenSing project. The next section will share some examples of work

done in Singapore.

8 Examples from Singapore Classrooms

In 2007 (GenSing Pilot) an intervention was done as a series of three,

researcher lead, activities with 183 Secondary 1 students at an upper

performing secondary school in Singapore. Each class was visited once

every two weeks. The data was collected during the second activity (the

Function Activity 2 described above). Class sizes ranged from 38-42

students. The schools’ curriculum specialist and I collaborated to

reorganize the Secondary 1 scheme of work and gather all of the

algebraic topics covered across the year into two cohesive groupings, one

lasting eight weeks and one lasting four weeks. These two groupings

were then organized such that they aligned with the big three conceptual

ideas. During the first eight weeks segment, concepts of equivalence,

rate and linear functions were covered. During the four weeks segment,

concepts of equals and inequalities were explored. In this way the

Mathematical Problem Solving 150

entire intervention was grounded in the Generative Design literature.

Additionally the topics of instruction were grouped into concepts (i.e.

equivalence) and skills (i.e. factoring), where concepts were taught using

generative activities and skills were taught via traditional instruction

(Lesh & Doerr, 2003).

8.1 Student learning: Powerful means of learning mathematics

Equivalence is the major structural concept in Function Activity 2 (the

activity from the narrative). The following will give examples of student

data from this activity and discuss work from the GenSing Pilot and

GenSing1.

Student work from both implementations showed that generative

activities are surfacing important mathematical concepts; concepts that

are traditionally taught in discreet chunks of memorized material. This

data was created by either the rule “Make your Y twice your X” or

“Make you Y 6 more than X.” Using examples from Table 1, students

created functions using; the distributive property Y=10(X+5)-10(5)-8X;

generalizations on mathematical objects Y= PI(X+6)/PI; order of

operations Y=(X^2)/X*((X^2)^2)/X/X/X/X+6; identity property of

multiplication Y=100000000000X/100000000000+6; combining like

terms Y=2(0.2X+0.2X+0.2X+0.2X+0.2X) and many others.

Students displayed a number of interesting strategies within their

equivalent expressions. These included: Addition / Subtraction /

Multiplication / Division of numbers; Addition / Subtraction /

Multiplication of variables; Expressions in Simplest Form; Rational

expressions; Rational 1 expressions—where the students used the

concept that the numerator and denominator would cancel each other out

and form a 1 (example Y=7878787878X/ /7878787878+6); Additive 0—

these items were coded as distinct because the students used “chunks” of

terms (X-X or 6-6) that totaled zero to create functions the same as 2X or

X+6 (example Y=3X-X+X-X+X-X+X-X); Multiplicative 0—where the

student would put in a term or a parenthetical group of terms and then

multiply it by 0 to make it disappear.

Generative Activities in Singapore (GenSing) 151

Table 1

Social Strategies Student Examples

Manipulations of real numbers and non-rational algebraic

expressions were the most frequent mathematical strategies adopted.

None of these strategies were directly taught; they emerged from the

students experimentation in the private space of the calculator. The

students had previously learned that if they created two functions that

Mathematical Problem Solving 152

made the same graph, the functions were the same. This gave them the

ability to try out different combinations of terms to find things that work.

Being a mathematician is not only about math content it is also

about working in a community and communicating ideas (Lampert,

1990, 2001). For this reason, mathematical strategies were not the only

ones that were identified. The social strategies of the students show the

beginnings of thinking of mathematics as social. Here is evidence from

the GenSing Pilot. Four Social Strategies immerged from the student

work: 1) Big Numbers, 2) Many Terms, 3) Unique Strategy, and 4)

Humorous. These were considered to be social strategies because they

were noticed by others in the classroom. Big numbers were any that had

a term with five or more digits. Many Terms were functions that had

five or more terms. The Unique Strategies used mathematical notions

that were rare across the classes and Humorous were functions that

seemed to have a tongue in cheek feel to them (for example taking a very

large number and then multiplying it by 0). A vein for future research is

to explore if the student’s desired audience was peer or teacher attention,

or if they simply wanted to be different for themselves. The act of

submitting their functions to the public space, made it open for

interpretation. It is in the social strategies that the importance of a space

for mathematical play shines through. As in sports or other games,

students explore the possibilities. They find ways to stand out, to

perform. In these activities it is the Vygotskyian sense of play that is

being focused on. Not an anything goes environment, but one where

rules bound play and children can explore new social structures

(Vygotsky, 1978). Similar to activities outside the classroom such as

sports, when students see a great move, they want to copy it, or out do it.

8.2 Teacher pedagogy: Model of teacher professional development

The activity in the narrative above is based on a pedagogy where the

teacher facilitates discussion and gets the students to explore, understand

and extend their work and that of their classmates. Clearly this type of

mathematics classroom requires a pedagogy different from that of lecture

and independent practice. Getting teachers to change classroom practice

Generative Activities in Singapore (GenSing) 153

is a challenge (Ball & Bass, 2000). Most have experienced mathematics

in schooling (with great success) as a set of procedures to work through

to get the correct result. There is research which links lack of conceptual

understanding with a tendency to focus on procedural aspects of

functions (Stein, Baxter, & Leinhardt, 1990). For these reason, the

GenSing projects created a model of teacher professional development

that was layered and prolonged. The first layer was teachers watching

the pilot implementation where the visiting researcher worked with their

students modeling the activities and pedagogical approaches. The next

layer was having the teachers experience activities as students, sharing

ideas and building a community of practice. The next layer was intensive

technical training on how to run the equipment. The final layer

was ongoing site visits, staff meetings and debrief sessions with the

teachers as they were implementing the new sequence of instruction.

Additionally, detailed curricular materials were created to assist the

teachers in situ with orchestrating these more dynamic and interactive

lessons. All activities were done with the multiple goals of increasing

pedagogical content and domain knowledge and changing classroom

practice (Lloyd & Wilson, 1998; Swafford, Jones, & Thronton, 1997).

8.3 Technology innovation

The initial data analysis done for the GenSing Pilot study was exciting

and surfaced a number of interesting research questions. How do

noteworthy expressions in the group space affect other students? How

can the mass amounts of data be meaningfully organized so the teacher

can reflect on student progress outside of class? What data needs to be

easily accessible so that it can be re-used in another activity or additional

practice?

To start the process of answering the questions, the GenSing1

project needed to create new software. First, we needed to be able to

collect more than just end state data from the activities. So a script was

created for continuous data collection. The new script collected all

function submissions by the students with a time stamp. Additionally it

also captured any changes to the data made by the teacher on the up front

Mathematical Problem Solving 154

w.

computer. Second, using NetLogo (Wilensky, 1999), a set of analysis

tools, the GenSing Graphical Viewer (Davis & Brady, 2008a) and the

GenSing Timeline Viewer (Davis & Brady, 2008b), were created to help

visualize the student data. We decided to use NetLogo for it’s low

overhead, flexibility and modeling capability.

The first tool, GenSing Graphical Viewer imports all of the student

submitted functions from a session. It is able to display all of the

functions submitted for a given activity, evaluate them and write

information back to the data file about the functions. The second tool is

the GenSing Timeline Viewer. This software can also import the class

created data file and creates a series of new views onto the data. In the

first view, the Timeline Viewer (Figure 6) gives an overall idea of when

activity is happening in the class; on the Y axis is an icon representing

each student and the X axis is time. The software displays a mark next to

the student icon at every time interval at which that students submits

data. This allows for the identification of patterns in submissions. For

example the student highlighted in the top box in Figure 6 has submitted

18 times during the activity period while the student in the lower box has

only submitted 5 times.

Figure 6. Timeline viewer class view

In addition to the whole class view, the Timeline Viewer lets you

filter out other data and view the submissions from just one student

(Figure 7). Using the placement of the icon as the timestamp (not the

leading edge of the expression) the student view in Figure 7 shows that

this student submitted a new Y1, Y2, Y3 and Y4 at the same time. Y1,

Generative Activities in Singapore (GenSing) 155

Y2 and Y3 were correct matches for the target expression in this activity

which was Y=4X. When using the software correctness is indicated by

the shading of the expression’s text, as this paper is in black and white,

boxes have been placed around the responses that match Y=4X. The

software knows which match and which do not because of the

identifying data added to each expression in the Graphical Viewer. The

student then corrected Y4 and returned to Y1 to work at finding a new

expression to replace 4X. In the end this student submitted 5 correct

expressions.

Figure 7. Timeline viewer individual student view

These two software interfaces have been a great first step to finding ways

to visualize the large amounts of digital data but there is so much more

that can be done to provide views of the data that teachers can use to

make formative decisions about class and student knowledge. To get to

a point where teachers can quickly see: What was the dominant

mathematical strategy from class today? What mathematical strategies

were used? Are there strategies that need to be reviewed? How is a

Mathematical Problem Solving 156

particular student doing? Do they need help? Are they consistently

struggling with a specific type of problem?

9 Conclusion

Problem solving can take many forms. This chapter has explored

generative activities, a form of problematizing mathematics that utilizes

the affordances of the full class to make meaning of the given tasks. The

Generative Activities discussed in this chapter are rooted in the tradition

of function-based algebra and utilize a classroom network of handheld

devices. For the created curriculum, the algebraic topics covered in the

Secondary 1 scheme of work were rearranged into three structural

concepts; equals (where two expressions are everywhere the same),

equivalence (the intersection of two expressions) and concepts of the

linear functions (slope, rate, intercept). The activities were created using

Generative Design principles. These were space creating play, dynamic

structure, agency and participation. Generative Activities should open

up a space for students to engage playfully with mathematics, to show

creativity and interact with data sent in by other students. This playful

space makes for a dynamic classroom experience where both teacher and

students influence the course of the lesson. In giving students influence

over the lesson content, their agency in the classroom is increased.

Finally, the combination of the three previous principles gives students

increased opportunity to participate in class. Results from the Singapore

classrooms show the creative potential of these types of activities. The

responses show both mathematical and social creativity. Many important

mathematical concepts are generated by students and are available to the

class to discuss. The teachers involved with the project have put in much

hard work on changing their pedagogical practices to encourage

creativity and take advantage of the artifacts in the group space to

further students’ conceptual understanding of mathematics. Generative

Activities, coupled with concepts of function-based algebra and the

affordances of a classroom network create a powerful problem solving

environment.

Generative Activities in Singapore (GenSing) 157

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159

Chapter 9

Mathematical Modelling and Real Life

Problem Solving

ANG Keng Cheng

Mathematical modelling is commonly regarded as the art of

applying mathematics to a real world problem with a view to better

understand the problem. As such, mathematical modelling is

obviously related to problem solving. However, they may not mean

the same thing. In this chapter, various aspects of mathematical

modelling and problem solving will be discussed. Using concrete

examples, some of the basic ideas and processes of mathematical

modelling will be introduced and described as an approach to

problem solving. In all the examples, a computing tool is used in

part of the modelling process, demonstrating the critical role of

technology in mathematical modelling. Some possible extensions of

the modelling problems are also presented.

1 Introduction

Mathematical modelling has featured prominently in school mathematics

curricula as well as many tertiary mathematics courses. However, despite

this fact, mathematicians and mathematics educators alike, have not been

able to reach a consensus on a precise definition of the term. It appears

that different researchers adopt different definitions, depending on their

field of work (Blum, 1993).

Mathematical Problem Solving 160

In fact, over the years, several interpretations of mathematical

modelling arising from different perspectives and research directions

have been proposed and used. For instance, as far as Cross and

Moscardini (1985) and Bassanezi (1994) are concerned, mathematical

modelling is defined simply as a process of understanding, simplifying

and solving a real life problem in mathematical terms. However,

according to Mason and Davies (1991), mathematical modelling is the

movement of a physical situation to a mathematical representation.

Swetz and Hartzler (1991) define mathematical modelling as a

process of observing a phenomenon, conjecturing relationships, applying

and solving suitable equations, and interpreting the results. This seems to

make mathematical modelling a rather scientific endeavour. In contrast,

Yanagimoto (2005) thinks that mathematical modelling is not just a

process of solving a real life problem using mathematics; it has to

involve applying mathematics in situations where the results are “useful

in society”.

There are some researchers who hold the view that all applications of

mathematics are mathematical models (Burghes, 1980). However, there

are also those who feel that there is a difference between mathematical

modelling and applications of mathematics (Galbraith, 1999). In fact,

Galbraith claims that in a typical mathematical application, although the

mathematics and the context are related, they are separable. In other

words, after applying the necessary mathematics to solve the problem in

some given context, we no longer “need” the context. A modelling task

is distinctly different in that the focus is on investigating a particular

problem or phenomenon, and the mathematics used is simply a means in

understanding or solving the problem.

Whatever the views and differences in definition, one thing is clear:

mathematical modelling has to have some connection with real life

problems. Mathematical modelling is more than just problem solving;

the problem to be solved arises from a real life situation, or a real

life phenomenon. At times, the actual problem is not solved, but through

the process of modelling, a better understanding of the problem is

achieved.

Mathematical Modelling and Real Life Problem Solving 161

1.1 What is mathematical modelling

Although there is no consensus on the precise definition of mathematical

modelling, a working definition will be adopted for the purpose of this

chapter. It is as follows. Mathematical modelling can be thought of as a

process in which there is a sequence of tasks carried out with a view to

obtaining a reasonable mathematical representation of a real world

problem. Very often, in practice, this process is more like a cycle in

which a model is continuously constructed, validated and refined. This

process is illustrated in Figure 1 (Ang, 2006).

Figure 1. The mathematical modelling process

Beginning with a real life problem, the objective is to produce a real

life solution. A direct approach to do this may be difficult or impossible.

Thus, the first step in the mathematical modelling process is to

understand the problem, and describe it in mathematical terms. In other

words, mathematize the problem. In doing so, it is essential to be able to

identify the variables in the problem, and to form relationships between

or amongst these variables.

Real-world

Problem

Formulate

Equations

Make

Assumptions

Real-world

Solution

Mathematical

Problem

Interpret

Solutions

Solve

Equations

Compare

with data

Mathematical World

Real World

Model Refinement

Model Formulation

Model

Interpretation

Mathematical Problem Solving 162

The next step is to construct a basic framework for the model. At this

stage, some assumptions may need to be made. These assumptions are

often necessary to keep the problem tractable, and simple enough to be

solved by known methods. Of course, this means that the solution arising

from the model can only be as good as its assumptions. Nevertheless,

it is good to start with a simple model and then relax the assumptions

later.

Given the assumptions, a model is constructed. The model may be an

equation, a set of equations, a set of rules or simply an algorithm

governing how values of the variables may be found or assigned.

Generally, this is the most crucial stage and is often also the most

difficult. It is also at this stage that the real physical meanings of the

variables in the problem are used to justify the formulation of the model.

Following the formulation of the model, the next step is to find ways

to solve the equations. This is where various different methods or

strategies in problem solving can be exploited. In practice, unless a

model is particularly simple, very often some kind of technological or

computing tool will need to be used. The result from this step is a

solution or a set of solutions to the mathematical problem that has been

formulated.

The next step is to link the results or solutions of the model to the real

world problem. This involves interpreting the results in physical terms.

At this stage, it is common that various mathematical tools and skills are

involved, including use of graphs and tables, qualitative and quantitative

analyses, and so on. Comparisons between the solutions and collected or

known data can be made to validate the model. Very often, a report on

the results and interpretations becomes a “product” of this modelling

process.

Although the modelling process may seem to terminate or culminate

at the model interpretation stage, upon comparison with observed data, it

may be possible to find ways to refine or improve the model. One

common practice is to rethink the assumptions and perhaps modify or

relax some of the earlier assumptions so that a more realistic or more

reasonable model can be obtained.

From the above discussion, it is clear that mathematical modelling

involves more than just a typical mathematical problem solving exercise.

Mathematical Modelling and Real Life Problem Solving 163

In mathematical modelling, there is a clear and distinct connection to a

real life problem.

1.2 Problem solving examples from textbooks

In order to appreciate the distinction between typical mathematical

problem solving and typical mathematical modelling, it may be useful to

examine how some local textbook writers perceive mathematical

problem solving. Below are three typical problem solving exercises from

textbooks or assessment books used by students in Singapore.

Problem Solving Item 1 (Upper Primary)

Paul had 30 more marbles than Peter. After Peter gave Paul 15 marbles,

Paul had twice as many marbles as Peter. How many marbles did they

have altogether?

Problem Solving Item 2 (Lower Secondary)

A cargo container is a cuboid that is 6.06 m long, 2.44 m wide and

2.59 m high.

(a) Find its total surface area (i) in m

2

, (ii) in cm

2

.

(b) Find its volume (i) in m

3

, (ii) in cm

3

.

Problem Solving Item 3 (Post Secondary)

A spherical balloon is being deflated in such a way that the volume is

decreasing at a constant rate of 120 cm

3

s

–1

. At time t s, the radius of the

balloon is r cm.

Find the rate of change of the radius when r = 30.

Find the rate of change of the surface area when the volume is 36π

4

cm

3

.

In Item 1, the expected method of solution is “model drawing

method” (See Ministry of Education, 2009). It is clear that the actual

context of the problem (that is, the marbles or the number of marbles that

Paul and Peter own) is not really that important. What matters most is the

Mathematical Problem Solving 164

method that can be used to tackle the problem, and, perhaps, the

numerical computations that are required in the solution process.

Item 2 can be useful in testing the learner’s ability to recall and use

the formulae for the volume of a cuboid (and possibly also the meaning

of the term) and the area of a rectangle, and the ability to perform unit

conversion. Whether the cuboid is a cargo container or not is immaterial

and not at all important. In other words, one could have just said “a

cuboid is …” and the item and its solution would have remained exactly

the same.

Item 3 expects the use of the concept of rates of change in calculus.

Once it is recognized that the object is spherical (and the formula for the

volume of a sphere is recalled), the fact that it is a balloon that is

deflating is no longer of any importance.

In all the above typical problems, the focus is on applying or using

some specific mathematical concept or skill to solve the problem. One

could generate many such “problems” using different contexts without

changing the intent of the exercise. In other words, these problem solving

items focus on the use of mathematics, rather than the context or the

“problem”. These typical textbook problems, strictly speaking, could

hardly be called “real life” problems although some authors do try to

inject some real life element into the context.

Mathematical modelling, on the other hand, focuses on the problem

itself. Typically, the problem concerns real systems or real problems that

one could possibly cast into a mathematical context and attempt a

solution. If the context or problem is changed, one would probably need

to use a different solution technique or approach.

In the next section, we examine the different approaches to

mathematical modelling.

2 Approaches to Mathematical Modelling

There are several different ways in which one can employ a

mathematical model to solve real problems. These different ways may be

classified into four broad approaches to mathematical modelling.

Mathematical Modelling and Real Life Problem Solving 165

2.1 Empirical models

In empirical modelling, one examines data related to the problem. The

main idea is to formulate or construct a mathematical relationship

between the variables in the problem using the available data. Typically,

one uses methods such as the method of least squares, or some other kind

of approach that minimizes the error between the observed data and the

modelled relationship.

In this approach, the model usually involves certain unknown

parameters that need to be obtained or estimated from the data set. The

main advantage is that the resulting model is capable of reproducing the

data set in an accurate manner. This approach is also very simple and

easy to apply in most cases. There are many technological tools that can

do curve fitting efficiently.

However, one main disadvantage of empirical modelling is its over-

reliance on historical data. One cannot be sure if the same model is still

applicable outside the range of the data set used. In other words, while it

can be used to explain historical relationship, it may not be useful for

predictions.

Another shortcoming is that parameters in empirical models often are

just numerical values which may not have any real physical meaning in

the problem. Given a different data set, these parameter values will be

different.

2.2 Simulation models

Simulation models involve the use of a computer program or some

technological tool to generate a scenario based on a set of rules. These

rules arise from an interpretation of how a certain process is supposed to

evolve or progress.

Typically, simulation is used to model a phenomenon or situation

when it is either impossible or impractical to conduct physical

experiments to study it. For instance, one may simulate a certain design

for a telecommunication network to find the best design. It would be too

expensive to build an actual system to test the design. Using a simulation,

Mathematical Problem Solving 166

one could test how the network performs at different traffic loads, or

whether a particular routing algorithm could increase performance levels,

and so on.

Simulation can be discrete events models or continuous models.

In discrete events, the assumption is that the system changes

instantaneously in response to changes in certain discrete variables.

Continuous simulations, on the other hand, changes are continuously fed

into the system over time and responses are continuously quantified.

2.3 Deterministic models

Generally, when we use an equation, or a set of equations (which may

include ordinary differential equations, partial differential equations,

integral equations, and so on), to model or predict the outcome of an

event or the value of a quantity, we are using deterministic models. The

equation or set of equations in a deterministic model represents the

relationship amongst the various components or variables of a system or

a problem.

For instance, the equations of motion, based on Newton’s laws, are a

set of deterministic models governing the motion of a particle. Thus,

when a ball is tossed up in the air, given that certain variables (such as its

initial velocity) are known, we can use the model to predict its motion at

a later time. It is important to note that there are some assumptions that

must be stated when using models. In this case, the ball is assumed to

behave like a particle, and air resistance is assumed to be negligible, and

so on.

2.4 Stochastic models

In deterministic modelling, random variations are ignored. In other

words, the equations used to represent real world problems are

formulated based on fundamental relationships between the component

variables in the problem. Generally, one set of conditions results in one

solution.

Mathematical Modelling and Real Life Problem Solving 167

Many real world problems, however, are subjected to random

variations and fluctuations. As an example, consider the modelling of

chemical reactions. Although it is possible to construct equations to

predict the behaviour of reacting substances, chemical reactions occur

only if there are effective molecular collisions. In other words, there is

some degree of randomness and uncertainty. Thus, different outcomes

may arise from the same set of initial conditions.

In stochastic models, randomness and probabilities of events

happening are taken into account when the equations are formulated.

The model is constructed based on the fact that events take place with

some probability rather than with certainty. In recent years, such

stochastic models have become very popular with researchers and

professionals in the fields of finance, business and economics.

3 Examples

In this section, we illustrate the different approaches of mathematical

modelling through examples in real life applications. It should be noted

that practical mathematical modelling often requires the use of some

technological tools. Describing these tools in detail is beyond the scope

of the current discussion although some simple technique with regard

to using the Solver function of the spreadsheet, MS Excel, will be

mentioned. The reader may wish to refer to the relevant references such

as Beare (1996) for details.

Example 1: Modelling elastic blood vessels

In the mathematical modelling of blood flow through elastic arteries,

it is necessary to obtain a relationship between the stress (tension, ) (x T )

experienced by an elastic material caused by the strain ( x ) exerted on it

(see Mazumdar, Ang and Soh, 1991). There are different ways of

modelling this relationship. In this example, we make use of empirical

data obtained experimentally by Roach and Burton (1957) for an iliac

artery. The set of data is reproduced in Table 1 below and plotted in

Figure 2.

Mathematical Problem Solving 168

Table 1

Observed experimental values of stress and strain in an iliac artery

strain (x) stress ( y)

1.22 4

1.35 8

1.45 13

1.50 20

1.55 22

1.57 28

1.60 33

1.64 40

1.67 44

1.71 60

1.74 71

1.77 83

1.80 95

1.83 109

Figure 2. Graph of stress against strain in iliac artery

Stress-Strain relationship

from experimental data

0

20

40

60

80

100

120

140

1.00 1.20 1.40 1.60 1.80 2.00

strain

s

t

r

e

s

s

Mathematical Modelling and Real Life Problem Solving 169

The relationship between the stress and strain in an elastic artery is

assumed to take the form

( )

kx

T x Ae B = + , (1.1)

where A, B and k are constants to be determined. Applying the condition

for an unstressed blood vessel, namely, T (1) = 0, the equation can be

simplified to

( ) ( )

kx k

T x A e e = − , (1.2)

where x ≥ 1, and A and k are both positive. The values of parameters A

and k may be estimated using the least squares method, or by minimizing

the error between the model and the data. Defining the “sum of residual

squares” (SRS) as

2

1

( ( ))

n

i i

i

S y T x

=

= −

∑

, (1.3)

where (x

i

, y

i

) are the observed data points, a spreadsheet may be used to

find the values of A and k that will minimize S. In Microsoft Excel, for

instance, the “solver” tool may be used. The Solver tool allows the user

to minimise (or maximise) the value of a selected cell by varying the

values of other cells specified by the user. In the present case, the Solver

tool returns the value of k = 0.007427 and A = 5.263 (to four significant

figures) with a minimum value of S = 39.53936. These results from the

spreadsheet are shown in Table 2, along with a graph of the model and

experimental values in Figure 3.

Empirical modelling can be easily exploited by the mathematics

teacher in the classroom. What is required would be an interesting

data set, some knowledge of functions and their graphs and a good

technological tool capable of performing function approximations.

Mathematical Problem Solving 170

Table 2

Results of fitting model to data using Solver tool in Microsoft Excel

A = 0.007427

k = 5.263085

Stress Strain

x

y T(x)

Squared

Error

1.22 4 3.13053 0.75598

1.35 8 7.61369 0.14924

1.45 13 13.88072 0.77567

1.50 20 18.49085 2.27752

1.55 22 24.48876 6.19393

1.57 28 27.36621 0.40168

1.60 33 32.29220 0.50098

1.64 40 40.19504 0.03804

1.67 44 47.31528 10.99109

1.71 60 58.73839 1.59166

1.74 71 69.03029 3.87977

1.77 83 81.08251 3.67675

1.80 95 95.19616 0.03848

1.83 109 111.72381 7.41912

1.86 132 131.07835 0.84944

S = 39.53936

Figure 3. Graph of model and experimental data

Comparison between model

and experimental data

0.0

20.0

40.0

60.0

80.0

100.0

120.0

140.0

1.00 1.20 1.40 1.60 1.80 2.00

strain

s

t

r

e

s

s

Mathematical Modelling and Real Life Problem Solving 171

For instance, students could be asked to collect data on the growth of

bean sprouts over, say, a three-week period and then construct a

mathematical model for the growth based on their data. As another

example, the teacher could ask students to find information about

“braking distances” of vehicles from the Internet. These are usually

experiments carried out by automobile companies to test the braking

efficiencies of their vehicles. The challenge is to construct a model that

will predict the braking distances of certain makes of cars.

Example 2: Random Walk

For an example of the simulation model, consider a “random walk”

problem. Suppose a person begins walking at some starting point. Being

quite drunk, she takes a step in north, south, east and west directions with

equal probability. That is, there is an equal chance that she takes a step in

any of the four directions. The problem is to determine how far from the

starting would she have gone after taking, say, 100 steps.

One possible way to look at this problem is to use some computing

tool to simulate the situation. In this case, each step taken by the person

is regarded as an event, and we make the assumption that the events are

independent. This means that the person’s next step will not be

dependent on her previous step. Since each event is a separate distinct

event, the simulation model is a discrete event simulation.

Again, a spreadsheet such as Microsoft Excel may be used to

construct this simulation model. The spreadsheet can be set up with three

columns. The first two columns contain the x and the y coordinates of the

position of the person respectively, and the third column stores the

direction in which she will move in the next step. The directions can be

conveniently coded as “1”, “2”, “3” and “4” to represent “East”, “North”,

“West” and “South” respectively. Figure 4(a) below shows the first 10

rows of a truncated Excel worksheet set up for the random walk

simulation.

The values in cells A2 and B2 are set to 0, indicating that the walk

begins at the origin (0, 0). In cell C2, the direction for the next step is

simulated by using the Excel formula “= randbetween(1,4)”, which

returns an integer between 1 and 4, and randomly drawn from a uniform

Mathematical Problem Solving 172

distribution. Thus, each of the integers 1, 2, 3 and 4 gets an equal chance

of being selected. Depending on the value assigned to cell C2, the values

in cells A3 and B3 will be assigned accordingly. The rules of the random

walk are translated to the following algorithm:

If value in C2 = 1, then: A3 = A2 + 1. If value in C2 = 3, then: A3 = A2 – 1.

If value in C2 = 2, then: B3 = B2 + 1. If value in C2 = 4, then: B3 = B2 – 1.

In Excel, these may be implemented by entering the following

formulae in cells A3 and B3 respectively:

“=IF(C2=1,A2+1,(IF(C2=3,A2-1,A2)))” and

“=IF(C2=2,B2+1,(IF(C2=4,B2-1,B2)))”.

The formulae in cells C2, and cells A3 and B3 are then copied to cells

directly below until 100 steps are taken. A typical run of this simulation

is shown graphically in Figure 4 (b).

A B C

1

x y

Direction

2 0

0

3

3

-1 0 2

4

-1 1 3

5

-2 1 1

6

-1 1 3

7

-2 2

2

8

-2 3 4

9

-2 2 1

10

-1 2 1

Figure 4(a). First 10 rows of spreadsheet in Random Walk example

copy from this cell to

cells directly below

=IF(C2=1,A2+1,(IF(C2=3,A2-1,A2)))

=IF(C2=2,B2+1,(IF(C2=4,B2-1,B2)))

=randbetween(1,4)

Mathematical Modelling and Real Life Problem Solving 173

Figure 4(b). A typical graphical output of random walk simulation

Some possible extensions include changing the probabilities of the

choosing each direction for the next step in the random walk. Another

possibility is to impose other rules such as taking 3 steps in one direction

before changing direction.

Although it may seem rather pointless to simulate such a situation, in

actual fact, this simulation model can be applied to model movement of

cells in a tissue. Another application is in the modelling of growth of

cells, or abnormal growth of cells leading to tumour formation.

As a classroom activity, one suggestion is to start with a one-

dimensional random walk. That is, the walk is restricted to just moving

along the, say, x-axis. At any one point, the probability of moving left at

the next step is equal to that of moving right. This one-dimensional

random walk can be simulated and it will not be difficult for students to

with access to a tool like Microsoft Excel to construct the simulation

model. This activity leads very naturally to binomial distribution, and

then, as the number of steps grows, to the normal distribution.

-6

-4

-2

0

2

4

6

-6 -4 -2 0 2 4 6

Mathematical Problem Solving 174

Example 3: A disease outbreak (Logistic model)

A basic model for the spread of an infectious disease can be constructed

from a simple first order differential equation. In this model, healthy and

susceptible individuals who come into contact with infected and infectious

individuals will themselves get infected. In other words, there exists a

movement of members from one compartment (“Susceptible”) to another

compartment (“Infected”). For this reason, such a model is often called

the “S-I” infectious disease model.

Assuming a closed community with a total of N individuals, and

denoting the number of infected individuals by x, the S-I model can be

written as the differential equation,

1

dx x

kx

dt N

= −

(1.4)

where k is some constant related to the rate of transmission of the disease.

This equation is also commonly known as the logistic equation. The

solution to the logistic equation is

0

1 ( / 1)

kt

N

x

N x e

−

=

+ −

, (1.5)

where

0

(0) x x = is the number of infected individuals at the start of the

outbreak. Although this is a very simplistic view of a disease outbreak, it

can be applied to a real situation.

In the year 2003, a deadly disease struck some parts of the world.

The disease, now known as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or

SARS, was an emerging infectious disease that spread very rapidly.

Thousands of cases were reported, and hundreds had died. SARS had

struck about 30 countries and in Singapore, 206 cases were recorded and

31 infected people lost their lives during the 70-day outbreak.

Data for the SARS outbreak in Singapore are available in the public

domain (Heng and Lim, 2003) and are reproduced in Table 3. Suppose

x(t) represents the number of infected individuals at time t, measured in

Mathematical Modelling and Real Life Problem Solving 175

days. From the data, it is clear that x

0

= x(0) = 1. That is, the outbreak

had started with just one infected individual. Also, assuming that the

community is closed (which means that no one enters or leaves the

system during the outbreak period), the total number of individuals is

assumed to be N = 206. This is, of course, a debatable assumption.

However, without this assumption, it would not be possible to use this

model. Moreover, the idea here is to test and see if the logistic equation

serves well as a reasonable deterministic model for the SARS outbreak.

Table 3

Number of individuals infected with SARS during the 2003 outbreak in Singapore (Heng

and Lim, 2003)

Day

(t)

Number

(x)

Day

(t)

Number

(x)

Day

(t)

Number

(x)

0 1 24 84 48 184

1 2 25 89 49 187

2 2 26 90 50 188

3 2 27 92 51 193

4 3 28 97 52 193

5 3 29 101 53 193

6 3 30 103 54 195

7 3 31 105 55 197

8 5 32 105 56 199

9 6 33 110 57 202

10 7 34 111 58 203

11 10 35 116 59 204

12 13 36 118 60 204

13 19 37 124 61 204

14 23 38 130 62 205

15 25 39 138 63 205

16 26 40 150 64 205

17 26 41 153 65 205

18 32 42 157 66 205

19 44 43 163 67 205

20 59 44 168 68 205

21 69 45 170 69 205

22 74 46 175 70 206

23 82 47 179

Mathematical Problem Solving 176

With these values, what is needed to complete the model is a value

for the transmission rate, k. One way to find an estimate for k is to use

the available data, and find a curve of best fit. To do so, an “average

error”, E, defined as

2

1

ˆ ( )

n

i i

i

x x

E

n

=

−

=

∑

, (1.6)

where

i

xˆ are the data values, x

i

are the values obtained from the model,

and n = 71 is the total number of data points available, is used. As before,

if a spreadsheet like Microsoft Excel is used, then the “Solver” tool may

be used to find the value of k that minimizes the error E. For this data set,

it turns out that the minimum value of E is found to be 1.9145 when

k = 0.1686. Results of this modelling exercise is shown in Figure 5

below.

From the graphs in Figure 5(b), it can be seen that the model does not

give a very good fit to the data. It appears that at the beginning and at the

end of the outbreak, the model appears to be fairly reasonable. However,

between t=15 and t=50, the model deviates from the actual SARS cases

quite significantly.

In fact, it is possible to refine the model so that a better fit can be

obtained. The logistic equation assumes a linear relationship between the

fractional rate of change of x(t) with (1 – (x/N)). A more general logistic

model would be to relax this assumption so that the fractional rate of

change of x(t) varies with (1 – (x/N)

p

) for some real constant p. The same

procedure for finding the new value of k and the value of p that will

minimize the error E can be applied. The result is a modified or

generalized logistic model for the SARS outbreak and is shown in

Figure 6.

It is clear from Figure 6 that this new model is an improvement

over the previous. In fact, the model can be further refined and improved.

For details on how this can be done, the reader may refer to Ang

(2004).

Mathematical Modelling and Real Life Problem Solving 177

k = 0.1686 E = 1.9145

Day

SARS

cases

Logistic

Model

Squared

Error

0 1 1.0000 0.0000

1 2 1.1826 0.6682

2 2 1.3982 0.3621

3 2 1.6529 0.1205

4 3 1.9536 1.0950

5 3 2.3083 0.4785

70 206 205.6838 0.1000

(a) Minimizing error using a spreadsheet

(b) Graph of SARS cases and solution from model

Figure 5. Modelling the SARS outbreak in Singapore using the logistic equation

Mathematical Problem Solving 178

Figure 6. Modified logistic model with p = 0.1988 and k = 0.4334

This example illustrates the idea of model refinement in mathematical

modelling. It also shows that even in deterministic modelling, one often

needs to use empirical data to estimate parameters, such as k in this case.

The difference is that in this case, the parameter k has a physical

meaning, unlike in typical empirical models where parameters may

sometimes not have any real physical meaning in the model.

Mathematical modelling applied to a local context tends to add

authenticity to the task and arouse greater interest amongst students.

This is the reason why Example 3 has received much attention from local

teachers when it was first discussed. Teachers may wish to look for

relevant and real resources when sourcing for ideas.

Example 4: A disease outbreak (Stochastic model)

The same logistic model discussed in the preceding example may be

further modified to include a stochastic term, leading to a stochastic or,

perhaps more accurately, hybrid model for the SARS outbreak.

Mathematical Modelling and Real Life Problem Solving 179

Rewriting the logistic equation with a stochastic term results in a

stochastic differential equation (SDE) given by

( ) ( ) ( ( )) ( ( )) ( ) dX t X t N X t dt g X t dW t λ µ = − + ,

0

(0) X X = , 0 t T ≤ ≤ . (1.7)

In this equation, λ is a constant, W(t) is a random variable

representing a standard Wiener process and µ is a scaling factor. Here,

the deterministic portion of the equation, namely ( ) ( ( )) X t N X t λ − is

commonly known as the “drift” and the stochastic part ( ( )) ( ) g X t dW t µ

is known as the “diffusion” term. The constant, λ, as before, is related to

the transmission rate of the disease. The function ( ( )) g X t is used to

govern the dependence of the ( ) X t , that is the number of infected

individuals, on the “noise” or uncertainties. For instance, to model a

simple linear relationship between ( ) X t and the stochastic term, one

could set ( ) g X X = .

The above equation can be solved using the Euler-Mayurama

numerical method. In this method, the equation is written in the

discretized form

1 1 1 1 1

( ) ( ) ( )

j j j j j j j

X X X N X t g X W W λ µ

− − − − −

= + − ∆ + − ,

for 1, 2, j = … (1.8)

To solve this equation using this method, a Brownian path needs to

be generated so that the difference

1

( )

j j

W W

−

− can be given a value. In

numerical simulations, it is usual to consider a discretized Brownian

motion, in which ( ) W t is sampled at discrete t values. Details of the

derivation and solution method can be found in Ang (2007), in which the

method is implemented through a program written in MATLAB.

The derivation of the stochastic model and the computer

programming involved are beyond the scope of the current discussion.

Interested readers may wish to refer to Ang (2007) for details on the

actual construction and solution of this model. Video clips demonstrating

Mathematical Problem Solving 180

the working of the MATLAB programs are found in http://math.nie.edu.

sg/kcang/ejmt0702.

4 Pedagogical Implications

Apart from solving routine mathematical problems in a context-free

environment, it is useful to consider real life applications of mathematics.

Typical textbook problems on “real life applications” present problems

in a very clean and tidy state. Such practice makes it difficult to convince

the learner that real life applications of mathematics do indeed exist.

Mathematical modelling provides an avenue for teachers and their

learners to look at problem solving from a problem-centred point of view.

It is not uncommon to find students thinking of mathematics as

consisting of a set of distinct topics that are compartmentalized and self-

sufficient. Real life problems tend to transcend a number of disciplines

and are often not so well defined. Often, one needs to apply ideas and

concepts in one area to solve problems arising in another. Mathematical

modelling offers excellent opportunities to connect and use ideas from

different areas.

To teach and learn mathematical modelling successfully, some skills

and understanding of the processes involved in the model are required. It

is not easy for a teacher to have the same kind of experience or skills that

a professional applied mathematician would have acquired over time.

However, it is possible for teachers to learn alongside their students.

It is important to note that there is a difference between teaching

mathematical modelling and mathematical models. In the latter, the

emphasis is on the product (the models). In mathematical modelling, the

focus is on the process of arriving at a suitable representation of the

physical, real world problem and solution. It is important that the teacher

is mindful of this difference and be prepared to accept a situation where

no solution or multiple solutions are reached.

As can be gleaned from the examples discussed in the preceding

section, mathematical modelling provides an excellent platform for

studies and experiments of an inter-disciplinary nature. Problems often

arise in a different discipline and this provides the mathematics teacher

Mathematical Modelling and Real Life Problem Solving 181

with excellent opportunities to collaborate with other teachers in

problem-solving.

It should also be noted, through the examples presented, that the use

of technology plays a critical role in mathematical modelling. In real life

problems, one often has to deal with real life data, which may not be as

clean or “sanitized” as textbook examples or data. In such instances,

rather than struggle with complicated or tedious numerical computations,

it may be better to use a tool so that one could focus on the mathematics.

In some cases, technology can also help make the mathematics more

accessible. For instance, in our example, we have used a feature in a

spreadsheet tool that helps us to find parameters that best fits a function

to a set of data. It is possible to work out the parameters by hand, using

mathematics that may be a little too advanced for the learners for which

the problem was originally intended. The use of this technological tool

thus bridges the gap, which the student can fill in good time.

5 Concluding Remarks

In this chapter, the use of mathematical modelling as a means of problem

solving is examined. While problem solving items in textbooks can

provide the learner with ample opportunities to hone the necessary

mathematical skills in problem solving, real problems provide a rich

context in which the learner can actually use or apply these skills in a

real context. The experience will be even more enriching if the problem

involves issues of public concern (such as spread of a disease like dengue,

modelling traffic flow in a city with traffic problems, and so on).

It is also important to recognize and acknowledge that while one may

attempt to solve the problem, in practice, it will not be surprising if one

fails to completely solve the problem. Moreover, mathematical models

can only be as good as their assumptions. Real life problems may need to

be simplified to make them more tractable and manageable. Nevertheless,

tackling a complex real life problem through mathematical modelling

will be an enriching problem solving experience for both teacher and

learner.

Mathematical Problem Solving 182

References

Ang, K.C. (2004). A simple model for a SARS epidemic. Teaching Mathematics and Its

Applications, 23(4), 181–188.

Ang, K.C. (2006). Differential equations: Models and methods. Singapore: McGraw-Hill.

Ang, K.C. (2007). A simple stochastic model for an epidemic — numerical experiments

with MATLAB. The Electronic Journal of Mathematics and Technology, 1(2),

116–127.

Bassanezi, R.C. (1994). Modelling as a teaching-learning strategy. For the Learning of

Mathematics, 14(2), 31–35.

Beare, R. (1996). Mathematical modelling using a new spreadsheet-based system.

Teaching Mathematics and Its Applications, 15(1), 120–128.

Blum, W. (1993). Mathematical modelling in mathematics education and instruction.

In T. Breiteig, I. Huntley & G. Daiser-Messmer (Eds.), Teaching and learning

mathematics in context (pp. 3–14). London: Ellis Horwood.

Burghes, D. (1980). Mathematical modelling: A positive direction for the teaching of

applications of mathematics at school. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 11,

113–131.

Cross, M. & Moscardini, A.O. (1985). Learning the art of mathematical modelling.

Chichester: Horwood and Wiley.

Galbraith, P. (1999). Important issues in applications and modelling. Paper presented at

the AAMT Virtual Conference 1999, Adelaide, Australia.

Heng, B.H. & Lim, S.W. (2003). Epidemiology and control of SARS in Singapore.

Epidemiological News Bulletin, 29, 42–47.

Mason, J. & Davis, D. (1991). Modelling with mathematics in primary and secondary

schools. Geelong, Australia: Deakin University Press.

Mazumdar, J.N., Ang, K.C. & Soh, L.L. (1991). A mathematical study of non-Newtonian

blood flow through elastic arteries. Australasian Physical and Engineering

Sciences in Medicine, 14(2), 65–73.

Ministry of Education. (2009). The Singapore Model Method for learning mathematics.

Singapore: Author.

Roach, M.R. & Burton, A.C. (1957). The reason for the shape of the distensibility curves

of arteries. Canadian Journal of Biochemistry and Physiology, 35, 681–690.

Swetz, F. & Hartzler, J.S. (1991). Mathematical modelling in the secondary school

curriculum. Reston, VA: The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Yanagimoto, T. (2005). Teaching modelling as an alternative approach to school

mathematics. Teaching Mathematics and Its Applications, 24(1), 1–13.

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Part III

Mathematical Problems and Tasks

185

Chapter 10

Using Innovation Techniques to Generate

‘New’ Problems

1

Catherine P. VISTRO-YU

Teachers sometimes run out of ideas and have difficulty creating

new problems for our students to solve. When those times come,

the remedy is to innovate on existing and old problems that have

proven to be useful and effective in teaching mathematical skills. In

this paper, the author gives some pointers on how to innovate on

“used” problems with the objective of developing “new” problems

to give to students. The technique is a borrowed concept from

literature and is applied to mathematical problem solving,

particularly, problem generation or problem formulation.

1 Introduction

Problem solving plays a very important role in the learning of

mathematics. For one, problem solving develops higher-order thinking

skills that we need to function in today’s world (NCTM, 2000). Over the

years, problem solving has truly been considered in three ways (Branca,

1980): as a goal (Singapore Ministry of Education, 2006a; 2006b), as a

process (Polya, 1945), and as a basic skill (Malone, Douglas, Kissane

and Mortlock, 1980; Schoen and Oehmke, 1980). Consequently, its

inclusion in the curriculum or its teaching has taken on various forms.

For school mathematics teachers, problem solving is, and must be, a

1

Part of this paper was given in a workshop held at the Mathematics Teachers

Conference 2008, National Institute of Education, Singapore.

Mathematical Problem Solving 186

staple ingredient in their mathematics lessons. However, problem solving

cannot commence unless there is a problem to solve and a good problem

to solve at that! Where does one get good problems?

One aspect of problem solving that school mathematics teachers

need to engage in is the “art of problem posing” (Brown and Walter,

1983). Brown and Walter (1983) argued that one’s level of mathematical

understanding is closely linked to one’s ability to generate and pose

questions. Various studies have given numerous ideas and suggestions on

how school mathematics teachers could develop their problem posing

skills (e.g. Crespo, 2003; Yeap and Kaur, 1999; and Silver, Mamona-

Downs, Leung, and Kenney, 1996) by either providing a framework for

teachers to work with or identifying specific steps that teachers could

follow in formulating both old and new problems. Indeed, problem

generation or problem formulation is am important skill that mathematics

teachers need to develop. In particular, Crespo and Sinclair (2008)

consider problem posing as necessary for prospective teachers because

teaching entails posing good questions that would aim for students’

development of mathematical understanding. Problem posing serves as

an excellent way for teachers to practice posing good questions, a

necessary ingredient for generating excellent problems.

The technique that is described in this paper is what I call

‘innovation’, a concept borrowed from literature. The intent is to

generate problems out of existing problems. Silver and his colleagues

(1996) call it ‘problem reformulation’ while Crespo (2003) calls it

‘adaptation’ (p. 250). All three terms refer to the same technique of

generating new problems out of old, existing problems except for some

subtle differences.

2 Innovation: A Borrowed Idea from Literature

Corbett (2007) describes ‘innovating on a story’ as a technique

(http://www.teachit.co.uk/custom_content/newsletters/newsletter_jan07.a

sp#1) in literature to develop story-telling and story-writing skills among

children. Prior to innovation, a teacher chooses a story and tells it to the

children. The teacher then engages the children in activities to help them

Using Innovation Techniques to Generate ‘New’ Problems 187

internalize the story, its characters, setting, patterns of events, and then

asks the children to tell the story themselves. Once the story has been

internalized, innovation can be done. Corbett (2007) describes the

innovation in the following manner:

Once the children know the story really well and it is in their long-

term working memory, then you can move on to ‘innovation’.

Initially, the children adapt their story map or board, making

decisions – and then they try telling their new story. They will

need to retell a number of times, refining their expression until

they have orally redrafted to their satisfaction.

There are different types of techniques in innovating on stories and

can range from very simple to complex types:

• substitution – retelling the same story but making a few simple

changes such as names, objects, places

• addition – retelling the same story but adding in more

description, dialogue or events

• alteration – making changes that have repercussions, e.g. altering

characterization, modernising the setting, changing the ending

• change of viewpoint – retelling the story from a different

character’s view

• transformation – retelling the story in a different genre

• recycling the plot – re-using only the underlying plot pattern.

‘New’ stories created from innovating on existing stories show

varying levels of creativity of students. Some stories do turn out to be

mere copycats of the original story but others provide excitement with

some new additions or twists in the plot making story innovation a useful

tool in literature.

3 Innovation on Problems in Mathematics

The aim of problem posing by teachers is to generate good and

mathematically valuable problems, not just any problem. Research have

shown that problems generated based on a certain prompt or “outside of

Mathematical Problem Solving 188

the context of inquiry” (Crespo and Sinclair, 2008, p. 397) are not always

good or mathematically interesting problems. In fact, the study by

Crespo and Sinclair (2008) showed that prospective teachers, who

generated problems by first exploring the mathematical situation out of

which they were to generate problems, were more successful in posing

reasoning problems compared to the prospective teachers who posed

problems spontaneously. The latter group produced more factual

problems that are not mathematically interesting. Exploration is

analogous to the prerequisite for a successful innovation in story-telling.

Recall that students have to be able to internalize the original story

before they could be expected to innovate. Crespo and Sinclair (2008)

seem to be onto the same idea in problem posing. By exploring a

mathematical situation, problem posers are able to understand better and

internalize the situation. This certainly contributes to one’s ability to

pose problems that are more meaningful and mathematically valuable

and interesting.

Crespo (2003) identified three approaches that preservice

mathematics teachers use to pose problems to pupils in a study that used

letter-writing as the mode of communication between preservice teachers

and students. The three approaches are:

• making problems easy to solve;

• posing familiar problems;

• posing problems blindly.

It is in the first approach that preservice teachers tended to use

adaptation as a way to generate problems.

Silver et al (1996) noted that some middle school mathematics

teachers and preservice secondary school mathematics teachers

generated problems by:

• keeping the problem constraints fixed and focusing their

attention on generating goals (‘accepts the given’ by Brown &

Walter, 1983);

• manipulating the given constraints of the task setting as they

generated goals (‘challenging the given’ by Brown & Walter,

1983).

Using Innovation Techniques to Generate ‘New’ Problems 189

Table 1

Comparison of Innovation Techniques between Storytelling and Mathematic Problem

Generation

Innovation on Stories

Innovation on

Mathematics Problems

Feature of the Problem

substitution – retelling the

same story but making a

few simple changes such

as names, objects, places

replacement – posing the

same problem but changing

quantities, amounts, units,

shapes, etc.

Problem becomes a drill

exercise.

addition – retelling the

same story but adding in

more description,

dialogue or events

addition – posing the same

problem but adding a new

given or constraint or

adding an obstacle

Problem is extended and

could become more

complex.

alteration – making

changes that have

repercussions, e.g.

altering characterization,

modernising the setting,

changing the ending

modification – takes the

same given but modifies the

problem

Problem could become

totally new but could still

be solved using the

original problem as a

take-off point.

transformation – retelling

the story in a different

genre

contextualizing the problem

to make it more relevant to

students

Problem becomes more

relevant but is basically

the same problem as the

original.

change of viewpoint –

retelling the story from a

different character’s view

turning the problem around

or reversing the problem –

taking the same problem

but taking the end goal as

the given and the given as

the end goal

Problem becomes more

interesting and

challenging and

completely different.

recycling the plot – re-

using only the underlying

plot pattern

reformulation – posing the

same problem in a different

type (e.g. from a proving

problem to a situational

problem, see Butts, 1980)

Problem is different but

uses knowledge of the

same concept or skill as

required from the original

problem.

Mathematical Problem Solving 190

I believe there are more ways to generate problems by applying the

innovation techniques in literature to problems in mathematics. Below

is the corresponding set of innovation techniques as adapted from

innovation techniques in storytelling:

• replacement – posing the same problem but changing quantities,

amounts, units, shapes, etc.

• addition – posing the same problem but adding a new given or

constraint or adding an obstacle

• modification – takes the same given but changes the problem

• contextualizing the problem to make it more relevant to students

• turning the problem around or reversing the problem – taking the

same problem but taking the end goal as the given and the given

as the end goal

• reformulation – posing the same problem in a different type (e.g.

from a proving problem to a situational problem, see Butts, 1980)

Depending on the innovation technique used, the new problem

generated may be better, worse, or just the same in terms of the level of

difficulty, sophistication, and novelty. Table 1, shows the corresponding

innovation techniques between storytelling and mathematics problem-

generation and perceived features of problems resulting from the

innovation technique.

In the next two sections, I discuss two problems and the new

problems generated from them by applying the above-mentioned

innovation techniques.

4 Using Innovation to Generate Problems

This section illustrates the use of innovation to generate problems

through two examples.

4.1 Example 1

The Problem:

A merchant buys his goods at 25% off the list price. He then marks the

goods so that he can give his customers a discount of 20% on the marked

Using Innovation Techniques to Generate ‘New’ Problems 191

price but still make a profit of 25% on the selling price. What is the ratio

of marked price to list price? (Krulik and Rudnick, 1989, p. 149).

A short solution to this problem is as follows:

Let L be the list price. The merchant bought the goods at the price

of 0.75L.

Let M be the marked price. The merchant wants to sell the goods

at a price of 0.80M, which is the selling price S.

Thus, the profit is S – 0.75L = 0.25S. But, S = 0.80M.

So, 0.80M – 0.25(0.80M) = 0.75L.

Or, 0.60M = 0.75L.

And therefore,

4

5

=

L

M

.

Applying the techniques, one can generate several new problems.

4.1.1 Innovation by replacement

A merchant buys his goods at 20% off the list price. He then marks

the goods so that he can give his customers a discount of 10% on

the marked price but still make a profit of 25% on the selling price.

What is the ratio of marked price to list price?

This problem is very similar to the original problem. Two of the

given have been replaced (see underlined); nothing else was changed.

The solution, therefore, differs only in quantity but not in the structure.

Let L be the list price. The merchant bought the goods at the price

of 0.80L.

Let M be the marked price. The merchant wants to sell the goods

at a price of 0.90M, which is the selling price S.

Thus, the profit is S − 0.80L = 0.25S. But, S = 0.90M.

So, 0.90M − 0.25(0.90M) = 0.80L.

Or, 0.675M = 0.80L.

And therefore,

27

32

=

L

M

.

Mathematical Problem Solving 192

4.1.2 Innovation by addition

A merchant buys his goods at 25% off the list price. He then marks

the goods so that he can give his customers a discount of 20% on

the marked price but still make a profit of anywhere from 20% to

25% on the selling price. What is the ratio of marked price to list

price?

The new problem generated by this innovation technique is quite

different from the original problem. The added condition of a profit

being anywhere between 20% to 25% makes the difference; the problem

now involves an inequality. The solution is as follows:

Let L be the list price. The merchant bought the goods at the price

of 0.75L.

Let M be the marked price. The merchant wants to sell the goods

at a price of 0.80M, which is the selling price S.

Thus, the profit is S – 0.75L. The desire is for this quantity to be

anywhere from 20% to 25%.

Thus, 0.20S ≤ 0.80M – 0.75L ≤ 0.25S.

But, S = 0.80M.

So, 0.20(0.80M) ≤ 0.80M – 0.75L ≤ 0.25(0.80M).

Solving the inequality gives

4

5

64

75

≤ ≤

L

M

.

It is not much different; the inequality is really the only new feature

in this problem.

4.1.3 Innovation by modification

A merchant buys his goods at 25% off the list price. He then marks

the goods so that he can give his customers a discount of 20% on

the marked price but still make a profit of 25% on the selling price.

If the merchant bought the goods at P200, what should be the

marked price in order to realize said profit? [P represents pesos,

the currency of the Philippines]

Using Innovation Techniques to Generate ‘New’ Problems 193

This problem is a slight modification of the original problem. If the

original problem had not been solved, then this is not so easy because the

student will still have to find a relationship between the list price and the

marked price. But, if the original problem had been solved then this new

problem is simple.

To solve, one has to determine the list price L. The price of P200 is

the net price after the discount. Thus, 67 . 266

75 . 0

200

= = L .

From the original problem, the ratio of marked price to list price,

given these same numbers is

4

5

.

Therefore, 3 3 . 333 67 . 266

4

5

= ⋅ = M .

4.1.4 Innovation by contextualizing the problem

Clara, who is into a book buy-and-sell business, buys her fiction

books at 25% off the list price in a warehouse. She then marks the

books so that when she sells these with a discount of 20% on the

marked price she still makes a profit of 25% on the selling price.

What could be a possible list price and marked price and how do

these compare?

This new problem modernizes the context of the problem by talking

about a particular person engaged in a particular business. Along with

modernizing the context, a slightly different problem is posed, that of

giving the marked price, when the list price is known and how these

compare. The answer could still be a ratio of marked price and list price

but a final answer would include a particular list price and marked price,

slightly different from Problem c.

Let L be the list price. Clara bought the books at the price of

0.75L.

Let M be the marked price. She wants to sell the goods at a price

of 0.80M, which is the selling price S.

Mathematical Problem Solving 194

Thus, the profit is S – 0.75L = 0.25S. But, S = 0.80M.

So, 0.80M – 0.25(0.80M) = 0.75L.

Or, 0.60M = 0.75L.

And therefore,

4

5

=

L

M

.

Therefore, if a book’s list price is P100, then Clara should put down

its marked price as P125. Or, if a book’s list price was P240, Clara

should mark this same book with the price of P300.

4.1.5 Innovation by turning the problem around

A merchant buys his goods at a discount. He then marks the goods

so that he can also give his customers a certain discount on the

marked price but still make a profit of 25% on the selling price.

Suppose the merchant wants the marked price to be one and a half

times the list price. What are the possible discount rates off the list

price and the marked price?

This is not a very easy problem but the previous innovations and

their solutions are a big help.

Let L be the list price, x be the decimal equivalent of the discount

of the list price, M be the marked price, S be the selling price and

y be the decimal equivalent of the discount off the marked price.

Thus, (1 ) 0.25 S x L S − − · .

(1 ) (1 ) 0.25(1 ) y M x L y M − − − · −

3

0.75(1 ) (1 ) 0

2

y L x L − − − ·

9

(1 ) (1 ) 0

8

y x L

− − − ·

9 1

8 8

y x · -

8 1

9 9

y x · - .

Using Innovation Techniques to Generate ‘New’ Problems 195

Therefore, the two discount rates form a linear relationship, which is

quite a revelation. This was due to the fixed relationship given for the

marked price and the list price.

Thus, if L = 100, then M = 150. Suppose the discount on the list

price is 25% or the merchant bought the item at 75. The discount on the

marked price should be

8 1 1 1

9 4 9 3

y · ⋅ - · or 33.3%

in order to realize a

fixed profit of 25% on the selling price S = 100.

As part of the solution, a table of possible values could also be made.

L M x y S Profit on S

Profit Rate

on S (%)

100 150 0.25 0.333333 100 25 25

100 150 0.2 0.288889 106.6667 26.666667 25

100 150 0.1 0.2 120 30 25

100 150 0.15 0.244444 113.3333 28.333333 25

4.1.6 Innovation by reformulation

A merchant buys his goods at 25% off the list price. He then marks

the goods so that he can give his customers a discount of 20% on

the marked price but still make a profit of 25% on the selling price.

Generalize the relationship between the marked price and the list

price given a discount of X% on the list price, a discount of Y% on

the marked price and a desired profit of Z% on the selling price.

The new problem generated by this technique requires a higher level

of skill, that of generalizing a relationship between two quantities. This

also requires a solid knowledge of variables.

Let x, y, z be the decimal equivalent of X%, Y%, and Z%,

respectively.

Let L be the list price, M be the marked price, and S be the selling

price. Then, the equation to be solved is (1 ) S x L zS − − · .

But (1 ) S y M · − . Thus, (1 ) (1 ) (1 ) y M z y M x L − − − · − .

Mathematical Problem Solving 196

Solving, (1 )(1 ) (1 ) z y M x L − − · − .

And,

1

(1 )(1 )

M x

L z y

−

·

− −

.

Thus, if we are to substitute, letting 0.25, 0.20, 0.25 x y z · · · , this

is exactly the original problem. Then,

1 0.25 5

(1 0.25)(1 0.20) 4

M

L

−

· ·

− −

,

which is the answer to the original problem. Note the challenge of

dealing with the many variables in order to solve this particular problem.

But, clearly, too, this is generalizing the solution to the original problem.

Not all problems can be innovated on using all the techniques

described above. For some problems, there are only one or two

techniques that could be used for innovation.

Let us look at another example.

4.2 Example 2

The Problem:

Three cylindrical oil drums of 2-foot diameter are to be securely fastened

in the form of a “triangle” by a steel band. What length of band will be

required? (Krulik & Rudnick, 1989, p. 153)

To solve this problem, one must come up with the correct diagram:

Figure 1. Krulik & Rudnick, 1989, p. 153

Using Innovation Techniques to Generate ‘New’ Problems 197

Based on Figure 1, the length of each rectangle is 2 feet and there

are 3 rectangles. The lengths of the band around each circular drum make

up the circumference of one drum, which is 2π. Therefore, the needed

length of the band is (6 + 2π) feet or approximately 12.28 ft.

4.2.1 Innovation by replacement

Four cylindrical oil drums of 2-foot diameter are to be securely

fastened in the form of a “square” by a steel band. What length of

band will be required?

It is still helpful to have a diagram to work with.

Figure 2. Four-cylinder problem

Once again, a correct diagram is important. Similar to the original

problem, the length of each rectangle is 2 ft and therefore, the band

length from one tangent point of the circle to the tangent point of the

adjacent circle is 2 ft for a total of 8 ft. The bands around each circle,

when put together make up the circumference of on circle with 2 ft

diameter. Thus, the total length of the band needed for four drums is

(8 + 2π) ft or approximately 14.28 ft.

Mathematical Problem Solving 198

4.2.2 Innovation by addition

Three cylindrical oil drums of 2-foot diameter are to be securely

fastened in the form of a “triangle” by a steel band. A cylinder of

1-foot diameter is to be placed on the space between each pair of

oil drums. All three of these cylinders are to be tied with the three

drums. What length of band will be required?

Figure 3. With three smaller cylinders

It can be shown that the length of one tangent from the small

cylinder to the oil drum is 2 2 ft because of the right triangle whose

legs have lengths 3 ft and 1 ft. There are 6 of those tangents so the total

length is 12 2 ft. It can also be shown that the band wraps around

1

6

of

the circumference of each of the small cylinders and each of the oil

drums. Each of the interior angles of the regular hexagon that

Using Innovation Techniques to Generate ‘New’ Problems 199

circumscribes the cylinders and oil drums measures 120°, Therefore, the

central angle of the sector wrapped by the band is 60°. The total curved

length over the three cylinders is, in feet, ( )

1

3 2

6

π π

' `

·

. ¹

. The total

curved length over the three oil drums is, in feet, ( )

1

3 2 2 2

6

π π

' `

⋅ ·

. ¹

.

Therefore, the total length of the band needed is, in feet, 3 2 2 π - ≈

12.25.

4.2.3 Innovation by modification

Three cylindrical oil drums of 2-foot diameter are to be securely

fastened in the form of a “triangle” by a steel band. What is the

total length of steel band that does not touch any of the drums?

This is slightly different. Using Figure 1, the problem can be easily

answered. The total length is 6 ft.

4.2.4 Innovation by contextualizing the problem

Bobby has to secure three pencils of the same size with transparent

tape. Each pencil has a diameter of 1 cm. How long a tape does he

need if he wants an overlap of 1 cm of the tape?

The problem gives a setting that students could relate to more. The

solution is very similar to the original problem except that the diameter

has been slightly changed to make the context more realistic. The total

length is (3 + π + 1) cm or approximately 7.14 cm.

4.2.5 Innovation by turning the problem around

Suppose a packaging company has 15 feet of steel band available

to fasten three cylindrical drums of 2-foot diameter each. Is this

enough if they are to be fastened in the form of a triangle? If not,

how much more does the company need? If yes, is there any left

over? How much left over?

Mathematical Problem Solving 200

This is an obvious turnaround of the problem. It is a very good

problem if the original problem had not been given yet. A fixed length

for the steel band is given and using the same conditions as in the

original problem, the new problem becomes, ‘Is the length enough?’

Because the answer to the original problem is 12.28 ft, then 15 ft is

enough with 2.72 ft left over.

4.2.6 Innovation by reformulation

Three cylindrical oil drums of n-foot diameter are to be securely

fastened in the form of a “triangle” by a steel band. Express the

length of steel band needed in terms of n.

This is a generalization problem. Figure 1 is once more useful here.

If the diameter is n-ft then the radius is

1

2

n . The straight length of the

band will therefore total 3n ft. the curved lengths will be a total of, in

feet,

1

2

2

n π ⋅ or πn. Therefore, the length of steel band needed is, in feet,

3 6.14 n n n π - ≈ .

5 Cognitive Value of Innovation in Problem Solving

I have cited that problem solving is a goal but the bigger picture of

mathematics education indicates that problem solving is also a tool to

deepen one’s understanding and knowledge of mathematics. The ability

to reason and prove is an indication that one has reached a very deep and

complex understanding of mathematics. Indeed, reasoning and proving

are two of the highest level of skills in the hierarchy of mathematical

skills. This appears to be internationally accepted as it has been used in

the TIMSS 2003 study (IEA, 2003). Problem solving certainly aims to

develop those skills among students.

In his proposed analytic framework that focuses on developing

reasoning and proving skills, Stylianides (2008) identified the following

processes as comprising the activities of reasoning and proving:

Using Innovation Techniques to Generate ‘New’ Problems 201

“identifying patterns, making conjectures, providing non-proof

arguments, and providing proofs” (p. 9). Further, he views the first two

processes as “providing support to mathematical claims” and the last two

as “making mathematical generalizations” (p. 9).

Taking cue from Stylianides (2008), results of problem innovation,

as shown from the two examples, could certainly support the

development of reasoning and proving skills among students. One

valuable contribution of problem innovation is that some of the

techniques generate more complex problems for students. The examples

provided in this paper show that these complex problems are problems

that require generalization and analysis of the structure of the problem.

Both are higher–order skills as both indicate sophisticated levels

of understanding of mathematical concepts (Stylianides, 2008).

Furthermore, Arcavi and Resnick (2008) showed that not only could

‘new’ and complex problems come out of existing problems, ‘new’ and

sophisticated solutions (e.g. geometric in addition to algebraic) to the

original problem could also be produced even from a slight innovation of

a problem and from the original solution itself. By continuously

exploring a problem and its solution, students are able to generate more

sophisticated ideas and reach a deeper level of mathematical knowledge

and understanding.

6 Benefits of Innovation on Existing Problems

As pointed out in the earlier part of this paper, there does come a time

when teachers run out of new problems to give to their class. By

innovating on existing problems, teachers would be able to generate new

problems, perhaps, even based on a favorite problem that they might

have. Some old, classical problems are just too good to ignore. Using

innovation, these old, classical problems can be given new forms.

For some techniques, the ‘new’ problems may simply provide a new

exercise for students to work on. But other techniques, when applied

properly and carefully, could generate more complex problems that are

useful in developing among students sophisticated problem solving

techniques.

Mathematical Problem Solving 202

7 Practical Aspects of Innovation in Generating Mathematical

Problems

Like any task of teaching, innovating on existing mathematical problems

requires much thought and time. Innovation by replacement does not

require much time or thought. Innovation by addition requires some

thought but not much time. In using this technique, teachers need to

make sure that the additional condition in the problem is sensible and

reasonable. Innovation by modification and reformulation is quite tricky.

One could easily interchange the two techniques, which is harmless.

What is important is to know that these two techniques are meant to

generate two different problems. Innovation by contextualizing could be

a challenge because of the need to know what students could relate to in

a particular period of time. Innovation by turning the problem around is

clearly a challenge. This is because not all problems can be turned

around to come up with a good, complex problem.

There are times when problems generated with the use of the

innovation techniques are meaningless or do not have solutions. It is alright.

The key is to try, explore, and try again until better problems are generated.

8 Concluding Remarks

Problem posing is a complex cognitive process (Silver et al, 1996). It is a

skill that requires tremendous amount of work and practice. The

innovation techniques discussed here provide mathematics teachers with

ways to generate new problems and consequently, through problem

exploration, help them develop better problem solving skills. By giving

mathematics teachers more tools and techniques to increase their skills in

any aspect of problem solving, we increase their confidence in this area

of mathematics. The next step is to allow them time and opportunity to

try out these techniques themselves.

Acknowledgement

The author wishes to thank Floredeliza F. Francisco, Ateneo de Manila

University, The Philippines, for her invaluable insights and comments on

the chapter.

Using Innovation Techniques to Generate ‘New’ Problems 203

References

Arcavi, A. & Resnick, Z. (2008). Generating problems from problems and solutions from

solutions. Mathematics Teacher, 102 (1), 10-14.

Branca, N. A. (1980). Problem solving as a goal, process, and basic skills. In S. Krulik &

R. E. Reys (Eds.), Problem solving in school mathematics (pp. 3-8). Reston, VA:

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Brown, S. I. & Walter, M. I. (1983). The art of problem posing. NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum

Associates.

Butts, T. (1980). Posing problems properly. In S. Krulik & R. E. Reys (Eds.), Problem

solving in school mathematics (pp. 23-33). Reston, VA: National Council of

Teachers of Mathematics.

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243-270.

Crespo, S. & Sinclair, N. (2008). What makes a problem mathematically interesting?

Inviting prospective teachers to pose better problems. Journal of Mathematics

Teacher Education 11, 395-415.

Garces, I. J. (2008). MTAP Individual competition secondary level. Unpublished

document.

IEA (2003). TIMSS assessment frameworks and specifications. Boston: IEA.

Krulik, S. & Rudnick, J. A. (1989). Problem solving: A handbook for senior high school

teachers. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Malone, J. A., Douglas, G. A., Kissane, B. V. & Mortlock, R. S. (1980). Measuring

problem solving ability. In S. Krulik & R. E. Reys (Eds.), Problem solving in

school mathematics (pp. 204-216). Reston, VA: National Council of Teacher of

Mathematics.

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). (2000). Principles and standards

for school mathematics. Reston, VA: NCTM.

Polya, G. (1945). How to solve it. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press.

Schoen, H. L. & Oehmke, T. (1980). A new approach to the measurement of problem-

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mathematics (pp. 216-227). Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of

Mathematics.

Singapore Ministry of Education. (2006b). Primary mathematics syllabus. Singapore:

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Silver, E. A., Mamona-Downs, J., Leung, S. S. & Kenney, P. A. (1996). Posing

mathematical problems: An exploratory study. Journal for Research in Mathematics

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Stylianides, G. J. (2008). An analytic framework of reasoning-and-proving. For the

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Teo, K. M., To, W. K. & Wong, Y. L. (2000). Singapore secondary school mathematical

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Using Innovation Techniques to Generate ‘New’ Problems 205

Appendix

Use any of the innovation techniques to generate new problems out of

the following:

1. How many different triangles with integer sides can be drawn

having the longest side (or sides) of length 6? How many of the triangles

are isosceles? (Butts, 1980, p. 25)

2. What values are possible for the area of quadrilateral EKDL if

ABCD and EFGH are squares of side 12 and E is the center of square

ABCD? (Butts, 1980, p. 30)

3. A 6-foot tall man looks at the top of a flagpole making an angle

of 40° with the horizontal. The man stands 50 feet from the base of the

flagpole. How high is the flagpole to the nearest foot? (Krulik and

Rudnick, 1989, p. 161)

4. A piece of “string art” is made by connecting nails that are

evenly spaced on the vertical axis to nails that are evenly spaced on the

horizontal axis, using colored strings. The same number of nails must be

on each axis. Connect the nail farthest from the origin on one axis to the

nail closest to the origin on the other axis. Continue in this manner until

all nails are connected. How many intersections are there if you use 8

nails on each axis? (Krulik and Rudnick, 1980, p. 164)

Mathematical Problem Solving 206

5. A figure is divided into five regions as shown in the diagram

below. Given 4 distinct colors, how many different ways are there to

colour the figure so that no two regions with a common boundary receive

the same colour? (Teo, To and Wong, 2000, p. 21)

6. Eight points on a circle are grouped into disjoint pairs. Each

pair is joined by a chord. Find the number of ways of joining pairs

such that no two of the chords intersect. (Teo, To and Wong, 2000,

p. 20)

7. A 6 x 7 rectangle is divided into 6 x 7 unit squares as shown.

What is the total number of squares of all sizes in the rectangle? (Wong,

1996, p. 37)

8. 1n 1991, a family spent 19% of their income on rent, 26% on

food, 30% on other items and saved the rest. In 1992, their income

increased by 10%. If the cost of food increased by 10%, savings

decreased by 4% and rent remained the same, by what percentage did the

expenditure on other items increase? (Wong, 1996, p. 211)

9. When a mother was 3 times as old as her son was, she was as old

as he is now. When the son is as old as his mother is now, she will be 70

years old. How old is the mother now? (Wong, 1996, p. 360)

Using Innovation Techniques to Generate ‘New’ Problems 207

10. Two swimmers at opposite ends of a 90-foot pool, start to swim

the length of the pool, one at the rate of 3 feet per second, the other at 2

feet per second. They swim back and forth for 12 minutes. Allowing no

loss of time at the turns, find the number of times they pass each other.

(Garces, 2008)

208

Chapter 11

Mathematical Problems

for the Secondary Classroom

Jaguthsing DINDYAL

Problems abound in mathematics education at all levels. This

chapter focuses on some of the desirable skills that secondary level

teachers can develop among students through the use of selected

problems. Amongst others, we wish students to develop the

following skills while solving problems: generalising and extending

problems; using different representations to solve problems; making

connections between different content areas; using technology in

significant ways; drawing or constructing; proving and explaining;

carrying out simple investigations; formulating problems; and

solving open-ended problems. Each type of skill is highlighted with

an example followed by a brief comment.

1 Introduction

A typical mathematics textbook for any level is full of so-called

“mathematical problems”. A typical student learning mathematics at any

level has to solve many mathematical problems. The typical mathematics

teacher has to either write new problems or find relevant problems from

reliable sources for the students to learn mathematics while doing these

problems. Thus, we find that mathematical problems are inherent in the

structure of the subject itself. Problems have a long history and have

occupied a central place in the school mathematics curriculum since

antiquity, although the same cannot be said about problem solving

(Stanic & Kilpatrick, 1988). From the perspective of a teacher, two

Mathematical Problems for the Secondary Classroom 209

aspects of mathematical problems stand out:

1. writing original problems, modifying standard problems or

sourcing for relevant problems, and

2. using different problems effectively in class to develop desirable

skills among mathematics students.

In this paper, I shall look partly into the second aspect. I shall first

comment on what constitutes a problem and then focus on some of the

desirable skills that we can develop among students through the use of

problems (the term skill will be used a little loosely in the context of this

paper). Any discussion about problems cannot be divorced from the

problem solving process. But what is a problem and what is problem

solving?

2 Problem and Problem Solving

If the answer to a “problem” is apparent then it is no longer a “problem”.

Hence, the defining feature of a problem situation is that there must be

some blockage on the part of the potential problem solver (Kroll &

Miller, 1993). A problem can be considered as a task which elicits some

activity on the part of students and through which they learn mathematics

during the problem solving activity. One of such descriptions is by

Lester (1983) who defined a problem as a task for which:

1. the individual or group confronting it wants or needs to find a

solution;

2. there is not a readily accessible procedure that guarantees or

completely determines the solution; and

3. the individual or group must make an attempt to find a solution

(p. 231-232).

It is interesting to note that Lester’s definition accommodates not

only the individual’s perception but also the group’s perception on what

constitutes a problem. Along similar lines, Krulik and Rudnik (1980)

defined a problem as a situation that requires resolution and for which

the individual sees no apparent or obvious means or path to obtaining the

solution. It should be reiterated that the solver or solvers should be

motivated to reach the solution because what is a problem for one person

Mathematical Problem Solving 210

may not necessarily be a problem for another person. Schoenfeld (1985)

clearly pointed to the difficulty in describing what constitutes a problem:

The difficulty with the word problem is that problem solving is

relative. The same task that calls for significant efforts from some

students may well be routine exercises for others, and answering

them may just be a matter of recall for a given mathematician. Thus

being a “problem” is not a property inherent in a mathematical task.

Rather, it is a particular relationship between the individual and the

task that makes the task a problem for that person (p. 74).

Although Schoenfeld seems to focus on an individual’s relationship

to the problem, it would be unfair to say that he excludes problems which

require any collaborative work.

Polya (1957, 1966) differentiated between routine and non-routine

problems. While routine problems are mere exercises that can be solved

by some rules or algorithms, non-routine problems are more challenging,

and they require some degree of creativity and originality from the

solver. Polya added that it is only through the judicious use of non-

routine problems that students can develop problem solving ability.

Accordingly, problem solving is not just about solving a problem. It is

the process by which students experience the power and usefulness of

mathematics in the world around them and it also a method of inquiry

and application (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics [NCTM],

1989). Thus, problem solving is a complex process which Polya

(1957) claimed proceeds through his much publicized four phases:

understanding the problem, devising a plan, carrying out the plan, and

looking back. Problem solving has been used with multiple meanings

that range from “working rote exercises” to “doing mathematics as a

professional” (Schoenfeld, 1992).

In 1980, the publication of the Agenda for Action by the NCTM in

the United States, spurred new interest in problem solving. The statement

that problem solving should become the focus of school mathematics

was widely publicized. One of the goals set by the NCTM (1989) for

K-12 mathematics education was that students become mathematical

problem solvers, if they were to become productive citizens. It was

Mathematical Problems for the Secondary Classroom 211

perceived as important that students solve problems not only alone, but

also working cooperatively in small or large groups. Problems had to be

varied, with some being open-ended and in more applied contexts.

Regarding the grades 5-8 curriculum, the NCTM (1989) standards stated

that it should take advantage of the expanding mathematical capabilities

of middle school students to include more complex problem situations

involving topics such as probability, statistics, geometry, and rational

numbers. The standards also suggested that some of the problems had to

be more demanding, requiring extended effort from the students. It was

also claimed that students had to make full use of available technology as

problem-solving tools and that they had to learn to work cooperatively

on selected problems.

The NCTM (2000) standards further acknowledged the important

role of problem solving in mathematics education at school level.

Problem solving is highlighted as one of the five process standards that

cut across the curriculum at all grade levels. The problem solving

standard states that instructional programs at school level should enable

students to: build new mathematical knowledge through problem

solving; solve problems that arise in mathematics and in other contexts;

apply and adapt a variety of appropriate strategies to solve problems;

monitor and reflect on the process of problem solving. The standards also

mentioned that students had to reflect on their problem solving and

consider how it might be modified, elaborated, streamlined, or clarified.

Problems in the school mathematics curriculum have changed

significantly over time depending on what has been emphasised during

those times. Several factors can be identified that differentiate one

problem from another. Amongst others, problems differ by: the content

domain, the objectives to be tested, the exact wording of the problem, the

context of the problem, the support and structure provided, the types of

numbers involved, the resources to be used during the solution process,

the expected time for a solution, and the closedness or openness of the

problem.

Since we wish to teach highly desirable mathematical concepts and

skills, the problem tasks that we choose must meet certain criteria. The

NCTM (1991) claimed that good tasks are ones that do not separate

mathematical thinking from mathematical concepts or skills, they capture

Mathematical Problem Solving 212

students’ curiosity, and they invite the students to speculate and to pursue

their hunches. However, it is important to note that there are some

distinctions associated with the tasks at various levels (Mason &

Johnston-Wilder, 2006, p. 8):

• the task as imagined by the task author;

• the task as intended by the teacher;

• the task as specified by the teacher-author instructions;

• the task as construed by the learners; and

• the task as carried out by the learners.

Accordingly, whether a problem task is originally written down by a

teacher or is taken or modified from a secondary source, it carries an

implicit intent that the assigner of the task (in this case the teacher)

wishes to achieve by assigning the problem task to the solver. There are

bound to be mismatches between what the assigner wishes to achieve

and what actually is achieved during the solving process. Thus, problem

tasks when used in the classroom have many such underlying nuances

that need to be considered.

Amongst others, we wish students to develop the following skills

while solving problems: generalising and extending problems; using

different representations to solve problems; making connections between

different content areas; using technology in significant ways; drawing or

constructing; proving and explaining; carrying out simple investigations;

formulating problems; and solving open-ended problems. Some

problems which can elicit the desirable knowledge and skills are

described below.

2.1 Using generalisation and extension

Kaput (1999) claimed that generalization involves deliberately extending

the range of reasoning or communication beyond the case or cases

considered by explicitly identifying and exposing commonality across

the case or the cases. He added that this resulted in lifting the reasoning

or communication to a level where the focus is no longer on the cases or

situations themselves but rather on the patterns, procedures, structures,

and relations across and among them, which in turn become new, higher-

Mathematical Problems for the Secondary Classroom 213

level objects of reasoning or communication. Consider the following

problem:

How many squares are there on a regular chess board?

The problem can be asked with or without the visual support

showing the 8×8 grid. The students can develop various skills through

the process of solving this problem. One of the heuristics to be used

includes considering simpler cases. The students can try a 1×1 grid, a

2×2 grid and a 3×3 grid to generate a pattern. In this inductive approach

the student can find the solution that for a regular 8×8 chess board, we

have 1 + 4 + 9 + … + 64 = 204 squares. In the problem solving process,

we cannot just stop at this point. Besides checking the solution, teachers

can encourage students to generalise and extend the problem. A simple

generalisation of the problem would be to find the number of squares in

an n×n grid. It is expected that students will be able to write without

much difficulty, the answer as 1² + 2² + 3² + …. + n². Although, it is not

required that students at this level know about

1

6

² ( 1)(2 1) r n n n = + +

∑

,

the teacher may consider exploring this idea further, depending on the

ability level of the students and the time that is available. Furthermore,

the teacher may consider an extension of the problem to find the number

of rectangles instead of the number of squares in an n×n grid. Although,

students may use a similar approach as for the number of squares, they

Mathematical Problem Solving 214

may meet with some difficulties. A further extension could be to find the

number rectangles in an m × n grid. Students can learn much more

mathematics by solving these extended problems.

2.2 Using different representations

Hiebert and Carpenter (1992) claimed that to think about mathematical

ideas and to communicate them, we need to represent them in some way.

Thinking about mathematical ideas requires an internal representation

that allows the mind to operate on them. However, mental

representations are not observable and discussions about these

representations can only be inferred. On the other hand, communication

requires that the representations be external, taking the form of spoken

language, written symbols, pictures or physical objects. Connections

between external representations of mathematical information can be

constructed by the learner between different representational forms of

the same mathematical idea or between related ideas of the same

representational form. Hiebert and Carpenter also added that there is an

ongoing debate whether mental representations mimic in some way the

external object being represented or whether there is a common form

used to represent all information. As such, students must have the

exposure to different forms of representations while solving problems.

They must not only understand the symbolic, numerical and graphical

forms of representations but must also be able to move flexibly in

between these forms of representations. While some problems emphasise

one particular form of representation, others can be solved using various

representations. Consider the following problem:

The Nice car rental agency charges $70 a day and 40 cents per

kilometre. The Good car agency charges $60 a day and 50 cents a

kilometre. Which agency will you choose to rent a car for a day?

Give reasons for your answer.

This problem can be solved by using all three forms of

representations: by using algebra, or using a table of values or by using

Mathematical Problems for the Secondary Classroom 215

graphs.

(a) Using algebra

Let x be the number of kilometres travelled in a day.

Daily cost of a car from Nice car rental agency = $(70 + 0.4x)

Daily cost of a car from Good car rental agency = $(60 + 0.5x)

When $(70 + 0.4x) = $(60 + 0.5x), x = 100 km.

As such, for distances less than 100 km, Good car rental agency is

better. However, for distances greater than 100 km, Nice car rental

agency is better.

(b) Using a table of values

Distance

(km)

20 40 60 80 100 120 140

Nice rental

agency ($)

78 86 94 102 110 118 126

Good rental

agency ($)

70 80 90 100 110 120 130

The table clearly shows that for distances less than 100 km, Good

rental agency is better whereas for distances greater than 100 km, Nice

rental agency is better.

(c) Using a graph

C = 70 + 0.4x for Nice car rental agency

C = 60 + 0.5x for Good car rental agency

dist (km)

cost ($)

0

20

40

60

80

100

120

0 20 40 60 80 100 120

Mathematical Problem Solving 216

The graph shows that when the distance travelled is less than

100 km then Good car rental agency is better whereas Nice car rental

agency is better for distances of 100 km or more.

Teachers can let the students struggle with the problem and choose

a method that is more familiar to them. After which, the teacher may

ask for alternative ways of solving the problem. The teacher can then

highlight the fact that this problem can be solved using three different

representations.

2.3 Making connections

Connections are problem solving tools and the teacher’s task is to

promote the use of connections in problem solving (Hodgson, 1995).

When students can see the connections across content areas, they

develop a view of mathematics as an integrated whole (NCTM, 2000).

Carefully chosen problems can help students to make connections.

Consider this problem:

Four right angled triangles, each having shorter sides of lengths a

and b and hypotenuse of length c, are joined together to form the

figure as shown in the diagram above. Explain why the area

enclosed by the four triangles is a square. How can you use the

above figure to prove Pythagoras Theorem?

The interplay of algebra and geometry is obvious in this problem

which requires the students to show that (a + b)² = 4 ×

1

2

ab + c² and

a b

c

a

b

Mathematical Problems for the Secondary Classroom 217

hence deduce Pythagoras Theorem. Teachers need to highlight this

important connection between the two branches of mathematics.

Consider this simple integration problem:

3

1

| 1| d x x

−

−

∫

. The student, who

goes about using the signs of | 1| x − on the given interval, may reach a

solution. However, the student who can make the connection between the

definite integral and an area under the graph certainly demonstrates a

deeper understanding of the mathematical concepts involved. Teachers

can make good use of such problems to make connections between

important ideas in mathematics.

2.4 Finding multiple methods of solution

Students must be exposed to problems which can be solved in various

ways. Even after solving a problem, students should be encouraged to

look for alternative solutions, which is an important step in the Polya’s

model (see Polya, 1957).

Given that the angle sum of all pentagrams or five-cornered stars is

constant, determine that angle sum. Use as many different methods

as you can.

There are several ways in which this problem can be solved (see

Lipp, 2000). Students learn by solving a problem in several ways. They

also come to understand why some solutions are more elegant than

others. Teachers can let students try their own methods and discuss if

Mathematical Problem Solving 218

there are other possible methods of solution or a teacher may also ask

students: “I want you to find at least two different ways of solving this

problem.” This may create an interest in the multiple ways of solving the

problem.

2.5 Using technology

Using technological tools, students can reason about more-general

issues and can model and solve complex problems that were heretofore

inaccessible to them (NCTM, 2000). Technology can not only be used to

help students do routine procedures such as calculations but also to help

them in modelling and simulation activities. For example, to solve the

following problem, students can use simulation to obtain an estimate of

the probability:

Out of any group of five people what do you think is the chance that

at least two of them will have a birthday in the same month?

On spreadsheet, students can generate random samples of 5

numbers from 1 to 12 to get an estimate of the probability. The same can

be done using a graphing calculator as well. The simulation exercise can

provide important insights into how to solve the actual problem itself.

Consider the following problem:

Show that the midpoints of the sides of a quadrilateral form a

parallelogram.

Students may not quite have an idea about how to work out the

solution. However, if they use dynamic geometry software such as the

Geometer’s Sketchpad (GSP) students will benefit from the exploration

in arriving at a solution. Other graphing software can help students with

mathematical problems involving graphs. Teachers should carefully

select problems so that at least a few may require some use of technology

in their solution.

Mathematical Problems for the Secondary Classroom 219

2.6 Drawing or constructing

Students must be given ample opportunities to draw or construct. These

constructions must not be routine ones; rather, the students need to

demonstrate ample understanding of the conceptual underpinnings. For

example, students need to mobilise their geometrical knowledge in order

to solve the problem below:

Construct a triangle with the same area as the trapezium shown

below.

Although at first sight, this problem seems easy, it is quite

demanding on the average student. A student doing the construction will

need to know how to manipulate the geometrical tools and how to draw

triangles having the same area. There are several ways in which the

construction can be carried out. Teachers can emphasise the use of the

drawing instruments. In this case, it is important for students to know

that points on a line parallel to the base of a triangle form other triangles

with that base and have the same area as the given triangle.

Consider this new problem:

A student notices what appears to be an arc of a circle. How can

she justify that this figure is really part of a circle?

Mathematical Problem Solving 220

A student who wishes to solve the problem will need to remember

how to construct the centre of a circle given an arc of the circle. Such

construction problems require students to know about the underlying

geometrical principles. In this case, it is important for the students to

know that the perpendicular bisector of a chord of a circle passes through

the centre of the circle.

2.7 Proving

Proof is an important part of mathematics and in the classroom the key

role of proof is the promotion of mathematical understanding (Hanna,

2000). However, not all students are able to do proofs and proving does

not come naturally to them. The students need to be exposed a wide

variety of problems which requires them to prove. The simplest results

that often students take for granted may be the best starting points. For

example:

If ABC is an isosceles triangle, prove that it has two congruent

angles.

Many students assume the congruent angles are an obvious aspect

of the triangle being isosceles and there is no need to prove. Teachers

need to carefully detail the elements of a proof and help students to write

their statements supported by strong reasons. Teachers may, for example,

point to: What is given? What is to be proved? Do you need to draw a

diagram?

Many students do not feel the need to prove that the sum of the

interior angles in a triangle is 180°. Other proof problems may include:

Prove the following properties related to circles:

a. Equal chords are equidistant from the centre.

b. The perpendicular bisector of a chord passes through the

centre.

c. Tangents from an external point are equal in length.

Prove the midpoint theorem: A straight line joining the mid-

Mathematical Problems for the Secondary Classroom 221

points of two sides of a triangle is parallel to the third side and

is equal to half of it.

Proof should not be limited to the topic on geometry. Students

should see proof as a natural aspect of mathematics. Other simple proofs

can include:

Prove that if n is even then n² is even.

Prove that if n is odd then n² is odd.

Even selected proofs of identities from trigonometry can be used. It

is the teacher’s role to select such proof items from various topics and let

students have ample practice with the proofs.

2.8 Carrying out simple investigations

Students should be given the opportunities to carry out simple

investigations. In the real world, these types of investigations help us to

solve problems.

One way to make a rectangular container is to take a rectangle of

Vanguard paper and cut the same size square out of each corner

and then fold the four sides up and tape the corners.

If you began with a piece of paper 20 cm by 15 cm, what size square

should you cut out of each corner to make the volume of the box as

large as possible?

What will be the dimensions of the resulting box if you start with a

piece of A4 paper?

The investigations should not be too difficult for the students, but

should be matched to their level of mathematical understanding.

Investigation problems have the added advantage of encouraging

students to make joint efforts by working in small groups. Working

collaboratively on problems is one of the skills we wish students to

develop among students. Statistics is a good topic for giving

investigative type of problems to students.

Mathematical Problem Solving 222

2.9 Solving open-ended problems

Students get so used to solving problems that have only one solution that

they cannot think about problems with more than one solution. This

conditioning may have serious consequences for students when solving

real-life problems. The following problems are open-ended:

A number rounded to 2 decimal places is 2.34. What could be the

number?

After five games, the CLAM football club has averaged 3 goals per

game. What might have been its scores in each of the five games?

The probability that both Jane and Bill go to school by bus is 0.03

on a particular day. What could be the probability of each one of

them separately going to school by bus on that day?

4

1

( )d 8 f x x =

∫

, find f (x).

The above problems make the students think deeply about the

underlying mathematical concepts. Their answer cannot be just a recall

of previously learned facts or skills.

Sullivan and Clarke (1991) used the idea of Good Questions to refer

to such problems. These authors claimed that good questions (1) require

more than the recall of a fact or reproduction of a skill, (2) pupils learn

by doing the task, and the teacher learns about the pupil from the

attempt, and (3) there may be several acceptable answers. Teachers

should let students practice solving open-ended problems. Open-ended

problems are not difficult to create. For example, instead of asking: what

is the area of a rectangle with sides 3 m and 4 m?, one may ask: find the

sides of a rectangle with area 12 m².

2.10 Formulating a problem or problem posing

Another aspect of problem solving that is seldom included in textbooks

is problem posing, or problem formulation (Wilson, Fernandez, &

Mathematical Problems for the Secondary Classroom 223

Hadaway, 1993). The authors added that problem posing and problem

formulation are logically appealing notions to mathematics educators and

teachers. In the classroom, students are typically asked to solve problems

rather than formulate or pose problems. A highly desirable skill which

all students should possess is the ability to formulate their own problems.

Problem formulation is not a routine exercise. It involves deep thinking

about the given information and how to use that information to generate

or formulate a problem having an idea about how to solve the problem.

For example:

The following items are for sale:

Pencil for $0.60

Ruler for $1.00

Copybook for $1.50

A poster for $0.90

A girl has four one-dollar coins, three 50-cent coins, four 20-cent

coins and three 10-cent coins.

Formulate a problem using the information given above.

The line L has equation y = 2 – x and the curve C has equation

y = x². Formulate a problem using the above information.

It is expected that the students will think deeply about the

mathematical concepts and principles involved before formulating a

problem. However, problem posing is not only about starting with some

facts and generating a problem. Problem posing can also accommodate

changing given problems or generating new problem from existing ones

by changing certain conditions. For example, extending a given problem

involves an aspect of problem posing whereby some conditions are

changed. In the initial stages, teachers should help students to formulate

problems and explain to them what problem formulation means.

Gradually, this should become a natural process in the classroom.

3 Conclusion

The skills highlighted above are not trivial for any student learning

mathematics. These skills have to be nurtured over a long period of time

Mathematical Problem Solving 224

through the use of carefully selected problems by the mathematics

teacher. A single problem cannot bring out all of these desirable skills;

rather we need to use a range of problems spread over various topic

areas. At the secondary level, as students are exposed to more and more

mathematics, they should be gradually led to solve harder and harder

problems which test them on the desirable skills we wish the students to

have. The above list and type of problems is by no way exhaustive.

However, the aim in this paper was to provide an overview of some types

of mathematical problems that teachers might consider while teaching

mathematics at the secondary level to develop some desirable skills.

References

Hanna, G. (2000). Proof, explanation and exploration: An overview. Educational Studies

in Mathematics, 44(1-2), 5-23.

Hiebert, J., & Carpenter, T. P. (1992). Learning and teaching with understanding.

In D. A. Grouws (Ed.), Handbook of research on mathematics teaching and

learning (pp. 65-97). NewYork: Macmillan.

Hodgson, T. (1995). Connections as problem solving tools. In P. A. House & A. F.

Coxford (Eds.), Connecting mathematics across the curriculum: 1995 NCTM

Yearbook (pp. 13-21). Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Kroll, D. L., & Miller, T. (1993). Insights from research on mathematical problem

solving in the middle grades. In D. T. Owens (Ed.), Research ideas for the

classroom: Middle grades mathematics (pp. 58-77). New York: Macmillan

Publishing Company.

Kaput, J. J. (1999). Teaching and learning a new algebra. In E. Fennema, & T. Romberg

(Eds.), Mathematics classrooms that promote understanding (pp. 133-155).

Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Krulik, S., & Rudnik, J. A. (1980). Problem solving: A handbook for teachers. Boston:

Allyn & Bacon.

Lester, F. K. (1983). Trends and issues in mathematical problem-solving research.

In R. Lesh & M. Landau (Eds.), Acquisition of mathematics concepts and processes

(pp. 229-261). Orlando, FL: Academic Press.

Lipp, A. (2000). The angles of a star. Mathematics Teacher, 93(6), 512-516.

Mason, J., & Johnston-Wilder, S. (2006). Designing and using mathematical tasks.

St Albans: Tarquin Publications.

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (1989). Curriculum and evaluation

standards for school mathematics. Reston, VA: Author.

Mathematical Problems for the Secondary Classroom 225

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (1991). Professional standards for

teaching mathematics. Reston, VA: Author.

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (2000). Principles and standards for

school mathematics. Reston, VA: Author.

Polya G. (1957). How to solve it? (2

nd

ed.). New York: Doubleday & Co.

Poly, G. (1966). On teaching problem solving. In E. G. Begle (Ed.), The role of

axiomatics and problem solving in mathematics (pp. 123-129). Boston, MA: Ginn

and Company.

Schoenfeld, A. H. (1985). Mathematical problem solving. Orlando, FL: Academic Press

Inc.

Schoenfeld, A. H. (1992). Learning to think mathematically: Problem solving,

metacognition, and sense making in mathematics. In D. A. Grouws (Ed.),

Handbook of research on mathematics teaching and learning (pp. 334-370). New

York: Macmillan Publishing Company.

Stanic, G. M. A., & Kilpatrick, J. (1988). Historical perspectives on problem solving in

the mathematics curriculum. In R. I. Charles, & E. A. Silver (Eds.), The teaching

and assessing of problem solving (pp. 1-22). Reston, VA: National Council of

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Sullivan, P., & Clarke, D. (1991). Communication in the classroom: The importance of

good questioning. Geelong, Vic, Australia: Deakin University Press.

Wilson, J. W., Fernandez, M. L., & Hadaway, N. (1993). Mathematical problem solving.

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226

Chapter 12

Integrating Open-Ended Problems in the

Lower Secondary Mathematics Lessons

YEO Kai Kow Joseph

This chapter describes the characteristics of open-ended problems

and the processes involved in solving such problems at the lower

secondary (grades 7 and 8) level. Four examples of open-ended

problems are used to demonstrate the benefits of integrating open-

ended problems into mathematics lessons.

1 Introduction

The revised framework of the Singapore mathematics curriculum

continues to encompass mathematical problem solving as its central

focus. There are some changes in the framework components. For

example, ‘reasoning, communication and connections’ and ‘applications

and modelling’ are now included as processes that should receive

increased attention (Ministry of Education, 2006). This is in line with

similar reform-based visions of schooling around the world (National

Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2000; NSW Board of Studies,

2002). It is evident from the curriculum framework that problems are

both a means as well as an end. While the primary purpose of teaching

mathematics in Singapore schools is to enable students to solve

problems, mathematics is also viewed as an excellent vehicle for the

development and improvement of students’ intellectual ability. Since

problem solving was made the focus of the curriculum in the 1990s,

teachers have been encouraged to cover a wide range of problem

situations from routine mathematical problems to problems in an

Integrating Open-Ended Problems in the Lower Secondary Mathematics Lessons 227

unfamiliar contexts and open-ended investigations (Ministry of

Education, 1990, 2000). Integrating open-ended problems into

mathematics lessons remains a challenge for many mathematics teachers.

Most of the problems found in earlier Singapore’s mathematics

textbooks intended for lower secondary (grades 7 and 8) students were

routine and closed (Fan & Zhu, 2000). Research has shown that most

students’ experiences in schools focus on well-defined problems (Eggen

& Kauchak, 2001). Such well-defined problems expect students to be

able to apply and practise recently-acquired algorithms (Kulm, 1994).

The situation is aggravated by the fact that teachers tend to ‘load’

students with rules, algorithms and formulae as they would with

machines. Students are expected to commit to memory, and to be able to

regurgitate, formulae, as well as to solve such well-defined problems

faultlessly. Not only has this resulted in the students listening and

absorbing knowledge passively, but it has also led students into

developing mathematics avoidance (Collin, Brown & Newman, 1989). It

is, therefore, heartening to note that recent lower secondary school

mathematics textbooks series in Singapore have introduced many new

types of problems. In particular, a few open-ended problems are found at

the end of almost all chapters in several textbooks series (Chow & Ng,

2007, 2008; Lee & Fan, 2007, 2008; Sin & Chip, 2007, 2008).

In my work with lower secondary mathematics teachers in

Singapore, I frequently hear the concerns about integrating open-ended

problems into the mathematics curriculum. In addition, lower secondary

mathematics teachers may feel inadequate about their own teaching

approaches to problem solving, especially with open-ended problems.

There is a need to equip lower secondary mathematics teachers with a set

of greater variety of mathematical open-ended problems to enhance their

teaching techniques. Students gain in many ways while solving open-

ended problems. Students benefit because they need to make decisions

and plan strategies as well as to apply their mathematical knowledge to

the open-ended problems. The main purpose of this chapter is to review

the characteristics of open-ended problems and the process of solving

such problems. This chapter includes four open-ended problems that can

be integrated into the teaching and learning of mathematics at the lower

secondary level. When integrating open-ended problems in mathematics

Mathematical Problem Solving 228

lessons, teachers need to focus less on the final answer and more on the

thinking and concepts so that students see the value of mathematics.

2 Characteristics of Open-Ended Problems

Various researchers have their own views as to what constitutes an open-

ended problem. Although there is no universal definition of an open-

ended problem, we can still identify some of its basic characteristics.

Open-ended problems are often considered as tasks in which there are

more than one correct solution. Such problems allow students to use

many approaches to solve them by placing few restrictions on students’

solution methods (Hancock, 1995). According to Becker and Shimada

(1997), when students are asked (1) to find several or many correct

answers, (2) to find several or many different correct approaches to get

an answer, or (3) to formulate or pose problems of their own, the

students are said to be solving an open-ended problem. They further

emphasize that the ‘openness’ of a problem is lost if the teacher proceeds

as though there is only one correct answer or one method is presupposed

to be the correct one.

In Singapore, Foong (2002) broadly classified problems as “closed

or open-ended in structure” (p. 18). She elaborated that closed problems

were ‘well structured’ in terms of clearly formulated tasks where one

correct answer could be found in a fixed number of ways from the

necessary data given in the problem setting. She further stated that open-

ended problems were deemed as ‘ill-structured’ as they lack clear

formulation. Such open-ended problems may have missing data or

require assumptions and there is no fixed process that can guarantee a

correct answer. Many real-world problems fall under this open-ended

category. Such problems are set in contexts and are helpful for students

to appreciate the real-life significance of mathematical concepts.

Moreover, such problems also have the added benefit of helping students

grasp concepts through linking abstract, unfamiliar mathematical

concepts to real-life situations.

Furthermore, Sullivan and Lilburn (2005) expressed that open-ended

problems are exemplars of good questions in that they advance

Integrating Open-Ended Problems in the Lower Secondary Mathematics Lessons 229

significantly beyond the surface. Specifically, they also indicated that

open-ended problems are those that require students to think more

intensely and to provide a solution which involves more than

remembering a fact or repeating a skill. Meanwhile, Leatham, Lawrence

and Mewborn (2005) suggested that high-quality open-ended problems

“should (1) involve significant mathematics; (2) have the potential to

elicit a range of responses, from incorrect to simplistic to generalized;

and (3) strike the delicate balance between providing too much

information, which makes the problem restrictive and closed, and too

little information, which makes the problem ambiguous” (p. 414).

The different characteristics of open-ended problems, as described in

this section, are not mutually exclusive. The open-ended mathematics

problems that are included in this chapter have certain general structures

that emphasis various components of the problem-solving process. In

summary, an open-ended problem is one that is presented in such a way

that there are many possible approaches to solve it or there are many

possible solutions. It is also more encompassing than typical closed

problems used in many mathematics classrooms.

3 Process of Solving Open-Ended Problems

In the traditional approach, there is an inclination for students to believe

that mathematics involves merely practicing one-step, two-step or many-

step procedures to find answers to routine problems. However, when

used regularly, open-ended problems can instill in students the idea

that understanding and explanation are equally important aspects of

mathematics.

While a closed problem usually has one correct solution — for

example: The marks scored by 8 pupils in a mathematics test are as

follows: 42, 52, 48, 44, 54, 55, 42 and 63. Calculate the mean score. —

an open-ended problem is one where there are multiple correct answers

and students can answer at a level that is suitable to, and represents, their

current level of understanding. An open-ended problem involving the

same content is shown in Figure 1. Such a problem allows students to

give a range of correct solutions such as 45, 55, 42, 58, 40, 60, 70 and 30

Mathematical Problem Solving 230

as well as 49, 51, 49, 51, 49, 51, 49 and 51. For students who have some

understanding of fractions there is opportunity to include these in their

set of eight numbers as well. On the whole, student solutions also

provide teachers with some insights into the student’s level of

understanding. This may not happen with closed problem. Thus, for

mathematics teachers, the use of open-ended problem not only provides

ample teaching and learning opportunities but also significant assessment

information.

List eight numbers that have a mean of 50.

List a different set of eight numbers that also have a mean of 50.

Figure 1. An example of an open-ended problem

In the above example, the variety of solutions that students suggest

allow them to contribute at their level of understanding without being

considered mediocre or lacking since their solutions are correct ones.

This potential of open-ended problems must not be overlooked given

that many students have some form of unproductive beliefs about

mathematics problems In particular, many of them believe that there is a

right or wrong way to solve mathematics problems. And for many

students, the latter situation is the one that they experience more often.

One of the benefits of open-ended problem is that they challenge the

students’ belief that there is only one right technique for solving problems

and this technique should be given by the teacher. Through the use of open-

ended problems, teachers can help students shift their beliefs about problem

solving and mathematics. The use of open-ended problems allow more

discussion among students and help them recognize that, like other

school subjects, mathematics is not limited to always having only one

answer. By using the variety of solutions that students generate to open-

ended problems as a catalyst for discussion at either whole-class or

small-group levels, students are able to discuss not only their solutions

Integrating Open-Ended Problems in the Lower Secondary Mathematics Lessons 231

but also how they arrive at their solutions. In addition, students are able

to discuss other ways of finding solutions. Students are also given an

opportunity to evaluate means of arriving at solutions which are more

effective or efficient. This process allows teachers greater access to

students’ knowledge and understanding that would not otherwise be

possible.

If the area of a parallelogram is 90 square metres, find its base and height.

Figure 2. Another example of an open-ended problem

The isolating of teaching and assessment is a common practice that

places a lot of pressure on teachers. In contrast, other approaches to

teaching and learning suggest that assessment is integral to teaching.

Open-ended problems can form the basis of a lesson whereby the teacher

can assess students’ responses. In an open-ended problem such as the one

shown in Figure 2, it is possible that within a mathematics lesson some

students may give answers where the parallelogram of base 15 m and

height 6 m. Thus, it shows evidence of the students’ understanding of

area, shape, multiplication and so forth. However, within the same class,

some students may be working at a different level and have been

exploring areas of parallelogram and offer answers that support their

understanding of this aspect of area and shapes. Such responses may not

have appeared when using closed problems. However, by posing the

problem in this way, teachers are able to access more knowledge of their

students’ levels of understanding than would have otherwise been

possible. As such, open-ended problem presents a learning situation for

students and can serve as an assessment tool which gathers information

on what a student has learnt and can achieve.

The use of open-ended problems allows students to solve realistic

problems with incomplete information where they are required to make

some assumptions about the missing information. This will provide the

Mathematical Problem Solving 232

teacher with meaningful information on how the students manage the

problem-solving process (van den Heuvel-Panhuizen, 1996). Although

open-ended problems have their value in the learning mathematics for

the lower secondary levels, we should not advocate using them merely

because they are popular. Instead, teachers need to establish thoughtful

rationale for deciding how and when to use open-ended problems in their

classrooms. Schools should strongly encourage the use of open-ended

problems in all aspects of mathematical instruction including the

development of mathematical concepts and the acquisition of

computational skills. Moreover, from the review above, it appears that

open-ended problem is an effective assessment tool for enhancement of

mathematical concepts, solving real-life problems and improving

problem-solving ability.

4 Sample Open-Ended Problems for Lower Secondary Students

The conceptualization of the revised Singapore mathematics curriculum

(Ministry of Education, 2006) is based on a framework where active

learning via mathematical problem solving is the main focus of teaching

and learning of mathematics. One of the main emphases of the

secondary-level mathematics curriculum has been the acquisition and

application of mathematical concepts and skills. While the revised

curriculum continues to emphasize this, there is now an even greater

focus on the development of students’ ability to conjecture, discover,

reason and communicate mathematics through the use of open-ended

problems. The appropriate use of open-ended problem in the classrooms

is a key factor in achieving the aims of the curriculum.

Since open-ended problem is an effective assessment tool for

enhancement of mathematical concepts, solving real-life problems and

improving problem-solving ability, it will be useful to provide four

such appropriate open-ended problems for lower secondary mathematics

teachers to integrate in their mathematics lessons. The following

section describes four open-ended problems that can be integrated

in the teaching and learning of mathematics at the lower secondary

level.

Integrating Open-Ended Problems in the Lower Secondary Mathematics Lessons 233

Problem 1

Finding Ratio (Secondary 1)

Fill in the blanks with numbers so that the story makes sense.

The school planned a mathematics trail in the zoo. The number of buses

needed to bring the pupils to the zoo is A . The ratio of the number

of pupils to the number of teachers on the mathematics trail is B to

1. There are C pupils and D teachers on the mathematics trail.

Counting the bus drivers and principal, a total of E people went on

the mathematics trail.

In Problem 1, the concept of ratio is reinforced. Students who lack

conceptual knowledge of ratio may make an attempt to fill in the blanks

by guessing and checking. Such students may find this process of filling

in the blanks tedious and cumbersome. Problem 1 requires students to

make an initial decision on the number of buses required for this trip.

There are many possible values for A, B, C, D and E. However, the ratio

of C to D must be the same as the ratio B to 1. E must be equal to A + C

+ D + 1. One possible solution is A = 2, B = 10, C = 60, D = 6 and

E = 69. The ratio of pupils to teachers can then be computed as 60 : 6 =

10 : 1. Another possible solution could be A = 3, B = 12, C = 96, D = 8

and E = 108. The number of buses needed and the ratio of the number of

pupils to the number of teachers appear in the mathematical structure of

the problem as variables. The relationship between the two makes it

possible for students to relate the total number of people going on the

mathematics trail. This problem can enhance students’ understanding of

the concept of ratio better than standard textbook problems that are

typically closed, for example problems that require students to find the

ratio of two or more quantities.

Problem 1 is an open-ended problem as it has many possible

answers. Although students are able to form and simplify ratios, they have

to make realistic assumptions and decisions (such as there is one driver

per bus) in order to find the answers in this problem. Furthermore, when

faced with such word problems, students should somehow represent its

structure by identifying the quantities and the relationships between them

in order to make a decision and to justify the decision.

Mathematical Problem Solving 234

Problem 2

Properties of a Rhombus (Secondary 1)

Write down as many properties and geometrical terms that you know

about a rhombus.

Sometimes teachers unduly pressurise students to remember

properties and terminologies in geometry. However, students may not

remember them. Students may also mix the properties and terminologies

up easily. This is so because students have no conceptual understanding

of why these properties work and the properties are not meaningful if

they are merely committed to memory. Students should be strongly

encouraged to use their understanding of the properties and terms to

describe a geometrical situation. Therefore, the aim of Problem 2 is to

enhance the students’ mathematical communication where students need

to express geometrical ideas of a rhombus precisely, concisely and

logically. It helps students develop their own understanding of rhombus

and sharpen their geometrical thinking.

Figure 3 shows a good, but not the best, response to Problem 2. The

student was able to describe the main properties of rhombus and its

measurement characteristics but he missed the fact that diagonals bisect

each other at right angles in a rhombus out.

Solution

These are the properties and geometrical terms

1) Its opposite angles are the same.

2) It has 2 pairs of parallel lines.

3) The sum of its angles adds up to 360°.

4) All the lines are of the same length.

5) It can be formed by 2 congruent triangles.

Figure 3. A student’s solution to Problem 2

Integrating Open-Ended Problems in the Lower Secondary Mathematics Lessons 235

Problem 3

Factorising Quadratic Expression (Secondary 2)

Is this quadratic expression x

2

– 3x + 10 factorisable? Explain the

reasoning for your answer.

In a traditional classroom, lower secondary students have little

opportunity to explain and justify the mathematical processes involved in

their mathematical solutions. Sometimes they may not be able to

understand what explaining their thinking meant. Although they may be

able to perform certain computations, they do not know how to explain

why they do them or why the procedures work. Even when a teacher

insists that the students explain and justify their solution method, they

may simply mimic what the teacher has said in class.

In Problem 3, students may just simply indicate that the quadratic

expression is not factorisable over integers and it cannot be factorised

using the so called ‘cross-multiplication’ method. Performing the

procedure to factorise a quadratic expression in Problem 3 is easy and

accessible to the vast majority of lower secondary students. In explaining

their reasoning, students need to consider the constant term, 10, could be

some combinations and factors of ± 2 and ± 5. They need to work

through the various operations of these two numbers to be equal to

coefficient x. Even though the sum of 2 and (– 5) is equal – 3 which is

the coefficient of x, the students have to justify that the factorisable

form (x + 2)(x – 5) is not equal to the original quadratic expression

x

2

– 3x + 10. Hence x

2

– 3x + 10 cannot be factorised over integers. This

whole process of reasoning involves the flexibility in thinking about

numbers that emerges with the ability to relate with the coefficients.

This also creates an opportunity for students to explore and appreciate

quadratic expressions.

Figure 4 shows a response that can be a good platform for the

teacher to engage students in extending their thinking and reasoning as

there are several ways of justifying it. However, in this problem,

students should not be using the phrase ‘quadratic equation’ loosely. This

solution shows some understanding but the generalisation is not

explained adequately.

Mathematical Problem Solving 236

Solution

The quadratic equation x

2

– 3x + 10 is not factorisable.

By using the ‘cross-multiplication’ method :

x -5 -5x

x -2 -2x

x

2

+10 -3x

It can be seen that the equation cannot be factorised.

One of the reasons for not able to factorise is the signs.

In this case

x 5 5x x -5 -5x

x 2 2x OR x -2 -2x

x

2

10 -3x x

2

10 -3x

• The only way of a positive 10 is either a +5 and +2 or a -5 and -2.

• However, in doing so, the coefficient of the x would not be -3

• For +5 and +2, the coefficient of x will be 7 and for -5 and -2, the

coefficient of x will be -7.

• Using the ‘rule’ of ‘cross-multiplication’, a quadratic equation can only be

factorise if both the numerical and the coefficient of x is satisfied.

Figure 4. A student’s response to Problem 3

Problem 4

Solving Simultaneous Linear Equations (Secondary 2)

John said that even though both substitution and elimination methods are

used to solve simultaneous linear equations, the substitution method is a

better choice for solving simultaneous linear equations when one of the

variable has a coefficient 1 or -1. Do you think John is right? Give

reasons to support your answers. [You may use examples to explain your

answers]

Problem 4 requires students to understand that their goal was to

provide enough details about both their thinking and the mathematical

processes they used. This will help the teacher and other students to

follow their reasoning. Problem 4 is an open-ended problem which the

Integrating Open-Ended Problems in the Lower Secondary Mathematics Lessons 237

students are expected to apply non-algorithm thinking, to access relevant

knowledge on linear equations, to apply algebraic concepts, and apply

algebraic manipulation skills to simplify or change subject of a

formula. They might make use examples to justify their choice. The

problem assumes that students have prerequisite knowledge of solving

simultaneous linear equations using substitution and elimination methods.

Teachers may note that students could feel insecure about handling a

mathematical problem which requires them to create another problem.

Some students may have problem verbalising their methods. Teachers

should strongly encourage the students to justify their decisions regardless

of the decisions that they make.

Figure 5 and Figure 6 show different responses by Secondary 2

students to Problem 4. Both students show good reasoning using

examples to illustrate their arguments. It demonstrates the students’

complete understanding.

No, it is not very true to say that if one of the variable has a coefficient of 1 and –1,

it is better to use substitution because it depends on the second equation.

x + 2y = 30 -----------(1) In such a case, using elimination would be

x + 3y = 40 -----------(2) much better even though the coefficient is 1.

(2) – (1) y = 10

x + 2(10) = 30

x = 10, y = 10

On the other hand, it could also be easier when one of the variables had a coefficient

of 1 or -1 when the other equation is much more complex.

x + 3y = 30 ----------(1)

5x + 10y = 250-------(2) This much more complex and would

be better to use substitution method.

x = 30 – 3y

5(30 – 3y) + 10y = 250

150 – 15y + 10y = 250

–5y = 100

y = – 20,

x = 30 – 3 (–20)

x = 90, y = –20

Figure 5. One student’s solution to Problem 4

Mathematical Problem Solving 238

It is right. Substitution requires the equation being substituted to be in the form of

x = …….. Or y = …….., having a variable with a coefficient of ±1.

If a linear equation already has a variable with a coefficient of ±1, less is needed to

be done as one would only need to move the terms instead of multiplying or

dividing the whole equation so that one of the variables has a coefficient of one.

The elimination method is best used when the two equations have variables with the

same coefficient.

Example of use of substitution: Example for use of elimination:

x – 2y = 1 6y + 5x = 16

3x + y = 17 6y – 3x = 0

Figure 6. Another students’ solution to Problem 4

These four open-ended problems exemplify how open-ended

problems help lower secondary students explore various types of

mathematical tasks. The different open-ended problems that were

discussed highlighted the different learning experiences that students

gain when they work on diverse open-ended problems. This is only

possible when the mathematical open-ended problems that teachers use in

their classrooms go beyond computations and rote algorithms. The four

problems are just first steps towards making the use of open-ended

problems in the classroom a meaningful one where emphasis is on the

process (reasoning and thinking) rather than the product (final answer). In

addition, the consistent use of open-ended problems provides opportunities

and possibilities for students to enhance their mathematical learning.

5 Conclusion

The four open-ended problems have shown that they provide mathematics

teachers with quick checks into students’ thinking and conceptual

understanding (Caroll, 1999). They are no more time-consuming to correct

than the homework exercises that teachers usually give. When used

regularly, students can develop the skills of reasoning and communication

in words and diagrams. Students, in presenting their solutions to others,

could compare and examine each other’s methods. Discoveries from such

Integrating Open-Ended Problems in the Lower Secondary Mathematics Lessons 239

comparison and examination could allow students to modify and to further

develop their own ideas in innovative ways. It is an approach that enables

lower secondary mathematics teachers to teach mathematics that aligns

with the spirit and intent of ‘Teach Less, Learn More’ (TLLM). The focus

of TLLM is on thinking, reasoning and engaged learning that characterise

the shift from practicing isolated skills towards developing rich network of

conceptual understanding.

In addition, to assist students accustom themselves with the use of

open-ended problems, assessment needs to be modified at the school level

in order to focus on this new development. However, there is a need to

strike a balance between basic numeracy skills, conceptual understanding

and problem solving. The changes that school leaders, curriculum

specialists, teachers and students need to manage for successful integration

of open-ended problems into the lower secondary mathematics curriculum

clearly bring a number of challenges along with them. Ultimately, the

decision to use open-ended problems in the mathematics lessons is up to

the teacher. It is hoped that teachers will bear in mind the appropriate use

of open-ended problems by relating it to their pedagogical goals and their

students’ abilities.

References

Becker, J. P. & Shimada, S. (1997). The open-ended approach: A new proposal for

teaching mathematics. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Chow, W. K. & Ng, Y. C. E. (Eds.), (2007). Discovering mathematics 1A. Singapore:

Star Publishing.

Chow, W. K. & Ng, Y. C. E. (Eds.), (2008). Discovering mathematics 2A. Singapore:

Star Publishing.

Collin, A., Brown, J. S. & Newman, S. E. (1989). Cognitive apprenticeship: Teaching

the crafts of readings, writing and mathematics. In L. B. Resnick (Ed.), Knowing

learning and instruction: Essays in honor of Robert Glaser (pp. 453-494).

Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Carroll, W. M. (1999). Using short questions to develop and assess reasoning. In L.V.

Stiff & R. Curcio (Eds.), Developing mathematical reasoning in grades K-12, 1999

Yearbook (pp. 247-255). Reston, Va.: NCTM.

Eggen, P. D. & Kauchak, D. P. (2001). Educational psychology: Windows on classrooms.

Upper Saddle River, N.J: Merrill Prentice Hall.

Mathematical Problem Solving 240

Fan, L. H. & Zhu, Y. (2000). Problem solving in Singaporean secondary school

mathematics textbooks. The Mathematics Educator, 5(1), 117-141.

Foong, P. Y. (2002). The role of problems to enhance pedagogical practices in the

Singapore mathematics classroom. The Mathematics Educator, 6(2), 15-31.

Hancock, C. L. (1995). Enhancing mathematics learning with open-ended questions.

The Mathematics Teacher, 88(6), 496-499.

Kulm, G. (1994). Mathematics assessment: What works in the classroom? San Francisco:

Jossey-Bass Publisher.

Lee, P. Y. & Fan, L (Eds.), (2007). New express mathematics 1. Singapore: Multimedia

Communications.

Lee, P. Y. & Fan, L (Eds.), (2008). New express mathematics 2. Singapore: Multimedia

Communications.

Leatham, K. R., Lawrence, K. G. & Mewborn, D. S. (2005). Getting started with open-

ended assessment. Teaching Children Mathematics, 11, 413-419.

Mason, J., Burton, L. & Stacey, K. (1982). Thinking mathematically. London: Addison-

Wesley.

Ministry of Education. (1990). Mathematics syllabus (Lower Secondary). Singapore:

Curriculum Planning Division.

Ministry of Education. (2000). Mathematics syllabus (Lower Secondary). Singapore:

Curriculum Planning Division.

Ministry of Education. (2006). Secondary mathematics syllabus. Singapore: Curriculum

Planning and Development Division.

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (2000). Principles and standards for school

mathematics. Reston, VA: Author.

NSW Board of Studies (2002). Mathematics K-6 syllabus 2002. Sydney, New South Wales,

Australia: Author.

Sin, K. M. & Chip, W. L (Eds.), (2007). Mathematics matters 1. Singapore: Panpac

Education.

Sin, K. M. & Chip, W. L (Eds.), (2008). Mathematics matters 1. Singapore: Panpac

Education.

Sullivan, P. & Lilburn, P. (2005). Open-ended maths activities: Using ‘good’ questions to

enhance learning. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

van den Heuvel-Panhuizen, M. (1996). Assessment and realistic mathematics education.

Utrecht: CD-B Press/Freudenthal Institute, Utrecht Univerisity.

241

Chapter 13

Arousing Students’ Curiosity and

Mathematical Problem Solving

TOH Tin Lam

Problem solving is the heart of the Singapore school mathematics

curriculum. While teaching students mathematical problem solving,

which includes problem solving heuristics and thinking skills, it is

important that teachers arouse their curiosity and engage them. They

may do this by introducing mathematics through daily life activities,

modifying their normal approach of classroom teaching, making

classroom mathematics relevant in real-life and elaborating the less

prominent mathematical results. This chapter illustrates through

examples how each of the above may be achieved in the secondary

mathematics classroom.

1 Introduction

Since the publication of Polya’s first book about solving mathematics

problems (Polya, 1945) there has been much interest in mathematical

problem solving. From the 1980s, there has also been a world-wide push

for problem solving to be the central focus of school mathematics

curriculum. For example, in the United States, the National Council of

Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) in their document on the principles

and standards for school mathematics stated that: “[p]roblem solving

should be the central focus of the mathematics curriculum” (NCTM,

2000, p.52).

In line with global trends in mathematics education, mathematical

problem solving was established as the primary focus of the Singapore

Mathematical Problem Solving 242

school mathematics curriculum since the 1980s. The primary aim of the

curriculum is to develop students’ ability to solve mathematics problems.

The framework of the Singapore mathematics curriculum is shown in

Figure 1.

Figure 1. Framework of the Singapore school mathematics curriculum

It is apparent from Figure 1, that the Singapore mathematics school

curriculum framework highlights the dependence of development of

mathematical problem solving ability on five inter-related components:

Concepts, Skills, Processes, Attitudes and Metacognition (Ministry of

Education, 2006). Teachers often emphasize Concepts, Skills and

Processes for successful mathematical problem solving. They often fail

to note that Metacogniton and Attitudes are equally important for

engagement in problem solving. Only recently, increasing attention has

been placed on the Metacognitive aspect of mathematical problem

solving (see, for example, Toh, Quek and Tay, 2008a; 2008b).

Other than being concerned about students’ ability to solve

problems, how often do teachers think about the following related to

their classroom practice:

• How do my students feel about solving mathematics problems

(for example, do they feel unduly stressed when solving non-routine

mathematics problems)?

Arousing Students’ Curiosity and Mathematical Problem Solving 243

• Are my students really interested in solving the mathematics

problems (or are they only interested in preparing for the national

examinations)?

• Do my high achieving mathematics students really enjoy solving

the challenging mathematics problems I assign them?

• Do my students really appreciate the mathematics they learn?

The above questions relate to the domain of the affective aspects of

mathematics learning. i.e. the Attitude component of mathematical

problem solving. Generally, the Attitude component is given relatively

less attention compared to the other four components.

2 Arousing Students’ Curiosity in Mathematics and Problem

Solving

Any review of literature on mathematical problem solving would

inevitably start with Polya’s conception of solving mathematics

problems (Polya, 1945). Polya did not use the term “problem solving”,

but discussed “studying the methods of solving problems”. According to

Polya, solving a problem would mean “finding a way out of a difficulty,

a way around an obstacle, attaining an aim which was not immediately

attainable” (Polya, 1981, p.ix). Polya’s model of solving problems,

which forms the foundation of the Singapore mathematics curriculum,

can be presented as consisting of four main stages: (1) Understanding

the Problem; (2) Devising a Plan; (3) Carrying out the Plan; and (4)

Checking and Extension.

What, then, is a mathematics problem? According to the definition

by Lester (1978), which is generally accepted by mathematics educators,

a problem is a situation in which an individual or group is called upon to

perform a task for which there is no readily accessible algorithm which

determines completely the method of solution. Lester (1980) adds that

this definition assumes a desire on the part of the individual or group to

perform the task.

As a corollary to Lester’s definition of a mathematical problem,

what is considered a mathematical problem to one student might NOT be

a problem to another student; if (i) the latter has a ready algorithm to

Mathematical Problem Solving 244

solve the questions but not the former; and (ii) the former is interested in

solving the problem but not the latter. Thus, if Lester’s definition of a

mathematics problem is adopted, in teaching mathematical problem

solving, teachers must be able to draw on a rich source of questions and

contexts that are exciting and “new” to their students, and to develop

interest in their students in solving the questions.

Educators worldwide have been discussing ways to develop

students’ interest in learning mathematics and mathematical problem

solving. For example, the Chinese teachers have been talking about

developing students’ interest in mathematics by relating the content to

real-life situations (Correa, Perry, Sims, Miller, Kevin and Fang, 2008).

Research has also shown that teachers’ use of stimulating teaching

methods would go a long way to sustain and motivate students’ interest

in learning mathematics (Akinsola, Animasahun; 2007). In particular,

using hands-on activities in real-life situations could help the students

see the relevance and feel the power of mathematics (Morita, 1999;

Mitchell, 1994). The above are some examples from a long list of

studies and researches on the different approaches to develop students’

interest in mathematics learning.

Underlying all the above discussion of ways to develop students’

interest in mathematics is one of the key psychological aspects –

arousing the students’ curiosity in mathematics. What, then, is curiosity?

Curiosity is not the mere wonder of a feat or an event. According to

Schmitt and Lahroodi (2008), curiosity is a motivationally original

desire to know. This desire arises and, in turn, sustains one’s attention

and interest to know. Curiosity is a characteristic that is often observed

in our students.

The importance of curiosity cannot be overemphasized. Curiosity

can lead students to explore new ideas in mathematics (Gough, 2007).

Some researchers have even asserted the importance of curiosity as an

important link to an individual’s lifelong learning (Fulcher, 2008).

However, curiosity has not received much academic interest until recent

years.

In this chapter, we are going to discuss the different ways of

arousing students’ curiosity through daily activities and events which are

Arousing Students’ Curiosity and Mathematical Problem Solving 245

linked to mathematical concepts and principles. Broadly speaking, as

seen by the author, these can be classified into the following categories:

• Introducing mathematics through daily activities;

• Modifying the normal approach of classroom teaching;

• Making classroom mathematics relevant in real-life; and

• Elaborating on the less prominent results.

2.1 Introducing mathematics through daily activities

There are a lot of opportunities to explore “mathematics” in our daily

activities. Teachers can employ all these opportunities to arouse their

students’ curiosity in the subject. In this section, we propose some

activities related to two things students encounter in their daily lives: (1)

calendar, (2) page numbers of books.

2.1.1 Calendar

There is a good deal of mathematics in the calendar. However, students

might not have linked the many day-to-day events associated with the

calendar to school mathematics. A search of the available websites show

numerous sites which offer interesting mathematical tasks based on the

calendar. In this section, we shall list several mathematical tasks that are

related to the calendar.

As an example of the mathematics of calendar, the calculation of

the days of the same date for each month is an arithmetic problem

related to the remainder of an integer by the number 7. For example, if it

is known that 1

st

January 2008 falls on Tuesday, the mathematics

classroom teacher can challenge the students to find the day on which

the 1

st

of every subsequent month falls without telling them the related

mathematics. The teacher could get students to think of how to solve the

problem, and relate this to the mathematics (in particular, arithmetic)

that they have learnt in their mathematics classrooms.

Teachers can also generate higher order thinking questions using

the calendar in many ways after their students have understood the basic

Mathematical Problem Solving 246

mathematical calculations. For example, the following question can be

used as an investigative task for the students, leading them to experience

and discover the underlying mathematical principle associated with

arithmetic:

Many people believe that Friday 13

th

is very inauspicious. Is it

possible for you to find a year in which there is no such

“inauspicious” day (that is, 13

th

of every month falls on any day

other than Friday)? What is the maximum number of such

“inauspicious” days in any particular year? Can you tell me

your answers without referring to all the past and future

calendars?

There are many other potentially interesting problems that can be

related to the calendar. For example, Bastow, Hughes, Kissane and

Randall (1986, p.11, n.19) demonstrated some interesting activities for

students for mathematical investigation:

Someone said: “We can use this year’s calendar again in a few

years from now.” Investigate. (Bastow, et. al., p.11)

Generalizing the above problem, a teacher could get the students to

think:

If you are a manufacturer of calendars, must you produce a

“new” calendar every year? Or do you observe that after a

certain number of years, the same calendars can be used again?

Even a task like getting students to figure out the day of the week

which they were born could be a motivating one to arouse the students’

curiosity in the mathematics related to daily life:

[Without the use of calendars, o]n what day of the week were

you born? (Bastow, et. al., p.19).

Arousing Students’ Curiosity and Mathematical Problem Solving 247

How can a teacher implement some or part of the above activities

on calendars in a classroom setting? As an illustration, the teacher could

use these activities as motivation to start a new chapter in class,

especially topics related to arithmetic or counting, to arouse the

students’ curiosity of the application of mathematics in their daily lives.

The teacher could also use these activities as part of the enrichment

classes supplementing the usual classroom lessons.

Extracts of the above activities could also be used for out-of-class

activities: for example, teachers could either incorporate some of the

abovementioned activities in inter-disciplinary activities, for example,

through an activity that incorporates National Education, during which

students are introduced to some days of special significance to the nation,

or during activities in which students are induced more into the culture

of the school and the early history of the founding of their secondary

schools.

2.1.2 Page numbers of books

In Singapore secondary schools (Years 7 to 10), students use books

(textbooks, exercise books or notebooks) for most of their lessons.

However, not many students would have noticed that there is a lot of

interesting mathematics related to page numbers of the books. In this

section, we shall demonstrate with an illustration the mathematics

associated with the page numbers of a book. Consider the case of an

A4-sized book, in which the pages are printed on A3 papers. In this way,

one piece of A3 paper of the book consists of four printed pages of the

book.

An example of a suitable mathematics problem is finding the page

numbers of all the four pages that are printed on the same piece of paper.

The students could be guided through a series of investigative activities

to discover that the sum of the page numbers of every four pages printed

on the same sheet of paper is always constant. If a book has 4n pages

(the number of pages in this context is always a multiple of 4), then the

sum of every four pages on the same sheet of paper is always 8n + 2.

Mathematical Problem Solving 248

Other potentially interesting problems related to the page numbers

of a book are given below. However, it is entirely up to the professional

judgment of the classroom teachers to generate as many other interesting

and creative mathematics problems related to the page numbering of a

book.

1. A boy opens up the middle pages of two books and finds that

the product of the two numbers of the middle pages is 42. How

many pages does the books have?

2. A book has n pages. The book is numbered from page 1 to

page n. Mary added up all the page numbers and got the sum

equal to 3250. However, she added up the numbers wrongly

because there is a particular page number that she added up

twice. What is the page number that she counted twice in her

calculation?

(Chua, Hang, Tay and Teo, 2007, p.120)

While the above two examples are taken from the Singapore

Mathematical Olympiads, they can be used equally well in the usual

classroom setting as a mathematical investigation task to stretch

students’ mathematical thinking.

2.2 Modifying the usual approach of classroom teaching

Research has shown that mathematical problem solving and acquisition

of mathematics concepts are difficult for students. The use of

appropriate instructional strategies is crucial to the students’

understanding of mathematical concepts (Akinsola, 1994, 1997). For

effective instruction to take place, teachers are required to step outside

the realm of their own personal experience into the world of their

students (Brown, 1997). As such, it is not uncommon that teachers

modify the usual way of classroom lesson delivery to meet the learning

needs of their students. We illustrate how this may be done with a few

examples taken from the Singapore secondary school mathematics

curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2006).

Arousing Students’ Curiosity and Mathematical Problem Solving 249

2.2.1 An example from teaching mensuration

Consider an example of a mathematics teacher attempting to teach

his/her students the formula for the circumference of a circle as 2π

multiplied by the radius of a circle. Let us consider two approaches of

teaching: (1) the teacher may get the students to memorize the formula

and then apply the formula to solve the textbook exercises, or (2) the

teacher could get the students to be involved in simple tasks of

measuring the circumference and diameter (or radius) of many circles of

various sizes and check that the ratio of the circumference to the

diameter (or radius) always has a constant value of π (2π, respectively).

While the message of the formula for the circumference of the circle

might be conveyed to students in both cases, the effect might be different.

In the second case, the teacher is likely to have aroused the students’

curiosity in the mathematical concept of the formula regarding the

circumference of the circle.

2.2.2 Another example from teaching algebraic manipulation

We consider another example on algebraic manipulation. Students

generally find the learning of algebra difficult. Students find some

algebraic rules generally more difficult to learn compared with the other

rules (Kirsher and Awtry, 2004). Visually salient rules, due to their

visual coherence that makes them seem more “natural” and believable,

are easier for students to learn. On the other hands, algebraic rules that

are less visually salient are more difficult for students to learn. An

example of such a rule is the expansion

(a + b)

2

= a

2

+ b

2

+ 2ab.

There are several ways to teach these less visually salient rules: (1)

the teacher could get the students to memorize the formulae and practise

sufficiently many exercises on algebraic expansion and factorization

applying these rules; (2) the teacher could explain why such rules

work. For example, Yeap (2007) provides worksheets to demonstrate to

students that (a+b)

2

is not equal to a

2

+b

2

through involving students

Mathematical Problem Solving 250

trying out numerical examples (Yeap, 2007; p.37) or through

geometrical interpretation (Yeap, 2007; p.41 – 42).

Here, the author proposes another way to arouse students’ interest

in learning these algebraic rules, which is through “impressing” the

students with these algebraic rules by guiding them to experience

the “power” of these algebraic rules. For instance, a teacher can

challenge his or her students on the speed of performing the following

computations:

a. (2007)

2

– 2 x 2007 x 2006 + (2006)

2

b. (2007)

2

– (2006)

2

c. (45)

2

+ 2 x 45 x 55 + (55)

2

d. (45)

3

+ 3(45)

2

(55) + 3(45)(55)

2

+ (55)

3

e. (0.5)

3

– 3(0.5)

2

(0.4) + 3(0.5)(0.4)

2

– (0.4)

3

Simply by using appropriate algebraic identities without the use of

calculators, the correct values of the above expressions can be found

almost instantly; On the other hand, evaluating the above expression

mechanically without algebraic rules (or even the use of calculators) will

be far less efficient. We could use the above type of examples in the

usual mathematics classrooms to illustrate to students that, under certain

circumstances, use of algebraic identities could be a more efficient tool

in computation using a calculator.

2.2.3 Extension from pattern gazing

Pattern gazing, or more commonly known as observing number patterns

in the Singapore mathematics curriculum, is taught in the Singapore

mathematics classroom at the lower secondary levels (Years 7 and 8).

Through pattern gazing, students are exposed to some problem solving

heuristics, such as forming conjecture, generalizing. However, teachers

may decide not to stop here; they could use these pattern gazing

activities to introduce to their students many interesting aspects of the

subject, thereby arousing their curiosity to find out more such activities.

One example of an activity used by the author during an enrichment

course with a group of lower secondary students is appended below.

Arousing Students’ Curiosity and Mathematical Problem Solving 251

Figure 2. One activity on pattern gazing

Most students would have realized, after attempting to complete the

first two or three lines of Figure 3, that the sum of the first n odd positive

integers is somehow a perfect square. The higher achieving students

would be able to conclude, through completing the first four lines in

Figure 3, that the sum of the first 100 odd positive integers is 10000 and,

after some calculations, would be able to conclude that the value of the

sum of odd integers 1 + 3 + 5 + 7 + 9 + ……… + 99 is 2500.

One question that the teachers could get their students to ponder on:

Is the fact that “the sum of the first n odd positive integers a perfect

square” a mere “coincidence”, or is there any rigorous explanation

besides pattern gazing?

Such an activity would be redundant if we subscribe to the belief

that people are “minimalist information processors” who are unwilling

and uninterested to devote much effort to process this type of arguments

(Stiff, 1994). However, if teachers believe that students could be

challenged to explore into such unknown territories, they could stretch

their students to find a plausible pictorial explanation for the above fact.

For example, Nelson (1993) gave two plausible “proofs without words”

in his book (Nelson, 1993, pp. 71 – 72). One of such possible

explanation is shown in Figure 3 below.

Fill in the blanks below:

1 + 3 = ____

1 + 3 + 5 = ____

1 + 3 + 5 + 7 = ______

1 + 3 + 5 + 7 + 9 = _______

What is the sum of the first 100 odd positive integers?

________

1 + 3 + 5 + 7 + 9 +……… + 99 = _____

Mathematical Problem Solving 252

Figure 3. One explanation for the formula of the sum of odd integers in

Nelson (1993)

The above sample activity illustrates that the usual activity used as

pattern gazing in the teaching of the usual mathematics curriculum can

be extended (beyond just getting the correct answers) to arouse students’

curiosity in the subject in general and, in particular, mathematical

problem solving.

Many other number patterns, for example, the sum of positive

integers, the sum of squares of positive integers and the sum of cubes of

positive integers, can be used for pattern gazing and also be used to

involve the students in such arguments and curiosity into mathematics

(Toh, 2007).

2.3 Making classroom mathematics relevant in real-life

Researchers and educators agree on the importance of relating

mathematics to real life applications (see, for example, Albert and Antos,

Arousing Students’ Curiosity and Mathematical Problem Solving 253

2000). In fact, educators are prepared with ways to answer students’

questions about when they will use the mathematics they learn in the

classrooms (Gough, 1998). In this section, we shall illustrate with

examples how some of the mathematics our students learn in secondary

school (Years 7 to 10) relates to the real world, and may serve as

motivation.

2.3.1 Two examples from mensuration: Area of trapezium and

volume of frustum

The formula for the area of a trapezium is well-known. In Lee (2007,

p.108), teachers were expected to be able to derive the formula of the

area of a trapezium. The derivation of the formula could be done by

placing two congruent trapeziums as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Two congruent trapeziums placed together to obtain a parallelogram

One might ask: are there other situations in the real world that the

method used to find the formula for the area of a trapezium (by using

two congruent objects to form a familiar object whose formula is

known) can be applied to? Teachers can excite their students to explore

using the method in other new situations. As an illustration on how the

method of deriving the formula for the area of a trapezium can be

extended, teachers can challenge their students to find the volume of the

solid shown in Figure 5.

b

) (

2

1

b a h +

h

a

a

b

Area =

Mathematical Problem Solving 254

Figure 5. Photograph of a short pillar in front of a lift at Changi Airport Terminal Three

A student who has understood the principle underlying the method

of finding the area of a trapezium would be able to extend the method to

find the volume of the short pillar in Figure 5 above; he/she would

observe that two congruent volumes placed in the position of Figure 6

would end up in forming a circular cylinder, and hence obtain the

formula for the volume of the short pillar as being half of the volume of

the entire cylinder in Figure 6.

Figure 6. Diagram illustrating the method to find the volume of the solid in Figure 5

) (

2

1

2

b a r + π

Volume of the solid =

b

b

a

a

a

r

b

Arousing Students’ Curiosity and Mathematical Problem Solving 255

In the Singapore secondary school mathematics curriculum,

students are required to acquire concepts related to similar figures and

similar solids and their properties, areas and volumes of standard figures

and solids as required by the syllabus. However, in real life situations,

most figures and solids do not belong to the “standard” shapes taught in

the school mathematics curriculum. Teachers could challenge their

students to find areas and volumes of other “non-standard” figures and

solids, based on what they have learnt in their curriculum about the areas

and volumes of standard figures and solids, and concepts of similarity

and congruency.

As an illustration, teachers could get their students to try finding

the volume of the hanging lamp (in the shape of a frustum) shown in

Figure 7 below.

Figure 7. Photograph showing the outlet of a shop with hanging lamps in the

shape of a frustum

In finding the volume of a frustum, students could come to realize

that they would need to apply concepts of similar triangles and formula

for the volume of a circular cylinder to find the volume of a frustum.

Mathematical Problem Solving 256

2.3.2 Two more examples from the use of the common logarithms

Logarithm is taught in the additional mathematics curriculum to upper

secondary students (Years 9 and 10). However, the application of

logarithm to real-life situations is rarely highlighted during the

curriculum. Teachers should note that one can easily find applications

of logarithm to the real world situation, if one appreciates that

logarithms are used to handle “unusually large or unusually small

numbers”. For instance, the Richter scale of measuring earthquake is an

example of a logarithmic scale.

Students doing science, may recognize the use of logarithms for the

measurement of the acidity of a solution, the pH scale. The pH of a

solution can be calculated by

pH = -lg [H

+

],

where [H

+

] denotes the concentration of hydrogen ions in mol/dm

3

of the

solution. Based on this formula, the teacher can challenge the students

with questions related to the formula and the concept of logarithm such

as the following questions.

1. Based on the formula for pH above, is it possible for a

solution to contain no hydrogen ion?

2. When a solution is neutral (neither acidic nor alkaline), its

pH value is 7. What is the concentration of the hydrogen ion?

3. Suppose you are given an acid. If you add a lot of water

(pH 7) into it, what will the pH of the acid reach? What if you

add even more water? Explore.

Such questions would lead students to greater in-depth thinking

about the mathematics formula in the context of another discipline;

further, such inter-disciplinary tasks might show students greater

connection across the different discipline instead of perceiving the

disciplines as isolated bits of knowledge.

Another illustration on the use of logarithm in the mathematics

classroom is as follows. Using a scientific calculator, teachers could lead

Arousing Students’ Curiosity and Mathematical Problem Solving 257

their students to explore the common logarithm of many different

integers. For example,

lg 2 = 0.301….

lg 9 = 0.954…

lg 78 = 1.892…

lg 97 = 1.986 …

lg 123 = 2.0899…

lg 987 = 2.9843…

Students could come to discover that the common logarithm of a

whole number could be related to the number of digits that number is

expressed in its decimal representation. Eventually, students could even

be challenged to answer the following questions related to logarithms.

Below are two sample questions which could relate the application

of logarithms to solve some higher order thinking questions. These

questions could be used to induce students to mathematical problem

solving.

1. The number 2

7894

is an extremely large number which cannot

be displayed on a scientific calculator. However, if you are able

to write down the number in its decimal representation in full,

how many digits will the number have?

2. Let us assume that you have done the above (i.e. write down

the number in its decimal representation in full). Can you tell

me what is the left most digit?

2.4 Elaborating on the less prominent results

There are some mathematics formulae and results in the secondary

mathematics curriculum which are not elaborated conceptually during

classroom lessons. However, the students are expected to memorize

these results by rote and apply them to solve typical examination

questions. Teachers can make use of this opportunity to arouse students’

Mathematical Problem Solving 258

curiosity and excite them about the mathematics (Chen and Toh, 2008).

In this section, we shall illustrate two such examples.

2.4.1 Volume and surface area of a sphere

Many secondary school textbooks used in Singapore schools do not

elaborate on the derivation of the formulae for the volume or the surface

area of a sphere. For students who are curious on how these formulae

were derived, teachers could refer them to the history of mathematics so

that they may appreciate how these formulae were derived historically

(see Dunham, 1994, p225 – 236).

Even if the teacher considers the derivation of the formulae for the

volume and the surface area of a sphere difficult for the average students,

the teacher can establish a relationship between the two formulae. For

example, he or she can challenge the students to contemplate on why the

relation

1

,

3

V Ar =

where V = volume of sphere, A = surface area of the sphere and

r = radius of the sphere, is always true for all spheres. A careful

consideration of the following diagram from Billstein, Libeskind and

Lott (2001) in Figure 8 below indeed shows that the relation is valid.

Figure 8. Diagram illustrating the relation between the volume and surface area of a

sphere (Billstein, Libeskind and Lott, 2001, p.653)

Arousing Students’ Curiosity and Mathematical Problem Solving 259

The above example illustrates that teachers could use examples of

formulae and results which are not usually elaborated in the usual

classroom teaching and challenge their students and arouse their interest

in mathematics and problem solving.

We conclude this chapter with one final example on the teaching of

differentiation in the additional mathematics curriculum. While teaching

the students the first principle of differentiation, teachers could consider

illustrating the concept using more “lively” examples on top of the

classical examples from the textbooks. They could get their students to

attempt a plausible explanation of why the derivative of volume of

spheres (with respect to its radius) indeed gives the surface area of the

spheres; another observation is that the derivative of the area of circles

with respect to their radius gives its circumference. This is not a mere

coincidence; there is a plausible explanation using the first principle of

derivative (see Chen and Toh, 2008). This will be a suitable type of

activity to challenge students to apply what they have learnt to their

encounters in other areas of mathematics, while giving a plausible

explanation.

3 Conclusion

Before concluding this chapter, there are two more cautions for the

classroom teachers in using the ideas presented in this chapter. Firstly,

in line with the spirit of problem solving, the process of problem solving

should NOT be viewed as the process of searching for algorithms or

attempts to find more explicit rules or procedures to solve a (non-

routine) problem. There is always a risk that teachers might use the

examples illustrated in this chapter (and other examples) to push for

solutions without focusing on the problem solving processes or

strategies. It is thus extremely important that teachers appreciate that the

importance of problem solving lies not on the final solution but more on

the processes.

Secondly, some examples illustrated here might not be able to

arouse students’ curiosity as these problems may be some routine

questions for them. Thus, it is also crucial that the teachers know their

Mathematical Problem Solving 260

students’ inclination well, are able to choose appropriate examples that

are new to their students, and are able to excite their students in these

selected problems.

While the literature on mathematics education abounds with

research and studies on teaching students mathematical problem solving,

the area on arousing students’ curiosity (thereby sustaining their interest

in mathematical problem solving) is relatively less explored. Taking care

of the students’ affective domain in mathematical problem solving could

be an equally important area of mathematical problem solving. In this

chapter, we have presented generally four approaches of arousing

students’ curiosity in mathematics and illustrated each with examples

from the Singapore secondary school mathematics curriculum.

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Part IV

Future Directions

265

Chapter 14

Moving beyond the Pedagogy of Mathematics:

Foregrounding Epistemological Concerns

Manu KAPUR

The 2009 yearbook of the Association of Mathematics Educators

(AME) of Singapore presents a good start to what is envisioned to be

a series on mathematics education. In this chapter, I lay out the

possibility space of critical issues that the yearbook could address in

the coming years. In the main, I draw on the folk categories of

“learning about” a discipline and “learning to be” a member of the

discipline (Thomas & Brown, 2007) to propose a move beyond the

pedagogy of mathematics to include the epistemology of mathematics

as well. To accomplish this move, I propose a focus on three essential

(but by no means exhaustive) research thrusts: a) understanding

children’s inventive and constructive resources, b) designing formal

and informal learning environments to build upon these resources,

and c) developing teacher capacity to drive and support such change.

1 Introduction

This yearbook presents an important milestone for the AME of

Singapore. The yearbook’s focus on mathematical problem solving is

apt, and the chapters in the book represent a diverse set of emphases on

pedagogy and practice. My aims for this chapter are modest and twofold.

I will start by stepping back and briefly examining what it means to learn

mathematics. This is important because it sets the stage for the second

aim wherein I will derive implications for mathematics education

research and practice, and in the process, lay out what I believe to be

Mathematical Problem Solving 266

some (but not all) of the critical areas and issues that the AME yearbooks

could focus on.

2 What does it mean to learn Mathematics?

This seemingly simple question has important implications. To learn

mathematics, one must minimally be able to understand mathematical

concepts, strategies, and procedures, and apply them to solve a diverse

set of problems, simple or complex, routine or non-standard. Much

research and practice is geared towards developing mathematical

problem solving skills in children. Indeed, this AME yearbook also

focuses on problem solving. Here, the concerns are largely of the form:

What is the nature of children’s mathematical understandings? How can

we teach mathematical concepts better? What kinds of problems,

activities, and tools are best suited for understanding mathematical

concepts? What curricular design principles are more effective than

others, and so on? Taken together, these concerns are largely

pedagogical; their focus is mainly on learning about mathematics, which

is necessary but not sufficient.

Part of learning mathematics, and arguably the more important part

perhaps, is to engage in the practice of mathematics akin to that of

mathematicians. This involves learning to be like a member of the

mathematical community (Thomas & Brown, 2007). But what does

mathematical practice entail? Inventing representational forms,

developing domain-general and specific methods, flexibly adapting and

refining or inventing new representations and methods when others do

not work, critiquing, elaborating, explaining to each other, and persisting

in solving problems define the epistemic repertoire of mathematical

practice (diSessa & Sherin, 2000). Learning to be like a mathematician is

to learn and do what mathematicians do; it involves a “mathematical”

way looking at the world, understanding the constructed nature of

mathematical knowledge, and persisting in participating in the

construction and refinement of mathematical knowledge. These concerns

clearly foreground the epistemological aspects of mathematical practice.

Foregrounding Epistemological Concerns 267

Therefore, from this brief examination, it follows that learning about

mathematics primarily foregrounds a pedagogical concern whereas

learning to be like a mathematician foregrounds an epistemological

concern. Both concerns are important but the latter remains much

neglected and, therefore, needs to be addressed with greater force

going forward. That said, it is important to note that learning about and

learning to be are inextricably dialectical; the distinction between them is

merely an analytical device I employ here for the purposes of this

chapter.

3 Implications for mathematics education research and practice

Because much attention has been devoted to the pedagogical concern, I

will focus my attention on the epistemological concern. This naturally

begs the question: How do we design opportunities and learning

experiences for students for them to understand, learn, and do (at least in

some ways) what mathematicians do? To be clear: I’m not suggesting

that we need to prepare all children to become mathematicians. What I

am suggesting is that if learning to be like a mathematician involves

participating in the processes of inventing and refining representational

forms and methods, collaborating and critiquing each other, persisting in

solving problems, and a way of working with mathematical knowledge,

then we need to design opportunities for student to be able to engage in

these processes; processes that mirror the actual practice (diSessa &

Sherin, 2000; Thomas & Brown, 2007).

3.1 Understanding children’s inventive and constructive resources

It follows from above that if we are to engage children in the processes

of invention of and “play” with representational forms and methods, we

need to at least be able to at least answer some essential questions: What

is the nature of children’s inventive and constructive resources? What

kinds of tasks, activities, and classroom cultures are more effective than

others at uncovering these resources?

Mathematical Problem Solving 268

A growing body of research has demonstrated that children have

intuitive yet sophisticated set of constructive resources to generate

representations and methods to solve problems without any direct or

formal instruction (e.g., diSessa, Hammer, Sherin, & Kolpakowski, 1991;

Hesketh, 1997; Kapur, 2008; Slamecka & Graf, 1978; Schwartz &

Martin, 2004). For example, diSessa et al. (1991) found that when sixth

graders were asked to invent static representations of motion, students

generated and critiqued numerous representations, and in the process,

demonstrated not only design and conceptual competence but also meta-

representational competence. Likewise, Schwartz and Martin (2004)

demonstrated a hidden efficacy of invention activities when such

activities preceded direct instruction (e.g., lectures), despite such

activities failing to produce canonical conceptions and solutions during

the invention phase.

Going forward, therefore, we need to design opportunities for

students to leverage their constructive resources to invent, play with, and

refine representational forms and methods. Such efforts will necessarily

involve a variety of tools (e.g., computers, modeling and simulation

tools, etc.) and activity structures (e.g., collaboration) because each has

its own affordances and constraints (Greeno, Smith, & Moore, 1993). We

need research that seeks to understand the interplay between the designed

affordances and constraints and their influence on the learning of

mathematics (Greeno et al., 1993).

3.2 Formal and informal learning designs that help build upon

children’s constructive resources

Uncovering children’s constructive resources is necessary but not

sufficient because their inventions are rarely the canonically correct

structures (e.g., representational forms and methods). We need to design

learning (environment, tasks, activity structures, etc.) so as to be able to

build upon their generative structures, compare and contrast them with

each other and with the canonical structures. Again, this only begs the

question: What kinds of designs are efficacious in building upon student-

generated structures? When and under what conditions do such designs

Foregrounding Epistemological Concerns 269

work? What are their inter-dependent components? What kinds of

contextual and socio-mathematical norms and classroom cultures are

needed for such designs to be effective? Are they pedagogically tractable

in local classroom contexts? More generally, are they tractable in formal

learning contexts such as classrooms, or informal contexts are better

suited? After all, a substantial part of mathematical practice is situated in

informal settings similar to that of many professional communities

(Thomas & Brown, 2007). If so, what are the affordances of informal

learning contexts that support such designs? Can we bridge learning in

formal with informal contexts, and so on? Going forward, we need

research that begins to illuminate answers to some of these questions.

3.3 Developing teacher capacity

The final piece of the puzzle lies in the mathematical and pedagogical

content knowledge of teachers. It is much easier said than done that we

need to design and build upon student-generated structures when

research suggests that this is perhaps the hardest bit to accomplish. We

need to unpack the necessary kinds of knowledge, skills, and dispositions

for teachers to be able to enact designs with high fidelity. Furthermore,

we need to understand the social infrastructure dimensions that enable or

hinder the proposed epistemological shift (Bielaczyc, 2006). Part of what

this entails will reveal itself only during the enactment of particular

designs, and we need persistent, iterative design research experiments

that accumulate, over time, a comprehensive body of knowledge on

building teacher capacity to enact the kinds of designs that not only

engender learning about mathematics but also provide opportunities to

students to learn to be like mathematicians.

4 Conclusion

The 2009 inaugural yearbook on mathematical problem solving by the

AME of Singapore provides an excellent opportunity to reflect upon

future directions for research. In this chapter, I have put forth the

following arguments:

Mathematical Problem Solving 270

i. That to learn mathematics involves not only learning about

mathematical concepts and ideas but also learning to be like a

mathematician (diSessa & Sherin, 2000; Thomas & Brown, 2007);

ii. That learning about mathematics foregrounds a pedagogical concern

that has largely formed the focus of much research and practice, and

continues to do so. In contrast, learning to be like a mathematician

foregrounds an epistemological concern that has been much

neglected even though learning about and learning to be are

inextricably dialectical;

iii. That the imbalance between the pedagogical over epistemological

concerns requires that we move beyond pedagogy to address the

epistemological concerns as well; and

iv. That addressing the epistemological concerns would warrant a focus

on three essential but by no means exhaustive research thrusts: a)

understanding children’s inventive and constructive resources, b)

designing formal and informal learning environments to build upon

these resources, and c) developing teacher capacity to drive and

support such change.

It is worth noting that these arguments are not new, but they remain

sufficiently neglected to warrant their exposition here. In so doing, I

hope to have derived implications for mathematics education research

and practice, and laid out what I believe to be some of the critical areas

and issues that the AME yearbooks could focus on in the years to come.

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Foregrounding Epistemological Concerns 271

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272

Contributing Authors

Lillie R. ALBERT is an Associate Professor at Boston College Lynch

School of Education. The recipient of a Ph. D. from the University of

Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, her research focuses on the impact of the

sociocultural historic contexts within which mathematical learning and

development occur. Dr. Albert’s research explores the relationship

between the cognitive act of teaching and learning mathematics and

the use of cultural and communicative tools to develop conceptual

understanding of mathematics. Her empirical work, to date, involves case

studies and interpretive analyses that explain the relationship between

cognitive processes and mathematical understanding of skills and

concepts. She has published her research in leading national and

international journals in her field and presented papers at major research

conferences nationally and abroad. Dr. Albert is an active member of

the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the American

Educational Research Association (AERA). She is an editorial reviewer

for Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, and American

Education Research. Several awards have recognized Dr. Albert’s

professional work for mentoring students and beginning researchers.

Most recently, Dr. Albert received the AERA Publications’ Outstanding

Reviewers Award in 2007.

ANG Keng Cheng is currently an Associate Professor of Mathematics

at the National Institute of Education (NIE), Nanyang Technological

University (NTU). His primary interest in research encompasses

mathematical modelling in various biological and medical settings, as

well as numerical methods for partial differential equations. He is the

Contributing Authors 273

author of several papers on modelling of blood flow through arterial

structures and has appeared in journals in biomedical engineering,

computers and simulation, engineering science and medicine. He has

served as a reviewer in various international journals including the

Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) journal and is

one of the executive editors for the electronic Journal of Mathematics

and Technology (eJMT). In addition, he has also published a number of

papers in international mathematics education journals such as Teaching

Mathematics and Its Applications (TMA) and the international Journal of

Mathematical Education in Science and Technology (iJMEST).

Christopher T. BOWEN is a former Undergraduate Research Fellow,

receiving his undergraduate degree from Boston College in 2008 with a

double major in Mathematics and Secondary Education. He holds a

Massachusetts teaching license for Mathematics Grades 8-12. Currently,

he is pursuing a Master’s degree in Boston College Sociology

Department, focusing on applied statistics and quantitative research. In

addition to his mathematics background, he has volunteered and worked

closely with Boston Public School high school students in various

capacities–as a mentor and instructor.

Sarah M. DAVIS is a faculty researcher at the Singapore Learning

Sciences Lab and an Assistant Professor in the Learning Sciences and

Technology Academic Group at the National Institute of Education

(NIE), an institute of Nanyang Technological University. Dr. Davis

received her undergraduate degree in communications from Concordia

University and her masters and doctorate in mathematics education from

the University of Texas at Austin. Between her undergraduate work and

beginning her doctorate, she was a classroom teacher for 6 years, having

taught regular, special education and gifted mathematics at both the

middle school and high school levels. In addition to teaching

mathematics, Dr. Davis also taught one year of regular education third

grade. More recently she’s had years of experience introducing and

supporting near-term innovation in schools, substantial background

working with teachers in both pre-service and in-service settings across

the US and Singapore. Her research uses a new, wireless, networked

Mathematical Problem Solving 274

classroom technology aimed at transforming the classroom as a dynamic

learning environment. Dr. Davis’ interests are unified by a long-term

goal of having generative activities facilitated by classroom networks

give more students’ a greater understanding of algebraic concepts.

Dindyal JAGUTHSING holds a PhD in mathematics education and is

currently an Assistant Professor at the National Institute of Education in

Singapore. He teaches mathematics education courses at both the

primary and secondary levels to pre-service and in-service school

teachers. His interests include geometry and proofs, algebraic thinking,

international studies and the mathematics curriculum.

Robyn JORGENSEN (ZEVENBERGEN) is Professor of Education

and Director of the Griffith Institute for Educational Research. She is

currently Chair of the Queensland Studies Authority Mathematics

Syllabus Advisory Committee and is a member of the STEM Ministerial

Advisory Committee. She has worked extensively in the area of equity

and mathematics education with her work focusing predominantly on

working-class students; students living in rural and remote areas; and

Indigenous students. Her work focuses on pedagogy as a means to

engage learners from across the lifespan and across a wide range of

learning contexts in the learning of mathematics. She has an extensive

publication record and a recipient of 8 ARC projects.

Manu KAPUR is an Assistant Professor in the Learning Sciences and

Technology (LST) Academic Group and a researcher at the Learning

Sciences Lab (LSL) at the National Institute of Education (NIE) of

Singapore. He received his doctorate in instructional technology and

media from Teachers College, Columbia University in New York where

he also completed a Master of Science in Applied Statistics. He also has

a Master of Education from the NIE and a Bachelor of Mechanical

Engineering (Honors) from the National University of Singapore. His

research takes a complexity-grounded perspective to study the ontology

of individual and collective cognition. He conceptualized the notion of

productive failure and used it to explore the hidden efficacies in the

seemingly failed effort of small groups solving ill-structured problems

Contributing Authors 275

collaboratively in an online environment. His current research extends

this line of work across the modalities of classroom settings in Singapore.

Berinderjeet KAUR is an Associate Professor of Mathematics

Education at the National Institute of Education in Singapore. She has a

PhD in Mathematics Education from Monash University in Australia, a

Master of Education from the University of Nottingham in UK and a

Bachelor of Science from the University of Singapore. She began her

career as a secondary school mathematics teacher. She taught in

secondary schools for 8 years before joining the National Institute

of Education in 1988. Since then, she has been actively involved in

the education of mathematics teachers, and heads of mathematics

departments. Her primary research interests are in the area of

classroom pedagogy of mathematics teachers and comparative studies in

mathematics education. She has been involved in numerous international

studies of Mathematics Education. As the President of the Association of

Mathematics Educators from 2004-2010, she has also been actively

involved in the Professional Development of Mathematics Teachers in

Singapore and is the founding chairperson of the Mathematics Teachers

Conferences that started in 2005. On Singapore’s 41

st

National Day in

2006 she was awarded the Public Administration Medal by the President

of Singapore.

Judith MOUSLEY is an Associate Professor. She taught in pre-school,

primary and secondary schools for fifteen years before joining Deakin

University. She teaches mathematics education and educational research

courses in the School of Education’s undergraduate and postgraduate

programs. She researches the nature of mathematical understanding, and

mathematical learning in childhood. Her numerous publications include

edited books, chapters, research reports, journal articles, videotapes, CDs

and DVDs. Judy has been President of the Australian Mathematical

Sciences Council and the Mathematics Education Lecturers Association,

Vice President of PME and the Federation of Australian Scientific and

Technological Societies. Judy is currently President of the Mathematics

Education Research Group of Australasia (MERGA).

Mathematical Problem Solving 276

Yoshinori SHIMIZU is an Associate Professor of Mathematics

Education at University of Tsukuba, Japan. His primary reseach interests

include international comparative study on mathematics classrooms and

assessment of students learning in mathematics. He was a consultant of

1995 TIMSS Videotape Classroom Study and is currently the Japanese

team leader of the Learner’s Perspective Study (LPS), a sixteen countries

comparative study on mathematics classrooms. He has been a member of

Mathematics Expert Group (MEG) for OECD/PISA since 2001. He is

also a member of the Committee for National Assessment of Students’

Academic Achievements in Japan.

Peter SULLIVAN is Professor of Science, Mathematics and

Technology at Monash Universtiy, Australia. He is a member of the

Australian Research Council College of Experts, is editor of the Journal

of Mathematics Teacher Education, and is the author of the framing

paper for the forthcoming National Mathematics Curriculum in Australia.

His main research interests are in classroom practices and mathematics

tasks.

Jessica TANSEY is a former Undergraduate Research Fellow, receiving

her undergraduate degree from Boston College in 2006 with a major in

English and a Masters in Secondary English Education from Boston

College in 2007. She holds a Massachusetts teaching license for English

in grades 8-12. Currently, she is a Program Associate for the nonprofit

organization Summer Search. As a Program Associate, she provides

year-round mentoring, college advising, and summer experiences to high

school students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Additionally, she

is interested in holistic approaches to students’ academic achievement

and personal growth that emphasizes the connections between students

and their community.

TOH Tin Lam is an Assistant Professor with the Mathematics and

Mathematics Education Academic Group, National Institute of Education,

Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He obtained his PhD in

Mathematics (Henstock-stochastic integral) from the National University

of Singapore. Dr Toh continues to do research in mathematics as well as

Contributing Authors 277

in mathematics education. He has papers published in international

scientific journals in both areas. Dr Toh has taught in junior college in

Singapore and was head of the mathematics department at the junior

college level before he joined the National Institute of Education.

Catherine P. VISTRO-YU is a Professor at the Mathematics

Department, School of Science and Engineering, at the Ateneo de Manila

University, Philippines. She teaches mathematics and mathematics

education courses to both undergraduate and graduate students. Her

research focus in mathematics education is teacher education but she also

engages in curriculum development, children’s learning of mathematics,

and social justice and equity as applied to mathematics education. She

was president of the Philippine Council of Mathematics Teacher

Educators from 2004-2008. Her international exposure, first through the

SouthEast Asian Conference on Mathematics Education (SEACME) then

later through the East Asian Regional Conference on Mathematics

Education (EACOME) and the International Congress on Mathematical

Education (ICME) provided the network for collaborative work with

colleagues from the Asia-Pacific region, such as Associate Professor

Berinderjeet Kaur, Associate Professor Peter Howard, and Professor

Kathryn Irwin. Professor Vistro-Yu was an invited facilitator for a

workshop on problem solving at the Mathematics Teacher Conference

2008 in Singapore.

YEAP Ban Har is an Assistant Professor in Mathematics and

Mathematics Education Academic Group at National Institute of

Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He teaches

pre-service courses in mathematics education as well as in-service

courses in mathematical problem solving and lesson study. He also

teaches a graduate course on research in mathematical problem solving.

Ban Har is the author of Problem Solving in the Mathematics Classroom

(Primary), a publication by the Association of Mathematics Educators.

YEO Boon Wooi Joseph (M. Ed.) is a lecturer with the Mathematics

and Mathematics Education Academic Group, National Institute of

Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He has a First

Mathematical Problem Solving 278

Class Honours in Mathematics and a Distinction for his Postgraduate

Diploma in Education. He has taught students from both government and

independent schools for nine years and is currently teaching pre-service

and in-service teachers. His interests include mathematical investigation,

solving non-routine mathematical problems and puzzles, playing

mathematical and logical games, alternative assessment, and the use

of interesting stories, songs, video clips, comics, real-life examples and

applications, and interactive computer software to engage students.

YEO Kai Kow Joseph is an Assistant Professor in the Mathematics

and Mathematics Education Academic Group at the National Institute

of Education, Nanyang Technological University. Presently, he is

involved in training pre-service and in-service mathematics teachers

at primary and secondary levels and has also conducted numerous

professional development courses for teachers in Singapore. Before

joining the National Institute of Education, he held the post of Vice

Principal and Head of Mathematics Department in secondary schools.

He has given numerous presentations at conferences held in the region as

well as in various parts of the world. His publications appear in regional

and international journals. He was part of the team at the Research and

Evaluation Branch in the Singapore’s Ministry of Education between

1998 and 2000. His research interests include mathematical problem

solving in the primary and secondary levels, mathematics pedagogical

content knowledge of teachers, mathematics teaching in primary schools

and mathematics anxiety.

MTHEMTICAL

PROBLEM SOLVING

Yearbook 2009

Association of Mathematics Educators

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MATHEMATICAL

PROBLEM SOLVING

Yearbook 2009

Editors

Association of Mathematics Educators

**Berinderjeet Kaur • Yeap Ban Har • Manu Kapur
**

National Institute of Education, Singapore

World Scientific

NEW JERSEY

•

LONDON

•

SINGAPORE

•

BEIJING

•

SHANGHAI

•

HONG KONG

•

TA I P E I

•

CHENNAI

Published by World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd. 5 Toh Tuck Link, Singapore 596224 USA office: 27 Warren Street, Suite 401-402, Hackensack, NJ 07601 UK office: 57 Shelton Street, Covent Garden, London WC2H 9HE

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Cover photo from Princess Elizabeth Primary School, Singapore (2008).

MATHEMATICAL PROBLEM SOLVING Yearbook 2009, Association of Mathematics Educators Copyright © 2009 by World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without written permission from the Publisher.

For photocopying of material in this volume, please pay a copying fee through the Copyright Clearance Center, Inc., 222 Rosewood Drive, Danvers, MA 01923, USA. In this case permission to photocopy is not required from the publisher.

ISBN-13 ISBN-10 ISBN-13 ISBN-10

978-981-4277-20-4 981-4277-20-7 978-981-4277-21-1 (pbk) 981-4277-21-5 (pbk)

Printed in Singapore.

Contents Part I Chapter 1 Introduction Mathematical Problem Solving in Singapore Schools Berinderjeet KAUR YEAP Ban Har 1 3 Part II Chapter 2 The Processes and Pedagogies Tasks and Pedagogies that Facilitate Mathematical Problem Solving Peter SULLIVAN Judith MOUSLEY Robyn JORGENSEN (ZEVENBERGEN) Learning through Productive Failure in Mathematical Problem Solving Manu KAPUR Note Taking as Deliberate Pedagogy: Scaffolding Problem Solving Learning Lillie R. ALBERT Christopher BOWEN Jessica TANSEY 15 17 Chapter 3 43 Chapter 4 69 v .

VISTRO-YU Chapter 11 Mathematical Problems for the Secondary Classroom Jaguthsing DINDYAL Chapter 12 Integrating Open-Ended Problems in the Lower Secondary Mathematics Lesson YEO Kai Kow Joseph 208 226 . DAVIS Mathematical Modelling and Real Life Problem Solving ANG Keng Cheng 89 Chapter 6 102 Chapter 7 117 Chapter 8 136 Chapter 9 159 Part III Mathematical Problems and Tasks 183 185 Chapter 10 Using Innovation Techniques to Generate ‘New’ Problems Catherine P.vi Mathematical Problem Solving Chapter 5 Japanese Approach to Teaching Mathematics via Problem Solving Yoshinori SHIMIZU Mathematical Problem Posing in Singapore Primary Schools YEAP Ban Har Solving Mathematical Problems by Investigation YEO Boon Wooi Joseph YEAP Ban Har Generative Activities in Singapore (GenSing): Pedagogy and Practice in Mathematics Classrooms Sarah M.

Contents

vii

Chapter 13 Arousing Students’ Curiosity and Mathematical Problem Solving TOH Tin Lam

241

Part IV

Future Directions

263 265

Chapter 14 Moving beyond the Pedagogy of Mathematics: Foregrounding Epistemological Concerns Manu KAPUR

Contributing Authors

272

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Part I Introduction

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Chapter 1

**Mathematical Problem Solving in Singapore Schools
**

Berinderjeet KAUR YEAP Ban Har

This opening chapter provides a view of the development of mathematical problem solving in Singapore schools. From a research and curriculum development perspective, this chapter shows how research and development elsewhere had impacted upon the emergence and subsequent development of mathematical problem solving in Singapore schools. From a pedagogical perspective, the chapter shows the range of problem-solving processes students engage in, the variety of pedagogy options available to teachers and the array of tasks that can bring the processes and pedagogy together. From an assessment perspective, the chapter suggests how tasks used in national examinations have a direct influence on the implementation of a problem-solving curriculum. From an economic perspective, this chapter argues that an effective implementation of a problem-solving curriculum equips students with the necessary competencies for a knowledge-based economy.

1 Introduction In 1992 mathematical problem solving was made the primary goal of the school mathematics curriculum in Singapore. Since then, though the curriculum has been revised twice, in 2001 and 2007, mathematical problem solving has remained its primary goal. Figure 1 shows the mathematics curriculum framework for Singapore schools (Ministry of Education, 2006a, 2006b). The emphasis on mathematical problem

3

1994. Today. mathematical problem solving as a research field has grown and matured to some extent (Lester. Since then. Variables and Methodologies in Research on Problem Solving. outlined key research variables in the field. it is rare to find a mathematics curriculum that does not place emphasis on mathematical problem solving. Lesh & Zawojewski. 2007).4 Mathematical Problem Solving solving was influenced by recommendations in documents such as An Agenda for Action (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. 1980) and the Cockcroft Report (Cockcroft. In particular. This has certainly been the case in Singapore . Kilpatrick’s (1978) classic paper. Figure 1. Framework of the Singapore school mathematics curriculum The seminal doctoral work of Kilpatrick (1967) involving the analysis of solutions of word problems in mathematics at Stanford University and subsequent work by himself and other researchers have established mathematical problem solving as a research field. 1982) from the United States and the United Kingdom respectively.

1990) have stimulated further research into the domain. on mathematical problem solving in Singapore has indicated that our knowledge on problem-solving approaches and tasks used in the classroom. by Foong (2009). 1995) and teachers (Foong. thus.Mathematical Problem Solving in Singapore Schools 5 (Foong. 2009). It is. Lester (1983) describes a mathematical problem as a task that a person or a group of persons want or need to find a solution for and for which they do not have a readily accessible procedure that guarantees or completely determines the solution. Kaur and Lim-Teo (1991) found that research in mathematics education in Singapore. Open-ended problems were not common. A recent review of research. In a state-of-the art review in the early 1990s. This book showcases several research findings and theories translated into classroom practice. in particular. and problem solving. Since then. 1993). significant work had been done. and students’ problem-solving behaviours have grown. Foong. in general. How does the mathematics textbooks used in Singapore encourage problem solving? Ng (2002) found that the majority of the problems in the primary textbooks were word problems that are closed and routine. teachers’ beliefs and practices. 2 Mathematical Problem Solving Mathematical problem solving occurs when a task provides some blockage (Kroll & Miller. Fan and Zhu (2000) found that while the lower secondary textbooks provided students with a strong foundation in problem solving. Khoo. It is important that such rich research findings find their way into the classrooms. more open-ended problems as well as authentic real-life problems could be included. to be in its state of infancy. Kaur (1995) investigated the strategies used by middle school students in solving non-routine problems and clarified the relationship between students’ ability to perform particular mathematical procedures and their ability to solve problems. Chong. Foong (1990) investigated the problem-solving processes used by pre-service teachers in solving non-routine problems. Early studies in mathematical problem solving on students (Kaur. timely that several chapters in this book attempts to broaden the conception of what .

Yeap Ban Har described the processes in mathematical problem posing to show its relationship to mathematical problem solving. Fan & Zhu.6 Mathematical Problem Solving it means to engage in mathematical problem solving. The chapter by Yeo Boon Wooi and Yeap Ban Har clarifies the relationship between mathematical problem solving and mathematical investigation. Foong (2002) has found that teachers in Singapore tend to adopt the teaching for problem solving approach where the emphasis is learning mathematics content for the purpose of applying them to a wide range of situations. In the chapter by Manu Kapur. Christopher Bowen and Jessica Tansey describes note taking as a pedagogical tool to develop mathematical problem solving. this finding. 2000) and classroom instruction is mostly teacher-led (Ho. in particular. 2002. The chapter by Yoshinori Shimizu provides an insider’s perspective to the findings from an international study about the way mathematics lessons are conducted in typical Japanese classrooms and describes a typical mathematics lesson in Japan that is best described as structured problem solving. Ho’s (2007) case studies of four primary-level teachers confirmed. and provided more information for. in general. it is necessary for teachers to explore alternative pedagogies for mathematical problem-solving instruction. The chapter by Yeo Kai Kow describes the importance of open-ended problems in lower secondary levels. The chapter by Ang Keng Cheng helps readers understand the role of mathematical modeling in real-world mathematical problem solving. In the chapter by . 3 Pedagogy and Practice in Mathematical Problem Solving Textbook analysis studies and classroom studies have shown that the vast majority of textbook tasks are well-structured tasks (Ng. it is interesting to note that the use of ill-structured problems as well as students experiencing productive failure resulted in students performing significantly better in problemsolving tasks. The chapter by Lillie Albert. 2007). and of problem-solving instruction. With the call for a wider repertoire of teaching methods.

The chapter by Peter Sullivan. 2006b). how mathematical problem posing was used in several primary-level classes in Singapore is described. The problem in Figure 3 was from the tenth grade national examination (General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level Examination). The chapter by Ang Keng Cheng also emphasizes the central role of technology in mathematical modeling processes. Chua (2001) described the processes of social construction of mathematical ideas as students solved problems in pairs in a computermediated environment. open-ended and realworld problems (Ministry of Education. .Mathematical Problem Solving in Singapore Schools 7 Yeap Ban Har. These chapters show how teachers in Singapore and elsewhere used pedagogy that departs from typical well-structured tasks and teacher-led classroom instruction. 2006a. With advances in information and communication technology. it is not possible to avoid the impact of technology on mathematical problem solving. including non-routine. Figures 2. Such pedagogical practices provide readers with a repertoire of instructional models to teach mathematical problem solving in their own classrooms. show problems that students had to solve in the national examinations of recent years. 3 and 4. The problem in Figure 4 was from the twelfth grade national examination (General Certificate of Education Advanced Level Examination). The problem in Figure 2 was from the sixth grade national examination (Primary School Leaving Examination). Judith Mousley and Robyn Jorgensen provides research-based teacher actions that can facilitate mathematical problem solving. In this book. Each of the problems was novel in that it was the only time a task of that type was posed in the respective examinations. 4 Mathematical Problem-Solving Tasks The Singapore mathematics curriculum defines problems to include a wide range of situations. the chapter by Sarah Davis shows the immense potential of a technology-supported classroom pedagogy that requires students to work together.

8 Mathematical Problem Solving Table 1 1 9 17 25 33 41 49 2 10 18 26 34 42 50 3 11 19 27 35 43 51 4 12 20 28 36 44 52 5 13 21 29 37 45 53 6 14 22 30 38 46 54 7 15 23 31 39 47 55 8 16 24 32 40 48 56 Table 1 consists of numbers from 1 to 56. 2009) . (a) Kay puts the frame on 9 squares as shown in the figure below. Kay and Lin are given a plastic frame that covers exactly 9 squares of Table 1 with the centre square darkened. 3 11 19 20 4 5 13 21 What is the average of the 8 numbers that can be seen in the frame? (b) Lin puts the frame on some other 9 squares. Figure 2. A problem from the grade six national examination (Singapore Examination and Assessment Board. What is the largest number that can be seen in the frame. The sum of the 8 numbers that can be seen in the frame is 272.

20 0. 2008) Given that test items in Singapore’s national examinations comprises of some problems.05 Lee Lian 1. Figure 4.65 13. calculate the total amount that Lee Lian paid. it is a challenge for teachers to generate such novel tasks for their students to attempt during instruction. The chapter by Dindyal Jaguthsing describes problems for secondary levelstudents and the processes students engage in when attempting them.50 Assuming that. Given that the spider catches the fly.55 8. A problem from the grade 12 national examination (Singapore Examination and Assessment Board. A problem from the grade 10 national examination (Ministry of Education. 2007) Four friends buy three different kinds of fruit in the market. where k is a constant. but three of them can remember the total amount that they each paid. Figure 3.25 0. The chapter by Toh Tin Lam shows tasks that have the ability to spark the curiosity in students. Yeo Kai Kow presents open-ended tasks that require students to delve into their conceptual understanding. sets off across the surface with a velocity of (-5i + kj) cm s-1. for each variety of fruit. calculate the value of k. at the point with position vector (85i + 5j) cm. At the instant the fly starts crawling.28 Fandi 1. a spider.Mathematical Problem Solving in Singapore Schools 9 A fly. F.45 0.90 0.30 0. starts at a point with position vector (i + 12j) cm and crawls across the surface with a velocity of (3i + 2j) cm s-1. S. Suresh Pineapple (kg) Mangoes (kg) Lychees (kg) Total amount paid in $ 1. The weights of fruit and the total amounts paid are shown in the following table.15 0. Catherine Vistro-Yu shows how a familiar task can be systematically transform to .15 0. the price per kilogram paid by each of the three friends is the same. When they get home they cannot remember the individual prices per kilogram.30 6.84 Cindy 2.60 0.

e. The use of a set of related problems as well as centering lessons around good problems give students opportunities to have prolonged and deep engagement with the tasks. It is the aim of this book to provide readers with a range of ideas on how this can happen in the mathematics classroom. some of which are novel.5. 6 Concluding Remarks It has been 17 years since mathematical problem solving was introduced as the primary aim of learning mathematics in Singapore schools. 5 Mathematical Problem Solving and the Education System in Singapore The vision of the Ministry of Education in Singapore is Moulding the Future of the Nation i. Ministry of Education. two of which are Thinking School. TSLN aims to develop good thinking through school subjects. Learning Nation (TSLN) and Teach Less. a shift in the emphasis of mathematics teaching and learning from acquisition of skills to “development and improvement of a person’s intellectual competence” (p. In the chapter by Yoshinori Shimizu readers are able to see how good lessons can be constructed around carefully-selected problems. Thus. education is perceived as critical to the survival of the country. It is no wonder that the Ministry of Education has over the years introduced a slew of initiatives.10 Mathematical Problem Solving generate a set of related tasks. TLLM encourages teachers to reduce the content taught via direct teaching but instead engage students in meaningful activities so that they use knowledge to solve problems and whilst solving problems extend their knowledge through inquiry. Mathematics and other school subjects are platforms for students to develop a set of competencies that hold them in good stead to function well in the type of economy that Singapore engages in. While . Learn More (TLLM). makes it necessary for mathematics education to make mathematical problem solving and its instruction its focus. 2006a). This technique is useful to Singapore teachers who often need to design worksheets comprising of a set of problems for students to consolidate their mathematical problem-solving ability.

Mathematical Problem Solving in Singapore Schools 11 many teachers are now familiar with the notion of mathematical problem solving as well as various problem-solving heuristics used during problem solving. The annual conference is very well attended by mathematics teachers in Singapore with an increasing number of foreign teachers joining the event each year. it is timely to step back and examine what it means to learn mathematics. Chapter 14 by Manu Kapur aims to do precisely this. There are several chapters in this book that provide the alternate perspectives that acquisition of basics is not mutually exclusive with the development of mathematical problemsolving ability. By drawing on the folk categories of “learning about” a discipline and “learning to be” a member of the discipline (Thomas & Brown. To this end. 2007). Given that teachers are already familiar with the notion of mathematical problem solving. Several chapters in this book arose out of the keynote lectures and workshops conducted during the annual Mathematics Teachers Conference of 2008 which was jointly organized by the Association of Mathematics Educators in Singapore and the Mathematics and Mathematics Academic Group at the National Institute of Education in Singapore. Kapur proposes a move beyond the pedagogy of mathematics to include the epistemology of mathematics. he puts forth three essential research thrusts: a) understanding children’s inventive and constructive resources. the challenge of balancing between developing fluent basic skills and problem-solving ability remains. and in the process. Some teachers may perceive these as mutually exclusive. The yearbook. of which this is the first in the series. . derive implications for mathematics education research and practice as well as some of the critical issues that the AME yearbooks could focus on in the coming years. b) designing formal and informal learning environments to build upon these resources. Such a treatment of mathematical problem solving is done with a purpose of bring mathematical problem-solving instruction to the next level. and c) developing teacher capacity to drive and support such change. provides multiple perspectives to a selected aspect of mathematics education – mathematical problem solving.

Review of Educational Research. W. Y. Problem solving in mathematics. Y. Lester. G. Mathematics counts: Report of the committee of inquiry into the teaching of mathematics in primary and secondary schools in England and Wales. 229-261). Unpublished doctoral dissertation. (2009). F. 15-31. P. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company. The Mathematics Educator. (1991). FL: Academic Press. Kaur. Foong. Problem solving in Singapore secondary mathematics textbooks. Second handbook on research on mathematics teaching and learning (pp. P. Foong & S. Wong.). Foong. Insights from research on mathematical problem solving in the middle grades. Kilpatrick. Y. B. K. (2001). R. 117-141. Australia. Ng (Eds). An investigation of children’s knowledge and strategies in mathematical problem solving. . Enactment of Singapore’s mathematical problem-solving curriculum in Primary 5 classrooms: Case studies of four teachers’ practices. Singapore. & Lim-Teo. P. Problem solving and modeling. Y. S. Foong. B. Nanyang Technological University. In L. In F. Nanyang Technological University. H. Kilpatrick. Variables and methodologies in research on problem solving. 6(2). 523-534. Monash University. F. L. Research ideas for the classroom: Middle grades mathematics (pp. S. (1993). Cockcroft. B.12 Mathematical Problem Solving References Chong. Lester (Ed. A. Orlando. Mathematical problem solving: Papers from a research workshop (pp. T. L. K. 5(1/2). (1983). K. Mathematics education: The Singapore journey (pp. & Zhu. Y. (1990). Singapore: Institute of Education. & Zawojewski. Columbus. Owens (Ed. Landau (Eds. Hatfield & D. P. L. Roles of problems to enhance pedagogical practices in the Singapore classrooms. Monash University. 58-77). Kroll. Lesh. NC: Information Age Publishing and National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (1978). OH: ERIC/SMEAC. F. In K. Ho. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. J. In D. (2007). Unpublished dissertation. J. Acquisition of mathematical concepts and processes (pp. H. (2007). Trends and issues in mathematical problem-solving research. & Miller. T. Foong. Chua. Lee. (1967). J. P.). London: HMSO. Khoo. (1982). Kaur. H. P. A qualitative case study on the social construction of ideas in mathematical problem solving. Kaur.. In R. 763-804). 39. A state-ofthe-art review of mathematics education in Singapore. Charlotte. T. P.). Y. Y. Fan. Singapore: World Scientific. K. Lesh & M. 263-300). K. Singapore. Review of research on mathematical problem solving in Singapore. (1995). The Mathematics Educator. (2002).). D.. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. A metacognitive heuristic approach to mathematical problem solving. Australia. Y... Bradfard (Eds. 7-20). (2007).

Singapore: Curriculum Planning and Development Division. (2008). (2007). GCE ‘A’ level-H2 mathematics examination questions classified topic by topic. (1994). Journal for Research in Mathematics Education. Ministry of Education. 25(6). Mathematics syllabus: Secondary. Past Year Examination Questions 1996-2006: Additional Mathematics. K. Thomas. 2(2). Singapore: Dyna Publishers. Mathematics syllabus: Primary. & Brown. S. VA: Author. J. (2007). (2002). L. Singapore. Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board. Singapore: Educational Publishing House. PSLE Examination Questions 2004-2008: Mathematics. (2006b). Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board. Ng. Reston. Nanyang Technological University. Unpublished MEd dissertation. Musings about mathematical problem-solving research: 1970-1994. Singapore: Dyna Publishers. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (1980). 149-172. Games and Culture. F. (2009). Singapore: Curriculum Planning and Development Division. Ministry of Education. Polya’s model and heuristics. 660-675. (2006a). Ministry of Education. E. D. . Representation of problem solving in Singaporean primary mathematics textbooks with respect to types. An agenda for action.Mathematical Problem Solving in Singapore Schools 13 Lester. The play of imagination: Extending the literary mind.

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Part II The Processes and Pedagogies .

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capable of 17 . ways of differentiating tasks. the nature of teaching heterogeneous groups. Australia or anywhere else. The model has a positive effect on the learning of most students. 1 Introduction In considering the nature of the curriculum and the pedagogies that are necessary to prepare students. for the development of society. the sequencing of the tasks. Specific teachers actions were identified in order to address the needs of the students we are most keen to support. for the demands of the future. The report provides important insights into the implementation of the theoretically founded model and the responses of students. We found that the model can be used for planning and teaching and for encouraging problem solving. those experiencing difficulties.Chapter 2 Tasks and Pedagogies that Facilitate Mathematical Problem Solving Peter SULLIVAN Judith MOUSLEY Robyn JORGENSEN This is a report from one aspect of a project seeking to identify teacher actions that support mathematical problem solving. The first is the need not only for adequate numbers of mathematics specialists operating at best international levels. and particular pedagogies. whether in Singapore. and to ensure international competitiveness two needs must be addressed. The project developed a planning and teaching model that describes the type of classroom tasks that can facilitate mathematical problem solving. We report here one teacher’s implementation of the model using a unit of work that he planned and taught.

and interpret and analyse mathematical information. It is difficult to identify unequivocal research results that can assist teachers in doing this in their everyday complex and multidimensional classrooms. and the associated teacher actions that support the use of such tasks. and the making of cognitive connections. organisation and climate. thinking. and the key media for pedagogical interaction between teacher and students is the tasks in which the students engage. with rapid revolutions in technology and both global and local social challenges. which essentially needs they must have experience in creating mathematics for themselves and in solving unfamiliar problems. Clearly it is not enough for students to become proficient in mathematical procedures. social scientists. An economy competing globally requires substantial numbers of proficient workers able to learn. Like anything else. 2 Assumptions About Problem Solving and Classroom Activity Our research is based on assumptions about posing problems and tasks. interpersonal interactions and relationships. and planners. 2001) which extends the work of Vygotsky . including the need for teachers to challenge all students while offering support for students experiencing difficulty. Nevertheless we argue that an important component of understanding teaching and improving learning is to identify the types of tasks that prompt engagement. but also for mathematically expert professionals such as engineers. students can be taught to do this. This is the essence of teaching problem solving. adapt. scientists. family expectations. The challenge for mathematics teachers is to foster mathematical learning. We acknowledge the importance of factors such as classroom resources.18 Mathematical Problem Solving generating the next level of knowledge and invention. We draw on a socio-cultural perspective (Lerman. and organisation of schools. social and cultural contexts. economists. The second need is for the workforce to be appropriately educated in mathematics to contribute productively in an ever changing global economy. student motivation and their sense of their futures. including addressing the needs of individual learners. create. they also need to use their mathematics in unfamiliar situations and to apply knowledge from one context to other contexts.

and the open approach (e.g. A key aspect of the notion of the ZPD as it applies to teaching is that it defines the work of the individual or class as going beyond tasks or problems that students can solve independently. 1997). problematising. for example. Nohda & Emori. communicating.g. so that the students are working on challenges for which they need support. in this case open-ended tasks. Another key aspect of ZPD is that it provides a metaphor for the support that teachers can offer to students experiencing difficulty.g. for example. Wiliam. 1998). It has been shown that opening up tasks can engage students in productive . Essentially.g.Tasks and Pedagogies that Facilitate Mathematical Problem Solving 19 including his (1978) zone of proximal development (ZPD) which he described as the “distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined by problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers” (p.. and coming to understand—as distinct from merely recalling—procedures. as distinct from. There is a substantial support for this assumption. those exploring problem posing by students (e. Examples of researchers who have found that tasks or problems that have many possible solutions contribute to such learning include those working on investigations (e. those using problem fields (e. 1997). In other words. generalising. grouping students together and having a group undertake quite different work. provide a way of mediating the learning between the student and mathematics. we suggest that the type of problems posed by teachers. 3 Fostering Problem Solving by Posing Open-Ended Tasks Within our approach.. the teacher’s task is to pose to the class problems that most students are not yet able to do. We argue that adult guidance or peer collaboration might be offered to such students through adapting the task on which they are working. Pehkonen. creating. we assume that operating on open-ended tasks can support mathematics learning by fostering operations such as investigating. 86).. 1997).. Leung. in most classes there will be some students who are not already at the level of independent problem solving for this particular problem. the teacher poses problems that are challenges for all students. If.

and how fast might it be travelling? What are some functions that have a turning point at (1. seek patterns and connections. . 1999). make decisions. communicate. and encourage pupils to investigate. You are one of those people. Who are the other three? A ladder reaches 10 metres up a wall.2)? Find two objects with the same mass but different volumes. what might be the area? Draw as many different triangles as you can with an area of six square units. 1995). discuss. The tasks used as the basis of our research are an important contribution to this field in that. How long might be the ladder. and what angle might it make with the wall? A train takes 1 minute to go past a signal. enhance motivation through increasing the students’ sense of control (Middleton. generalise. How long might the train be. 1986). 1999). Open-ended tasks have been shown to be generally more accessible than closed examples.20 Mathematical Problem Solving exploration (Christiansen & Walther. Well-designed openended tasks also create opportunities for extension of mathematical operations and dimensions of thinking. and identify alternatives (Sullivan. 4 Content-Specific Open-Ended Mathematical Tasks The nature of content specific open-ended tasks can best be illustrated by some examples: If the perimeter of a rectangle is 24 cm. We describe them as content-specific open-ended tasks. since students can explore a range of options as well as considering forms of generalised response. in that students who experience difficulty with traditional closed and abstracted questions can approach such tasks in their own ways (see Sullivan. as well as incorporating the important positive characteristics of the above approaches they also have a specific focus on aspects of the mathematics curriculum. (Drawn on squared paper) The mean height of four people in this room is 155 cm.

and others may apply or develop a generalised algebraic approach using a formula and graphs. while others may satisfy themselves by exploring further combinations and perhaps discovering and employing patterns.1 The tasks and their sequence As discussed above. key concepts like constant and variable.Tasks and Pedagogies that Facilitate Mathematical Problem Solving 21 Such tasks are content-specific in that they address the type of mathematical operations that form the basis of textbooks and the conventional mathematics curriculum. 5 Mathematical Problem Solving and our Planning and Teaching Model We argue that teaching experiences designed to support mathematical problem solving need five key elements that can be summarised as follows. there is potential for thoughtful questioning by the teacher to draw students into new levels of engagement and learning. The tasks foster many of the aspects of problem solving. Class discussion about the range of approaches used and range of solutions found can lead to an appreciation of their variety and relative efficiencies. 5. Teachers can include these as part of their teaching without jeopardising students’ performance on subsequent internal or external mathematics assessments. Some students might use trial and error to seek a variety of arithmetically derived solutions. but they also need to be effectively incorporated in a sequential development of learning. In each open-ended task there is considerable choice in relation to operations: different strategies and solution types are possible. When all students can contribute to such discussions in their own ways. This relates closely to what Simon (1995) described as a hypothetical learning trajectory that . open-ended tasks create opportunities for mathematical problem solving. and the power of some mathematical methods as well as the thinking that underpins these.

& Zevenbergen. This can be seen in the thinking and planning that preceded my instructional interventions … as well as the spontaneous decisions that I make in response to students’ thinking.22 Mathematical Problem Solving … provides the teacher with a rationale for choosing a particular instructional design. the size of the number. and increase in successful completion of the teaching and learning activities focusing on mathematical problems (see Sullivan. 5. During our research. thus. or (b) pursue goals substantially different from the rest of the class. I (as a teacher) make my design decisions based on my best guess of how learning might proceed. The use of enabling prompts has generally resulted in students experiencing difficulties being able to start (or restart) work at their own level of understanding and enabled them to overcome barriers met at specific stages of the solving of the problems. as evidenced by time on task. participation in discussions. 2006). the use of sequenced open-ended tasks has improved students’ engagement. This approach is derived from the work of Ginsburg (1997). 135–136) Simon (1995) noted that such a trajectory is made up of three components: the learning goal that determines the desired direction of teaching and learning. and Griffin and Case (1997). . and then if successful can proceed with the original task. such as the form of representation. “a prediction of how the students’ thinking and understanding will evolve in the context of the learning activities” (p. or the number of steps. This approach can be contrasted with the more common requirement that such students (a) listen to additional explanations. and a hypothetical cognitive process. the activities to be undertaken by the teacher and students. 136). These prompts can involve slightly lowering an aspect of the task demand.2 Enabling prompts Teachers offer enabling prompts to allow students experiencing difficulty to engage in active experiences related to the initial problem. Mousley. so that a student experiencing difficult can proceed at that new level. (pp.

through different methods of teaching and different backgrounds of experience. generalisable understandings.5 Learning community A deliberate intention is that all students progress through learning experiences in ways that allow them to feel part of the class community and contribute to it. groups of students receive different messages about the overt and the hidden curriculum of schools. These include ways of working and reasons for these. and modes of communication that impact on approaches to learning. As Bernstein (1996) noted. types of responses valued.Tasks and Pedagogies that Facilitate Mathematical Problem Solving 23 5. We have found that making expectations explicit enables a wide range of students to work purposefully. views about legitimacy of knowledge produced. We have listed a range of particular strategies that teachers can use to make implicit pedagogies more explicit and so address aspects of possible disadvantage of particular groups (Sullivan et al.4 Explicit pedagogies Teachers make explicit for all students the usual practices. To this end. and responsibilities of individual learners. organisational routines. we propose that all students will benefit from participation in at least some core problems that can form the basis of common discussions and shared .3 Extending prompts Teachers pose prompts that extend the thinking of students who solve the problems readily in ways that do not make them feel that they are merely getting more of the same (see Association of Teachers of Mathematics. 5. 5. including being able to participate in reviews and summative class discussions about the work. 1988). 2006). Extending prompts have proved effective in keeping higher-achieving students profitably engaged and supporting their development of higherlevel.. and to appreciate better the purpose of mathematical problems that are posed. Students who complete the planned tasks quickly are posed supplementary tasks or questions that extend their thinking and activity.

reported below. They designed a pre-test. 6 The Next Phase of the Research The data reported below are from analysis of a sequence of lessons created and taught by one of our project teachers. and (c) evaluate the impact of the model and tasks on the learning of the students. The research. we sought to (a) examine whether teachers can use the planning and teaching model to create and teach mathematical learning experiences based on a problem solving approach. each of these five teachers planned a unit of work on a topic of their choice. based on the planning and teaching model described above. and to evaluate the impact of its implementation on student learning and problem solving. as well as a common basis for any following lessons and assessment items on the same topic. While a larger number of teachers were involved in our research overall. both social and mathematical.24 Mathematical Problem Solving experience. there were five teachers who participated in all phases of the research and the associated professional development. We have found that the use of tasks and prompts that support the participation of all students has resulted in classroom interactions that have a sense of learning community (Brown & Renshaw. 2006). and a sequence of activities and associated tasks to achieve their overall . In the research phase being reported in this article. and this teacher’s approach to teaching of subtraction using a problem solving orientation. with wide-ranging participation in leaning activities as well as group and whole-class discussions. The five teachers clearly had a strong commitment to their own professional development in that there were no incentives for their participation. a post-test. (b) find out whether the model contributes to the goal of creating inclusive experiences. especially those experiencing difficulty. is about the implementation of this teaching and planning model in a class. Essentially the goal of this stage of the research was to find out whether the model is feasible in classroom contexts. For this stage of the research.

considering less detailed reports of a larger number of teachers. he was seen to be representative of the group and how they approached their teaching. While he was highly professional. Mr Smith (not his real name). .Tasks and Pedagogies that Facilitate Mathematical Problem Solving 25 learning goals — usually determined by curriculum documents provided by State authorities. we seek to describe their responses to specific open-ended tasks as well as some opportunities for learning. and they were interviewed after the lessons. Generally. The following data are from the teaching of one of these teachers. This is a representative period. Mr Smith was similar to the other teachers in most respects. This gives new insights into the ways students respond to this type of tasks. Indeed the examples he created are somewhat mundane. each planning unit covered an extended sequence of up to eight lessons. The intention for this detailed examination of one teacher’s adaptation of the planning model is to offer a report on what is possible in terms of the objects of mathematical learning. and are illustrative of the elements of the project and the teaching overall. use extracts from the observation notes to verify incorporation of the elements of the above model. The teachers kept written records. A trained observer observed two lessons for each teacher. By focussing on nine students who represent a range of abilities and outcomes. We focus here on a two-week period where Mr Smith used a variety of open-ended tasks that he created. We describe here the overall intent of his teaching. especially when interacting with his class. he was not chosen because of any outstanding personal or professional characteristics. The observer or teachers collected samples of students’ work. such as the number of enabling prompts posed. the tasks and the operations. rather than. the activity. Her observations included both a count of specific aspects of the planning model. for example.and posttest results. but they do create opportunities for students to make choices about their approach and to seek patterns. and not one where the teaching and learning was outstanding in any way. and had an engaging personality. and consider the students’ pre. as well as a concurrent naturalistic summary being written. Rather.

three key questions from both the pre-test and matching post-test were selected to allow comparison of the students’ skill development. double-digit problems with trading.1 Pre. . The test had some open-ended items. serving a community with both middle class and low SES families. though. Looking more closely at assessing students’ progress with single/double digit problems (no trading). Therefore. 6. and use of numbers above 1000.1 Mr Smith’s context and goals Mr Smith taught a Grade 6 class in a regional primary school.26 Mathematical Problem Solving All project teachers considered early drafts of this report. from 100 and from 1000 subtraction problems with trading. the skill development of the students can be better determined by examining responses to the following assessment items. The unit of work he developed focused on the topic of subtraction and was taught over two weeks for approximately one hour each day. Mr Smith affirmed the report and the student descriptions as being accurate representations of his experience. such as “How many subtraction equations can you make using these numbers? Show examples”. Mr Smith gave the following as a summary of the activity: Further developing understanding of subtraction and the processes involved. In actuality. and they verified that the report represents fairly the students’ experience in their own class as well as their own experience of teaching. However.1. and some students added these operations spontaneously. 6. the tasks the children worked on included subtraction of decimals as well as whole numbers.and post-test results The particular focus of this chapter is on whether the open-ended approach also developed the fluency and accuracy of students at subtraction tasks.

headed “Missing Numbers”. When they arrived home the odometer read 40142. The symbols √ and × are used to represent “Correct” and “Incorrect” respectively. . Table 1 presents the profile of responses of students who completed both the pre-test and the post–test. What might the reading have been before the trip began? Question 10. even though these were possible.296 The question was scored as correct only if all four answers were correct.6 km.and Post-test Responses for 3 Subtraction Questions (n = 20) Pre × Post × Question 6 Question 8 Question 10 4 13 10 Pre √ Post × 2 2 2 Pre × Post √ 1 1 3 Pre √ Post √ 13 4 5 From inspection. Question 8 was “The Jones family completed a trip around Australia of 1389 km. the easiest example being . was set out like 5 ∋ 2 – ∋ ∋ 4 = 68. it does not appear that the two-week unit had much impact on the students’ ability to complete such tasks. There was no specific prompt nor were multiple responses sought explicitly. set 533 Out vertically. there were also some students for whom the reverse was the case. Table 1 Comparison of Pre. and even though there were some students who could do them in the post-test but not in the pre-test.Tasks and Pedagogies that Facilitate Mathematical Problem Solving 27 Question 6 consisted of 4 conventional subtraction items. Most of the group were competent at skill exercises (Question 6) even at the start. and the unit did not have much impact on the students who could not complete the exercises by the end of the 2 weeks. Questions 8 and 10 were multiple step tasks requiring more than procedural fluency.

This is a clear illustration of the explicit pedagogies in the model above. Mr Smith then engaged individually with the students. In reply Mr Smith suggested that it didn’t matter in what order they wrote their answers and they could use any strategy or system if they wished. Once the class was set to work. before attending to questions from the students.28 Mathematical Problem Solving 6. to the multiplicity of possible responses.1.) To introduce the task. Some discussion followed between a few students and Mr Smith as to the limit of whole-number answers available for the first example. the following was the first of the open-ended tasks to be described in the observer’s notes: Subtracting from 100.2 Nature of the teaching To illustrate the form of the teaching. He then asked the students to write down some of the possible answers. in that Mr Smith drew the students’ attention to what he considered important (use of personal strategies). Mr Smith had written the following on the board: What might the answer be? 10 50 200 5000 10000 - - - - - The observer recorded the beginning of the lesson as follows: Mr Smith directed the students to focus on the first problem on the board and to think what the answer could be. … (This is termed Task A. 1000. and to their role in choosing the nature of the responses. Some clarifying questions from the students followed. offering encouragement and using enabling prompts as described in the model above. relating to possible numbers of . The observer recorded how he included prompts that were subtly challenging. It is the explicit mentioning of these aspects of the students’ approach to the tasks that we see as essential. below.

Does anyone else need a calculator?” Students asked Mr Smith how many examples they needed to do. well done!” [referring to the numbers of responses] “Yes. What might the answer be? Nine…. the potential use of fractions and negative numbers. does the answer need to be a whole number? . if you haven’t got them in.. yes. and reminding him to do maths first before resuming his drawing activity. but some of his comments did suggest a challenge. The observer wrote: Mr Smith positively acknowledged students’ queries and attempts: “Nine.” Mr Smith noted John’s “lovely system”. . the possibility of creating a generalised system. using a calculator. However. “I don’t like carrying figures!” Mr Smith: “Sorry Buddy. No it doesn’t have to be …” “Are you going to leave it as a decimal or a fraction?” He continued to assist around the room: “Kyal. everyone else three!” Students were quietly engaged in this activity while Mr Smith coached students as needed. you’re looking puzzled. well done. Mr Smith kept assisting students around the room.” Mr Smith re-focussed a boy at the front table by coaching him. “For you fifteen. “How many?” Mr Smith replied humorously. The task itself was graduated and so specific task variations were not necessary. and the use of technology. he continued to make his expectations of the class and of individuals explicit.Tasks and Pedagogies that Facilitate Mathematical Problem Solving 29 responses.. One student said. I’ll say you’ve cheated. Such responses directed students’ attention to elements of the task and helped to maintain their engagement. as well as proposing variations that could assist students experiencing difficulty. “Alec. What could you put there? … Minus one. there could be ten …” “Good question. use my calculator. and in reply to another student’s query he suggested that “a system” would make the task “nice and easy to follow”.

30 Mathematical Problem Solving The responses illustrate the conjecture that it is the task that provides the basis for the interactions between teacher and students. As intended. all students participated in the various stages of the lesson. audible to the whole class. Another strategy that assisted this aim. and all were able to contribute to each of the discussion periods as well as a significant closure activity about general principles that . exemplifying one way of building a learning community. Mr Smith’s comments. To one student he said. “Can you do one without zeros?” A query from another. as well as in building a sense of community. These were not only teaching opportunities but also a chance to develop some common understandings that could be used as a basis for the next stage of the lesson. As a result. the use of a zero to assist place value separation. Students suggested that there would be “heaps and heaps” of possible answers. Students were then asked to look at the second example on the board. “Can we have a 5 digit answer?” Discussion followed about possibilities of finishing up with a decimal or a negative number. For example. The earlier discussion about having 9 or 10 possible answers was again in dispute. was his use of short reviews that were conducted after each phase of the lesson. particular characteristics of the examples were highlighted and discussed. as illustrated in the following record by the observer: Mr Smith continued monitoring students’ work. the observer recorded: Three students were then chosen to write one of their answers to the first example on the board. even those interactions that are about building personal relationships. gave enough prompts to get them thinking and working along similar lines. at the end of the first phase. Mr Smith also used extending prompts. the need for careful spacing to denote place value. and the need to use the minus sign.

3 Analysis of students’ responses to various tasks To allow consideration of the impact of learning on individual students. she identified 7 enabling prompts. In the case of this lesson. Becky) were termed the “achievers”. some giving more that 70 possibilities altogether... 10 – 1 = 9). All students gave multiple responses to the tasks. 200 – 199 = 111). there were many instances of the class operating as a learning community. 5000 – 3000 = 2000).1.. Three students who were incorrect on the each of each of questions 6. Josh gave more than 15 responses. most simple (e. The particular responses of the “stragglers” were as follows: Jenni gave more than 20 responses. The responses made by these groups of students to particular open-ended learning tasks are described in the following. as did many of the others observed. and Jeremy) were termed the “competent group”. and Eric) were identified and termed by us as the “stragglers”. most of which were simple (e. 6. 5 extending prompts. Sheryl. . In other words. this lesson. John. incorporated many examples of the features of the elements of teaching proposed in the model above.Tasks and Pedagogies that Facilitate Mathematical Problem Solving 31 could be inferred from the activity. In other words.. and 5 occasions in which the teacher’s intent was described as “building learning communities”.g. 2 instances of explicit pedagogies. Task A: Subtracting from 100. The illustrative examples presented below were given by the particular groups of students. the students’ written work was later examined. The observer also attempted to quantify the lesson elements in each observation. she got them incorrect (e. Where she attempted difficult exercises. all correct.g.. but question 8 and 10 incorrect on both tests (Elaine.g.. The intention of this analysis was to allow detailed and comparative examination of selected students’ responses to the assessments. and 3 students who completed all 3 questions correctly on both tests (Diane. 8. 3 students who scored question 6 correct. and to the class based tasks. 1000. Ellen. 10 (Jenni.

10000 – 4996 = 5004). 200 – 103 = 97. 3193. 50 – 24 = 26. not all students reaped the benefits as the “stragglers” either gave responses that would not have allowed opportunity for skill practice.32 Mathematical Problem Solving Eric gave 6 responses.. In some cases these were more complex (e. (Becky missed this class. 26. The responses of the “achievers” were as follows: Diane gave more than 70 responses. with many requiring exchanging before calculating a response.g. 982. 200 – 170 = 30).. The students were invited to create— . The open-ended nature of the task and extending prompts not only created opportunities to practise their skills. all correct. The students were give a sheet divided into four parts. 50 – 21 = 28). However.. others were simple. 200 – 64 = 136. The implications of this for teaching and for the model are described below.g.5 = 5. create the question. 4 were simple.5). The responses of the “competent” group were as follows: Elaine gave more than 20 responses: some were substantial (such as e. 10000 – 2962 = 7038). and this group used the open-ended nature of the task as well as the teacher’s prompts to choose at least some examples that extended themselves. at least at the level of the test items.g. but also to extended their understanding of subtraction. Sheryl also gave more than 20 responses. Ellen gave 40 responses. the following are three other open-ended tasks used as part of the unit. with a number in each part (respectively..g.g.) In other words.g. To give a sense of some of the other lessons and tasks used by Mr Smith and the responses of these students. but the rest were simple. Jeremy gave more than 20 responses: some simple but others more complex (e.. The task and pedagogy also allowed the “competent” group to demonstrate competence in a range of skills and understandings. and 2 were more difficult but incorrect (e. 5. 10 – 4. it seems that the “achievers” chose examples that extended their thinking. 50 – 15 = 35. with most being substantial (e..78). all correct. Task B: Given the difference. some decimals (e. 10000 – 9635 = 365). and may have even reinforced some misconceptions.

with no errors. many substantial (e. once again.20 – 3. 5. 3205 – 12 = 3193. most trivial (e.0 = 5.g. 990 – 8). and gave similar responses to Jenni for the decimal part. Responses of the “competent” group were. all correct with the exception of the decimals task in which the responses were also similar to Jenni’s... and so on) Josh gave 23 responses.16). Responses of the “stragglers” for this task were: Jenni gave more than 20 responses.g. 2000 – 1018). 200 – 174 = 26. most non trivial.79 – 1 = 5.g. Jeremy gave a substantial number of correct responses to each of the tasks (e.g.g. 7. some non trivial (e.78. some substantial (e. with no errors.42).g. and extended thinking. some substantial (e. 1000 – 18 = 982.. 5.. mixed: Elaine gave more than 20 responses.80 – 2 = 5.g. 9. Ellen gave 23 responses. It was clear that this group benefited once more from the open-ended challenge of the task and the teacher’s extending prompts: Diane gave 18 responses..94 – 2. the use of generalisable patterns. .. using a pattern of responses with whole numbers mostly correctly (e. 4000 – 907 = 3193.g..78. Becky gave 15 responses. 333 – 307).. with most students giving more than 20 different possibilities. with no errors..78). 6. All were correct. Responses of the “achievers” again demonstrated creative solutions.78 – 1. all students in the class gave multiple responses. Eric gave 9 responses. Her response to the third task was simple and her responses to the decimal task were incorrect like Jenni’s. but extended the patterns to decimal numbers incorrectly (e. 200 – 174. Once more.g. In the first two tasks she used trading even when not necessary (e. 3206 – 13 = 3193). although he did not attempt the decimal task. 3197 – 4).Tasks and Pedagogies that Facilitate Mathematical Problem Solving 33 and to write in that part of the paper—subtraction questions that gave that number as the answer. generally simple. Sheryl also had greater than 20 responses.

and not beyond. Of the “stragglers”: Jenni gave more than 40 responses.g.g. 11 – 5.g. The observer and the teacher both noted a strong sense of participation and community in this lesson.78.22 = 5. To the first part. This suggests that the 9 focus students are fairly representative of the spread of responses overall. Jenni’s misconception was common. generally non trivial. and at least gave them practice at the appropriate skill and conceptual level. and to the second she used a pattern (e. not only for the higher-achieving students. all were able to participate in the whole class discussions and describe their reasoning well when asked to explain correct examples. Josh gave 5 responses to the first part.. the task had two parts: “What subtraction problems would give an answer (i) between 40 and 50. It was notable that the “achievers” and the “competent” students chose examples that extended their thinking on subtraction. We have noted many incidents throughout the research where relatively open-ended questions allowed teachers to see where individuals and groups of students had a misunderstanding that needed whole-class attention. and (ii) around 57?” All students in the class gave multiple responses to the first part of this task. and in some cases were reinforcing misconceptions. In this lesson. With this task. However. 10 – 4. and none to the second task.. and we propose a variation as is discussed below. 70 – 13.78). 71 – 14. This is a key challenge for the model. and so on). 49 – 2). for example.22 = 5. she such gave responses such as 100 – 52. and most gave multiple responses to the second part. The “stragglers” proved more likely to choose examples within their level of competence. Task C: Giving an answer in a range.34 Mathematical Problem Solving Of the class overall. . and 7 students whose responses that could be categorised as insightful and building on patterns (e. 8 students who were predominantly correct but generally used simple examples and sometimes possibly reinforced misconceptions. so Mr Smith could determine where more didactic teaching would be required. all of which were simple (e.. there were 9 students who gave multiple incorrect responses.

g. in particular. Some responses to the first task were simple (e.g. although below the complexity of the Question 6 items. 222 – 165 = 57). 70. 62 – 14 = 48.15. Sheryl gave multiple responses most of which were substantial (e.2 – 4. However. 246 – 189 = 57). while the rest were more complex (e. the class was progressing well. . participating in the lesson’s review stage. Of the “competent” group: Elaine gave more than 15 responses. Note that for the “stragglers” and “competent” group. all substantial (e. but not by much. and close to the complexity of the tasks implied by Question 10..14 = 42.g.29 – 28. 350 – 293 = 57). Of the “achievers”: Diane gave more than 15 responses. Other than Jenni and Josh. 209 – 152 = 57).1 = 46. 56 – 7 = 49. 48 – 4 = 44). The observer noted that there was an atmosphere of communal learning with the “stragglers”. all of these students gave substantial responses to parts of the task. It seems that Eric (a “straggler”) as well as all the “competent” students and the “achievers” were working at the level of the items in Question 6. This is discussed further below.g. All students participated well throughout the lesson and their work showed evidence of attention to Mr Smith’s subtle prompts and challenges. most substantial (e. 50.g.1.g. 100 – 56 = 44) and likewise for some to the second task (e. the responses were generally less sophisticated than required by Questions 8 and 10 on the tests. Ellen gave 14 responses. It would be reasonable to assume from observation alone that the open-ended classroom tasks were successful in promoting both physical and conceptual engagement throughout the lesson period.. it seemed that Jenni also did some productive work.. Jeremy also had most responses correct.g... 100 – 43 = 57). most of which were substantial (e.Tasks and Pedagogies that Facilitate Mathematical Problem Solving 35 Eric gave 10 responses: some to the first part were substantial (e... All responses were correct. 249 – 192 = 57) to the respective tasks. most of which were substantial such as 235 – 185 = 50 and 626 – 569 = 57. Becky had more than 14 responses..g.

100 – 21 = 89). Jenni. this is an excellent task for both school students and student teachers in that it invites them to consider some common subtraction computational errors. look at the signs and start concentrating. she gave correct but relatively simplistic advice that did not recognize the pattern of errors evident in the responses. Ellen were absent for this class. both Josh and Eric correctly scored the responses appropriately as either correct or incorrect respectively. that Jeremy was able to respond to. The responses of the class overall indicated that it was a successful lesson. and take your time”. The latter were set out like: 467 –2 9 8 331 Mr Smith asked the class to work out which were correct and which were not. and noticed the patterns in the responses. In her advice she said. . was more substantial than the questions posed on the test. and the nature of possible advice. and also five calculations presented vertically that also had also had some correct and some incorrect answers.36 Mathematical Problem Solving Task D: What’s wrong: Simulating correction of subtraction questions. saying that he expected the students to think of a range of possible causes for the errors. Elaine provided corrected responses to the incorrect examples. and to advise him on how to avoid the errors in the future. but gave relatively superficial advice indicating that they had not identified any patterns of errors. It would seem that the challenge of this classroom task. Diane. “Mr Smith you need to carry and you have to stop adding instead of taking. In our view. don’t rush. Mr Smith demonstrated explicit pedagogy by being specific about the task. Sheryl also corrected her examples well. In terms of the “stragglers”.g.. Mr Smith told the class that he had completed five subtraction exercises which he wrote on the board horizontally (e. with some correct and some incorrect. For the “competent” group. As it happens. providing thoughtful advice. Jeremy corrected the examples appropriately.

indicating some improvement. All students seemed to demonstrate competence and fluency with the calculations. so it was not surprising that they did not improve on question 6 on the post-test. In fact.and posttests (3 digit subtraction with trading). While doing respectable work in class and engaging at all stages of the lessons. but he did not demonstrate greater skill or understanding on the test Elaine and Sheryl were clearly working at the level of Question 6. both in class and on the tests. Josh achieved respectively on the three test . and the best students and some of the competent group showed deeper insight and evidence of error analysis. On the four parts of question 6. Becky offered detailed and sophisticated advice. given the apparent success of these learning experiences. it would have been anticipated that there would be more improvement shown on the posttest. Jeremy did well and we could have anticipated improvement. and then one day later in a worksheet format. In summarising the performance of the students overall. indicating that she recognised the patterns of errors and could articulate the patterns and erroneous thinking involved. with only these three questions. 8 and 10 about 4 months after the teaching of the unit-firstly in a test format. and we would not have anticipated that they would correctly answer 8 and 10. All three “achievers” coped well with the tasks and achieved well in the tests.4 The delayed post test To examine further the possibly that growth did occur as a result of using open-ended questions and aspects of the pedagogical model. but over a longer period than the unit. Eric showed improvement in class and we might have anticipated improvement in his scores. the class was presented again with Questions 6. Jenni and Josh were able to participate in all of the tasks but reinforced some misconceptions at times.1. The “stragglers” Josh and Eric scored all of Question 6 correct on the worksheet but not on the test. but not beyond. they did not reach the standard required by question 6 of the pre. 6.Tasks and Pedagogies that Facilitate Mathematical Problem Solving 37 For the “achievers”.

whether it contributed to the goal of creating inclusive experiences. This report is of one teacher’s implementation of the model. and Jeremy improved to the level of the “achievers” on the post-test. and also got Question 10 correct on the worksheet. 7 Summary and Conclusion The intention of the research was to examine whether the planning and teaching model. which used a problem solving approach based on content specific open-ended tasks. reported that there has been no explicit teaching of subtraction in the intervening period. Jenni had Questions 6 and 8 correct on both the delayed post test and the worksheet. and the impact on the learning of his students. is feasible and effective in classroom contexts. All the students improved. In the “competent” group. 2 out of 4 correct.38 Mathematical Problem Solving administrations. The achievers demonstrated competent performance overall. it is possible that the nature of the experiences in the subtraction unit created sufficient awareness of the conceptual possibilities and skill development to support the potential for further growth to continue after the teaching period. Jeremy got all three questions correct in both forms. Sheryl answered Question 6 correctly as previously on both the delayed post test and the worksheet. Diane and Ellen got all three questions correct in both forms of delayed assessment. Elaine also got Question 6 correct again on both original tests. It should be noted that the lessons . 3 out of 4 correct. and then 3 out of 4 correct. 2 out of 4 correct. and 3 out of 4 correct. and what is the nature of the learning of the students. The overall longer-term improvement is of interest because the teacher. Becky was absent for the delayed post-test and worksheet. Thus in Jenni’s case the improvement was substantial. Even though it is not possible to identify the impetus for the improvement in the skill levels of these students. She had earlier got 0 out of 4 correct (for question 6) in both the pre-test and post-test. Mr Smith. Eric showed further development with respective figures of 0 out of 4 correct. then was correct on both test and worksheet for Question 10. especially those experiencing difficulty.

It was clear that less capable students needed closer attention from the teacher but at least they were able to participate fully in the lessons.Tasks and Pedagogies that Facilitate Mathematical Problem Solving 39 were those created by the teacher for a unit of work with a focus on subtraction as curriculum content. the lesson descriptions illustrate specific features of the model being implemented. Mr Smith’s use of the model was fairly typical of that of the other project teachers. However. However. In this case. in the lessons reported. it is clearly necessary for teachers using such tasks to monitor the work of students experiencing difficulties to ensure that they are extending their current levels of competence and understanding. but were interested in the responses of students to the mathematics tasks. we did not seek data on socioeconomic background or other factors. to provide teaching or enabling prompts in order to support such students as required. and also to ensure that they are not merely reinforcing misconceptions by . They responded well to explicit instructions and were all able to commence the tasks then listen to. and it was clear that they remained productively engaged. to contribute to discussions. The focus of our interest in our project overall was on students experiencing difficulties. or even carefully sequenced. and possibly benefit from. The more capable students created some examples that were much more difficult than those they would have faced with traditional textbook tasks. In terms of the goal of creating inclusive experiences for the wide range of student capabilities that one finds in mathematics classrooms. and enjoyed the challenge as well as some subtle competition and interesting discoveries. and there were similar responses from selected groups of target students in other classrooms. The more capable students generally reacted positively to the challenge of open-ended tasks and further opportunities for problem solving were stimulated by extending prompts offered by the teacher. and while they contained some useful open-ended tasks we do not claim that they are exemplary. and to use and explain strategies that were meaningful to them. enabling prompts offered by the teacher. both physically and cognitively. competent students increased their mathematical proficiency and managed to progress their own learning through undertaking the subtraction tasks. especially those from particular equity groups.

We also recorded evidence of the learning by the students of particular skills. we examined whether teachers. We also explored the nature of constraints experienced. The “stragglers” did not extend themselves in relation to skill development. could use the model. We note that the open-ended tasks that Mr Smith developed were less challenging that the ones used by other project teachers. It is possible . because it appears that teachers generally are reluctant to experiment with alternate strategies because of potential threats to the skill learning of students. while there was limited improvement during the course of the unit of work.and post-test items did not fully illustrate the students’ mathematical development. extending prompts for students who complete the initial task readily. including the one reported on above.40 Mathematical Problem Solving practising incorrect procedures. “It takes time to come to grips with the range of strategies”. This report indicates that it was possible for the teacher to plan and teach a unit of work based around content specific open-ended questions that engaged the students in mathematical experiences. although as Mr Smith reported. In fact. Generally. and in this case. and supplementary. there was substantial improvement after the end of the teaching of Mr Smith’s unit of work — and this was also experienced in several other classrooms. enabling prompts to allow those experiencing difficulty to engage in the class work. All of the teachers reported that the students were willing to take the necessary risks. and utilising prompts as appropriate. We noted that merely examining differences between matching pre. the teachers reported that they were comfortable using each of the aspects of the model in planning lessons and conducting them. This point will be incorporated into our model of planning and teaching. which is contrary to the Dweck (2000) hypothesis. incorporating the use of a sequence of open-ended tasks that could create opportunities for personal constructive activity by students. In terms of the planning and teaching model. but teachers reported none and few were obvious to observers. and in any case were likely to allow more opportunities for problem solving than would comparable closed text book exercises. building students’ skills from their current levels. but we stress that these tasks were his creation. the better students seemed willing to take the most risk.

Somewhat connected is the possibility that either the original time lapse of two weeks or the test itself did not allow the measurement of growth. In P. (2006). S. research. Re-thinking the primary school with curriculum: An approach based on cognitive science. P. S. Cultural. discursive psychology: A socio-cultural approach to studying the teaching and learning of mathematics. B..Tasks and Pedagogies that Facilitate Mathematical Problem Solving 41 that this improvement may have been a result of awareness that was created through the use of challenging open-ended tasks. In other words. Journal of Learning Disabilities. & Case. 30(1). Otte (Eds. Transforming practice: Using collective argumentation to bring about change in a year 7 mathematics classroom. A study of intrinsic motivation in the mathematics classroom: A personal construct approach. G. R. R. The nature of classroom assessment of skill learning may also require further investigation. London: Taylor & Francis. (1995). Journal for Research in Mathematics Education. G. Lerman. On the open-ended nature of mathematical problem solving. 99–107). Use of open-ended problems in mathematics classrooms (pp. A. Derby. References Association of Teachers of Mathematics (1988). Mathematical learning disabilities: A view for developmental psychology. Chinnapan (Eds. Christiansen. Pedagogy. (1986).. Issues in Education.).). symbolic control. In E. (1997). Christiansen. (1997). Helsinki: Department of Teacher Education. & Renshaw. Self theories: Their role in motivation. & M. Grootenboer. Perspectives on Mathematics Education (pp. J. 87–113. . (1996). Education Studies in Mathematics. H. Zevenbergen. A. S. S. Dweck. and identity: Theory. (1998). & Walther. 26–35).. (2001). 20–33. P. Question 6 may not have been complex enough to detect smaller amounts of growth by the “stragglers” and Questions 8 and 10 might have been too much of a leap for the “competent” group. critique. This is a question worthy of further exploration.). 254–279. University of Helsinki. Philadelphia: Psychology Press. Reflections on teacher intervention. Pehkonen (Ed. Howson. Dordrecht: Reidel. Task and activity. Middleton. Leung. In B. UK: ATM. 3(1). Canberra: MERGA. Ginsburg. 243–307). (2000). personality. R. 1–49. S. 46(1–3). Proceedings of the 29th Conference of the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia (pp. & M. B. C. 26(3). Brown. Bernstein. and development. Griffin.

73–84). (1997).).). R. Reconstructing mathematics pedagogy from a constructivist perspective. cultures and learning spaces. Helsinki: Department of Teacher Education. University of Helsinki. Use of problem fields as a method for educational change. Communication and negotiation through open approach method.. & Emori. D. Seeking a rationale for particular classroom tasks and activities. Sullivan. (1997). Sullivan. Truran & K.). J. MA: Harvard University Press. P. Proceedings of the 21st annual conference of the Mathematics Educational Research Group of Australasia (pp. In P. . Mind in society. & Zevenbergen. Open beginnings and open ends.. 114–145. Grootenboer. Adelaide: MERGA. In J. V. Making the difference. Pehkonen (Ed. Zevenbergen & M. Pehkonen (Ed. (1978). (1999). Wiliam. M. Mousley.). H. 63–72). Vygotsky. 15–29). (1998).. Truran (Eds. Helsinki: Department of Teacher Education. N. In E.42 Mathematical Problem Solving Nohda. (2006). In E. Unpublished manuscript. (1995). Use of open-ended problems in mathematics classrooms (pp. E. Cambridge. proceedings of the 29th annual conference of the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia (pp. Pehkonen. N. P. Simon. Chinnappan (Eds. Identities. 26. 496–503). Journal for Research in Mathematics Education. Use of open-ended problems in mathematics classrooms (pp. M. University of Helsinki. R. Sydney: MERGA. Developing guidelines for teachers helping students experiencing difficulty in learning mathematics.

1 Introduction When and how to design structure in learning and problem-solving activities is a fundamental research and design issue in education and the 43 . Findings and implications of productive failure for mathematics teaching and learning are discussed.Chapter 3 Learning through Productive Failure in Mathematical Problem Solving Manu KAPUR Findings from two quasi-experimental studies on productive failure for a two-week curricular unit on average speed are summarized. Compared with students who experienced scaffolded solving of complex. A second study with 109 year seven students from the same school replicated and extended these findings. students in the productive failure condition demonstrated greater representation flexibility in working with graphical representations. ill-structured problems. illstructured problems in small groups without the provision of any support or scaffolds up until a teacher-led consolidation lecture. students from the productive failure condition significantly outperformed their counterparts from the lecture and practice condition on both the well-structured and higher-order application problems on the post-test. 75 year seven mathematics students from a Singapore school experienced either a traditional lecture and practice teaching cycle or a productive failure cycle. Despite seemingly failing in their collective and individual problemsolving efforts. In the first study. where they solved complex.

1978. Duncan. Schmidt. Thus conceived. a vast body of research supports the efficacy of such an approach. expert help. van Gog.. For example. 2006). & Clark. 1988. whereas the role of failure in learning and problem solving much as it is intuitively compelling remains largely underdetermined and under-researched by comparison (Clifford. 2005.44 Mathematical Problem Solving learning sciences.. & Chinn. Structure can be operationalized in a variety of forms such as structuring the problem itself. 2007. Further support for starting with greater structure in learning and problem solving activities with a gradual reduction (or fading) over time as learners gain expertise comes from other research programs on scaffolding and fading (e. 2004.g. both researchers and practitioners have tended to focus on ways of structuring learning and problemsolving activities so as to achieve performance success. it leads to better schema acquisition and learning (Sweller. By doing so. instructional facilitation. While this belief may well be grounded in empirical evidence. What is perhaps more problematic is that an emphasis on achieving performance success has in turn led to a commonly-held belief that there is little efficacy in novices solving problems without the provision of support structures. Woods et al. 2007). . and so on (e. Sweller. content support. Sweller & Chandler. & Ross. Hmelo-Silver. Vygotsky. provision of tools.g.. the lower the degree of freedom. Kirschner. Puntambekar & Hübscher. Schmidt & Bjork. 1976).. Bruner. structure is designed to constrain or reduce the degrees of freedom in learning and problem solving activities.g. 1984. it is also possible that by engaging novices to persist and even fail at tasks that are beyond their skills and abilities can be a productive exercise in failure. structure increases the likelihood of novices achieving performance success during problem solving. which they might not otherwise be able to in the absence of support structures. the greater the structure (Woods. Hmelo-Silver. This has led some researchers to argue that instruction should be heavily guided especially at the start. 1992). 1991). & Pass. 1976) More often than not therefore. when learners are provided with strong support structures in the form of worked solution examples before problem solving. scaffolding. for without it. Indeed. little if any learning takes place (e. Loyens.

Evidence from expertnovice literature strongly supports the notion that it is the complexity. one is limited by the validity and scope of the measures of performance one adopts (Chatterji. Feltovich. But the conclusion that a lack of success on those measures implies a lack of learning does not logically follow.Learning through Productive Failure in Mathematical Problem Solving 45 2 Arguments Supporting the Case for Productive Failure I present three arguments supporting the abovementioned possibility: Argument from measurement. and so on. Hardiman. 2004). and even fail at solving problems. learner frustration.. Persisting with such a process may engender increasingly high levels of complexity in the exploration of the problem and solution spaces. 1995). even if A (success on performance measures) were to imply B (learning).g. In other words. struggle. & Glaser. In turn. learners may explore. without such a lock-in. notA does not necessarily imply not-B. The process may well be less efficient in the shorter term but it may also allow for learning that is potentially more flexible and adaptive in the longer term. We make use of measures such as tests. to make inferences about students’ learning. 2004). . and interconnectedness of conceptual schemas that differentiate experts from novices (Chi. Argument from past research. density. Several scholars speak to the role of failure in learning and problem solving. Clifford (1979)’s review of theories related to the effect of failure (e. this build-up of complexity may allow for learning that is potentially more flexible and adaptive (Kauffman. 1989). On the other hand. A lack of learning is not a logical necessity that follows from a lack of performance. interviews. such learning may not be sufficiently flexible and adaptive in the longer term. It is also reasonable to argue that external support structures and scaffold may create a lock-in that restricts a fuller exploration of the problem and solution spaces (Reiser. It is one thing to infer learning from observed success on measures of performance. 1981. 2003). Argument from theory. & Mestre. While this lock-in may be effective in constraining the degree of freedom in a task thereby helping learners accomplish the task efficiently. Dufresne. especially when learners are faced with novel problems (Schwartz & Martin.

suggesting a latent productivity in the failure. Findings revealed that ill-structured group discussions were significantly more complex and divergent than those of their well-structured counterparts. Taken together.46 Mathematical Problem Solving attribution and achievement motivation) led her to conclude that “educators who teach by the maxim. Murray. divergent interactional process even though it seemingly led to failure. students from groups that solved illstructured problems outperformed their counterparts from the wellstructured condition in solving the subsequent well. 1984).” at least sometimes maybe doing more harm than good” (pg. and past research give us reason to believe that by delaying structure in the learning and problem-solving activities so as to allow learners to persist in and possibly even fail while solving complex. There is also a growing body of supporting empirical evidence in educational research. theory. I argued that delaying the structure received by students from the illstructured groups (who solved ill-structured problems collaboratively followed by well-structured problems individually) helped them discern how to structure an ill-structured problem. the arguments from measurement. She further postulated that not only is performance success compatible with failure experiences but may at times be ensured by it (Clifford. ill-structured problems without the provision on any external support structures (Kapur. Siler. For example. Kapur & Kinzer. research on impasse-driven learning (Van Lehn. Yamauchi. leading to poor group performance as evidenced by the quality of solutions produced by the groups. 2003) and preparation for future learning (Schwartz & Bransford. all students individually solved well-structured problems followed by ill-structured problems. 2009). ill-structured problems . I asked year eleven student triads from seven high schools in India to solve either illor well-structured physics problems in a synchronous. 1998) provide strong evidence for the role of failure in learning. & Baggett. 2007). thereby facilitating a spontaneous transfer of problem-solving skills (Marton. 2008. computersupported collaborative learning (CSCL) environment.and ill-structured problems individually. My own work on productive failure examined students solving complex. findings also suggested a hidden efficacy in the complex. “Nothing succeeds like success. However. 44). After participating in group problem solving.

Fuller manuscripts detailing both studies have either been published or are currently under review (Kapur. The first study. The goal of this chapter is to describe an on-going. Dickson. In the PF condition.Learning through Productive Failure in Mathematical Problem Solving 47 can be a productive exercise in failure. The second study. The PF cycle—group followed by individual problem solving—was then repeated for the next three periods using another ill-structured problem scenario and its corresponding what-if extension problems.and post-test on average speed. replicated and extended the findings of the first study. classroom-based research program on productive failure in mathematical problem solving at a mainstream. Kapur. All students took a pre. No extra support or scaffolds were provided during the group or individual problem-solving nor was any homework assigned at any stage. student groups (triads) took two periods to work face-to-face on the first ill-structured problem (see Appendix A for an example). For the purposes of this chapter. Both classes participated in the same number of lessons for the targeted unit totaling seven. Two studies have been carried out thus far with successive cohorts of year seven students over the past two years. students took one period to solve two extension problems individually. 3 Exploring Productive Failure in a Singapore Math Classroom The first study was an exploratory study of productive failure targeting the curricular unit on average speed. Kapur. under review. public school in Singapore. Thus. was designed as an exploratory. Seventy five year seven mathematics students from two intact classes taught by the same teacher experienced either a conventional lecture and practice (LP) instructional design or a productive failure (PF) design. carried out with the 2008 cohort. in press. proofof-concept study of productive failure. and focus on the findings and their implications for mathematics teaching and learning. Only during . The extension problems were designed as what-if scenarios that required students to consider the impact of changing one or more parameters in the group ill-structured problem. Following this. 2008). I will summarize the studies’ design and procedures. carried out with the 2007 cohort. the amount of instructional time was held constant for the two conditions. & Toh. 55minute periods over two weeks.

g.. Note that the worked-out examples and practice problems were typically well-structured problems with fully-specified parameters. trial and error) as well as domain-specific (e. While doing so.) and methods—domaingeneral (e. encouraged students to ask questions. average speed) to the class. predictive sets of solution strategies and solution paths. In the LP condition. proportions.g.. Therefore. students practiced three well-structured problems on average speed (see Appendix B for examples). LP students did not experience a delay of structure.. students experienced teacher-led lectures guided by the course workbook. etc. algebraic manipulation)—for solving the problems but were .48 Mathematical Problem Solving the seventh (and last) period was a consolidation lesson held where the teacher got the groups to share their problem representations and solution methods and strategies. and regular practice. students were asked to continue with the workbook problems. practice/homework.1 Findings An in-depth qualitative and quantitative analysis of group discussion transcripts and artifacts revealed that students from the productive failure condition produced a diversity of linked problem representations (e.g. 3. unlike in the PF condition. The goal was to compare and contrast the effectiveness of those representations and solution methods.. proximal feedback. worked through some examples. both in-class and for homework. This cycle of lecture. the teacher explicated the concept of average speed in the context of the problems. following which students solved problems for practice. graphical. prescriptive representations. often leading to a single correct answer (see Appendix B for examples). The teacher then shared the canonical ways of representing and solving the problems with the class. Finally. The teacher then discussed the solutions with the class. proportions. and the consolidation ended with the teacher going through the solutions to these problems. scaffolded solving of well-structured problems.g. and feedback then repeated itself over the course of seven periods. algebraic. they received a high level of structure throughout the instructional cycle in the form of teacher-led lectures. The teacher introduced a concept (e. iconic. For homework.

Learning through Productive Failure in Mathematical Problem Solving 49 ultimately unsuccessful in their efforts. Solving a problem successfully means that groups were able to build on their representations to devise either domain-general and/or domainspecific strategies. 2000. be it in groups or individually. Feltovich. & Coulson. develop a solution. 1981. and support it with quantitative and qualitative arguments (Anderson. 1992).. Spiro. Success rate of groups and individual problem solving in the PF condition . Chi et al. Jacobson. % of Groups Successful/Unsuccessful in solving Group Problems 100% 80% % Unsuccessful % Successful 79 % of groups 60% 40% 20% 0% 89 Problem 1 Problem 2 % of Individuals Successful/Unsuccessful in solving Extension Problems 100% % of individuals 80% 60% 97 40% 20% 0% % Unsuccessful % Successful 80 Problem 1 Problem 2 Figure 1.

Therefore.. Likewise. on conventional measures of performance success. students from the PF condition significantly . analysis of variance of post-test performance between the two conditions revealed (see Figure 2) that despite seemingly failing in their collective and individual problemsolving efforts. Figure 1 shows the percentage of groups and individuals from the PF condition that were successful in solving the group and individual extension problems respectively. The y-axis represents mean score as a percentage of the maximum score on well-structured and higher-order application items. these findings may be considered a failure on the part of the PF students in spite of their persistent attempts at solving the complex. and efficiency. 100-89) and 21% of the groups managed to solve problems 1 and 2 respectively. the success rates for extension problems were also low at only 3% for problem 1 and 20% for problem 2. ill-structured problems. Performance of PF and LP students on well-structured and higher-order application items on the post-test. Expectedly. By statistically controlling for prior knowledge as measure by students’ performance on a pre-test. only 11% (i. The success rates (indicated by the black portion of the bar graph) for groups were evidently low. students also reported low confidence in their solutions.50 Mathematical Problem Solving Mean % Score on Post-test Items 120 100 96 90 64 41 40 20 0 PF LP % Score 80 60 well-structured items higher-order item Figure 2. accuracy.e.

In terms of effect sizes. b.Learning through Productive Failure in Mathematical Problem Solving 51 outperformed their counterparts from the LP condition on both wellstructured and higher-order application problems on the post-tests. 2007). . PF students were on average . This suggested that the productive failure hypothesis held up to empirical evidence even within a relatively short. One could always argue that perhaps students in the PF condition performed better on the post-tests because they had more collaborative activities built into the larger design. The difference on the ill-structured item. Kirschner. which is remarkable given the fact that these were the very kinds of problems that LP students had routinely practiced under strong instructional scaffolds and guidance. on average. Sweller.g. One could also argue that had the PF students been provided with some structure or scaffolds during their problem-solving efforts. By designing more collaborative activities in the LP condition and adding a third condition as described above. The difference on the well-structured items. was expectedly high at 23%. was 6%. it might have resulted in even better learning outcomes than the ones obtained in the first study (e. initial forays result in more questions than answers. two-week intervention. An immediate implication for the second study was to design the LP condition to have a similar emphasis on collaborative activities so as to unpack the effect of collaboration. the second study built on the first study by providing stricter comparison conditions for productive failure. and almost one standard deviation above the LP students on the ill-structured item. Students in this third condition experienced all tasks and activity structures that PF students experienced except that they were provided with instructional structure and scaffolds by the teacher during group and individual problem solving. To address this issue. on average.4 standard deviations above the LP students on the wellstructured items. Two major issues stood out: a. However. & Clark. This is a perfectly valid argument that the first study was not designed to address.. as with any program of research. a third condition was added in the second study.

2005. One hundred and nine. 55-minute periods over two weeks. Thus. 2007. This kind of scaffolding was typically in the form of teacher clarifications. students in the SIPS condition were scaffolded during that process. all students took a pre. question prompts that engender student elaboration and explanations. a quasi-experimental design was used with one class assigned to the ‘Productive Failure’ (PF) condition. The .. Puntambekar & Hübscher. Whereas students in the PF condition did not receive any form of structure or scaffolding during the group or individual problem solving process.. 4. the teacher-led consolidation lesson was the same as in the PF condition. The design of the PF condition was exactly the same as in the first study. ill-structured problems. focusing attention on significant issues or parameters in the problem. After the scaffolded problem solving phase. and mini lectures and whole-class discussions to target one or a few critical aspects of problem solving (Hmelo-Silver et al. 1976). and the third class to the ‘Scaffolded Ill-structured Problem Solving’ (SIPS) condition. Once again. the amount of instructional time was held constant for the three conditions.and post-test on average speed. All three classes participated in the same number of lessons for the targeted unit totaling seven. Schmidt et al. The design of the LP condition was modified to incorporate a roughly equal emphasis on collaborative and individual work. As in the first study. The SIPS condition was designed to be exactly the same as the PF condition with one important exception. year seven students from three intact classes from the 2008 cohort of the same school took part in the second study.1 Findings Figure 3 shows the percentage of groups from the PF and SIPS conditions that were successful in solving the group problems. Woods et al. another to the ‘Lecture and Practice’ (LP) condition. 2007.52 Mathematical Problem Solving 4 Extending Productive Failure in a Singapore Math Classroom The purpose of the second study was to a) replicate and extend the findings of the first study and b) unpack the effects of collaboration and instructional structure and scaffolds during activities that engage students in solving complex..

Figure 4 shows the percentage of students from the PF and SIPS conditions that were successful in solving the individual extension problems. the success rates for SIPS groups were about four to seven times greater.5%. only 17% and 8% of the groups managed to solve problems 1 and 2 respectively. the average success rate was 62. instructional prompts and discussion. In contrast.Learning through Productive Failure in Mathematical Problem Solving 53 success rates (indicated by the black portion of the bar graph) for PF groups were evidently low. SIPS students were given instructional scaffolding by the teacher in the form of representation scaffolds. . Success rate of group problem solving in the PF and SIPS conditions Likewise. 58% and 67% of the groups managed to solve problems 1 and 2 respectively. Thus. which was expectedly higher than that for the PF condition because students were given instructional scaffolding by the teacher in the form of representation scaffolds. because unlike PF students. The success rates for PF groups were again low. the success rates for SIPS groups were about five times greater. 45% and 61% of the groups managed to solve problems 1 and 2 respectively. only 11% and 8% of the PF students managed to solve problems 1 and 2 respectively. The higher group and individual problem solving success rates for SIPS students was not surprising. and problem-solving strategies. % Groups Successful/Unsuccessful in solving Group Problems 100% 80% % Groups 60% 40% 20% 0% Problem 1 PF Problem 2 PF Problem 1 SIPS Problem 2 SIPS 83 % Unsuccessful % Successful 42 92 33 Figure 3. In contrast.

Figure 5 presents the breakdown of post-test performance as a percentage of maximum score on the four types of items. . post-test performance revealed quite a different story. and problem-solving strategies. one higher-order application item. This was further reflected in the finding that self-reported confidence in the solutions reported by SIPS students was on average twice as high as that reported by PF students—an effect size of more than 1. % Individuals Successful/Unsuccessful in solving Extension Problems 100% 80% % Individuals 55 60% 40% 20% 0% Problem 1 PF Problem 2 PF Problem 1 SIPS Problem 2 SIPS 89 92 % Unsuccessful % Successful 39 Figure 4. and two additional items designed to measure representational flexibility.54 Mathematical Problem Solving instructional prompts and discussion.5 standard deviations! Thus. the extent to which students are able to flexibly adapt their understanding of the concepts of average speed to solve problems that involve tabular and graphical representations. the post-test comprised three well-structured problem items similar to those on the pre-test. For the second study. on conventional measures of efficiency. that is. accuracy. Note that the tabular and graphical representations were not targeted during instruction. students in the PF condition seemed to have failed relative to their counterparts in the SIPS and LP conditions. and performance success. Appendix C provides examples of the four types of items on post-test 1. Success rate of individual problem solving in the PF and SIPS conditions As in the first study.

an effect size of 0. The differences between SIPS and LP conditions were not significant. there were no significant differences between the conditions on the tabular representation item. With regard to representational flexibility as measured by performance on the tabular and graphical representation items. This could be because of the relative concreteness of a tabular representation. analysis of variance of post-test performance between the three conditions revealed that students from the PF condition significantly outperformed their counterparts from the LP and SIPS conditions on both the well-structured items (8-11%.6 standard deviations) as well as the higher-order application item (13-18%. students from the PF condition significantly outperformed their counterparts from the SIPS and LP condition by 18- . though students from the SIPS class performed marginally better than those from the LP class on both the types of items.5 standard deviations). Breakdown of post-test 1 performance as a percentage of the maximum score for the four types of items By statistically controlling for prior knowledge as measured by students’ performance on a pre-test. thereby suggesting that the productive failure hypothesis held up to empirical evidence (see Figure 2). an effect size of 0. which may have been easier for students to work with than a more abstract representation. However.Learning through Productive Failure in Mathematical Problem Solving 55 Mean % Score on Post-test Items 100 90 % S co re 80 70 60 60 50 40 well-structured items higher-order item tabular representation item graphical representation item 47 42 89 81 78 74 69 68 74 73 PF SIPS LP 92 Figure 5. on the graphical representation item.

5 standard deviations). The first explanation deals with the notion that perhaps PF students learned how to collaborate with one another over the course of two weeks. More importantly. Learning to collaborate. .1 Explaining productive failure There are three interconnected explanations for productive failure. the very kinds of problems that students in the lecture and practice condition had solved repeatedly under strong instructional guidance and support. the descriptive trend PF > SIPS > LP seemed surprisingly consistent across the different types of items. extending the findings of the first study. ill-structured problem solving condition. 5 General Discussion Findings from both the classroom-based studies summarized in this chapter suggest that despite seemingly failing in their collective and individual problem-solving efforts. However. 5. collaboration alone cannot explain the findings because students in the SIPS and LP condition were also involved in collaboration. so that they could benefit from the collaboration. students from the productive failure condition significantly outperformed their counterparts from the lecture and practice condition on the well-structured as well as higher-order application items on the post-test.56 Mathematical Problem Solving 19% % (an effect size of 1. students from the productive failure condition performed better on both the well-structured and higher-order application items on the post-test. findings of the second study suggest that when compared with students from the scaffolded. a. What is particularly interesting is the fact that students from the productive failure condition outperformed their counterparts in the other condition on the well-structured problems on the post-test. They also demonstrated greater representational flexibility in building upon and adapting what they had learnt to solve problems involving graphical representations—a representation that was not covered during the instructional phase. Overall.

Developing epistemic resources for mathematical problem solving. Chi et al. when the teacher explained the “correct” representations and methods for solving the problem. 1993). the ones they tried. Smith. This notion leverages the distinction between “learning about” a discipline (as in the second explanation (b) above) and “learning to be” like a member of that discipline (Thomas & Brown. Scherr.. Learning the targeted mathematical concept. Schwartz & Bransford. c. 2008). critiquing. even though these efforts were evidently not successful in the shorter term (e. 2007). 2005). 2005. 1981. Perhaps what was happening in the PF condition was that students were seeking to assemble or structure key ideas. Even. and methods when presented in a well-assembled.g. This very process might also explain the representational flexibility demonstrated by students from the PF condition. The second explanation deals with the notion that perhaps PF students learned the mathematical concept of average speed better. To be clear: I am not . 1992). elaborating. structured form during the consolidation lesson (Marton. Kapur. & Redish. The third explanation deals with the notion that perhaps PF students had greater opportunities to learn how to solve mathematics problems. Amit & Fried. representations. explaining to each other.. they perhaps better understood not only why the correct representations and methods work but also why the “incorrect” ones. and methods while attempting to represent and solve the ill-structured problems. Elby. flexibly adapting or inventing new representations and methods when others do not work.. developing domain-general and specific methods. 2007. concepts. Perhaps these were the very resources they leveraged to solve the post-test problems better. It is plausible therefore that having explored various representations and methods for solving the complex ill-structured problems prepared them to better discern and understand those very concepts. and ultimately not giving up but persisting in solving complex problems are epistemic resources that mathematicians commonly demonstrate and leverage in their practice. Perhaps the PF design helped student expand their repertoire of epistemic resources situated within the context of classroom-based problem solving activity structures (Hammer. The acts of representing problems.Learning through Productive Failure in Mathematical Problem Solving 57 b. 1998. did not work (Greeno. 1998. & Moore. representation. In other words. Spiro et al.

Two ill-structured problems were designed such that they possessed many problem parameters with varying degrees of specificity and relevance. A focus on achieving performance success. epistemic resources (Hammer et al. Designing complex. clearly necessitates the provision of relevant support structures and scaffolds during problem solving. this only begs the question: How does one design for persistence? In productive failure. The more such opportunities are designed for students. the better they will develop such epistemic resources. What I am arguing instead is that perhaps the PF design provided students with the opportunities to take the first steps towards developing these context-dependent. possessed multiple solution paths leading to multiple solutions (as opposed to a single correct answer). 2005). as can be seen in the problem scenario in Appendix A. 1984. therefore. In designing for productive failure. Schmidt & Bjork. An important implication for the design of problems and problem solving activities is that there is efficacy in persistence itself even though it may not lead to success in performance. 1992). 5.58 Mathematical Problem Solving arguing that there was some larger epistemological shift that took place within a two-week intervention. a focus on persistence does not necessitate a provision of support structures as long as the design of the problem allows students to make some inroads into exploring the problem and solution spaces without necessarily solving the problem successfully. As a result. 1979. designing for persistence minimally involved five interconnected principles: a. the ill-structured problem scenarios were complex.. In contrast to a focus on achieving performance success. and often required students to make and justify .2 Implications for teaching and learning design Many instructional designs make either implicit or explicit commitments to a performance success focus (Clifford. Some of the parameters interacted with each other such that their effect could not be examined in isolation. However. the focus was more on students persisting in problem solving than on actually being able to solve the problem successfully. ill-structured tasks.

d. Hence. designing for persistence requires substantial and constant effort on the part of the teacher to set the appropriate expectations throughout the series of lessons. 1988). It is also important for teachers to get comfortable with the idea of withholding assistance or help when students ask for it. in the most efficient manner. opportunities that are critical for realizing productive failure. Hence. which often resulting in a single correct answer.. teachers are just as used to offering help and assistance when it is asked for so much so that sometimes opportunities for students to persist in solving the problem are missed. Withholding assistance. Students are used to asking their teachers for help so much so that they do so even before trying to figure out an answer by themselves. well-structured problems commonly found in textbooks afford normative representations and methods for solving them. The activity structure of collaboration helps students persist in solving problems more than what they may do individually. well-structured problems often do not afford opportunities for students to persist in problem solving. In many ways. It is important that teachers set appropriate expectations to assure students that it is okay not to be able to solve the ill-structured problems as long as they try various ways of solving them. either a student is able to solve the problem quickly or simply gives up. c. This setting of expectation is important because the usual norm in most classrooms (though not all) is not one of persistence. 2000. the choice of having students engage in collaborative problem solving was critical towards maximizing the likelihood of persistence in problem solving. In such cases. of which there is only one. and instead get students to try working through the problem themselves first. 1992. Therefore.Learning through Productive Failure in Mathematical Problem Solving 59 assumptions (Jonassen. b. At the same time. Spiro et al. the first three principles of . Instead. be it individually or in groups. it is getting to the correct answer. Designing collaborative activities. Setting expectations for persistence. Voss. In contrast. especially highlighting to them the fact that there were multiple solutions to the problems.

and ability level of the students. and relationship between the extent to which students persist and the nature of their persistence relates to learning remains an open and important question for future research. They are surely not the only way of doing so. one does not get it right the first time around. Usually. Decisions around the above design principles are not made in isolation but as part of an iterative design process that involves other teachers and students so that the complexity of the illstructured problem scenarios can be developmentally calibrated with the age. Classroom implementation provides additional insights that lead to further iterations and fine tuning of the design. grade. 6 Conclusion In the classrooms that I have been working in. Needless to say. and setting appropriate expectations may come to naught if teachers do not withhold assistance during initial problem solving. Finally. collaboration. the conventional bias has typically been towards heavy structuring of instructional activities right from the start. not all students persist in problem-solving.why waste time letting learners make mistakes when you could give them the correct understandings? This arguably makes for an efficient process but what productive failure suggests is that processes that may seem to be inefficient and divergent in the short term potentially have a hidden efficacy about them provided one could extract that efficacy.60 Mathematical Problem Solving designing ill-structured problems. e. multiple pilot tests with two to three groups of students are used to provide insights into and help fine-tune the design decisions described above. The abovementioned five principles are but one set of principles for designing for persistence. it is important to note that designing for persistence is not a one-off design effort. The basic argument being . Iterative design. an emphasis on persistence comes with its own set of problems because of students have varying levels of persistence. The . the nature of their persistence varies. Before classroom implementation.

Kapur. & Fried. M.Learning through Productive Failure in Mathematical Problem Solving 61 implication being that by not overly structuring the early learning and problem solving experiences of learners and leaving them to persist and possibly fail can be a productive exercise in failure. Chick & J. M. 2008. 57-64). David Hung. the head of the department of mathematics. References Amit. I am also grateful to Professors Beaumie Kim. 2 (pp. (2000). and the principal of the participating school for their support for this project. Multiple representations in 8th grade algebra classrooms: Are learners really getting it? In H. Proceedings of the 29th Conference of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education. Michael Jacobson. Katerine Bielaczyc. Liam Rourke. J. and Steven Zuiker for their insightful comments and suggestions on this manuscript. fuller manuscripts of the first study have already been published elsewhere (Kapur et al. Anderson. Sarah Davis. Melbourne: PME. I am particularly indebted to Leigh Dickson who was instrumental in coordinating the logistics and data collection efforts.. New York. N. R. Vincent (Eds. I would like to thank the students. I contend that the work described in this chapter opens up an exciting line of inquiry into the hidden efficacies in ill-structured. Vol. Cognitive psychology and its implications. whereas the fuller manuscript of the second study is currently under review (Kapur. Kate Anderson. This chapter summarized findings from two studies on productive failure. L. under review). NY: Worth.). (2005). L. . problem-solving activities. Acknowledgements The research reported in this paper was funded by grants from the Learning Sciences Lab of the National Institute of Education of Singapore. teachers.. Perhaps one should resist the near-default rush to structure learning and problemsolving activities for it may well be more fruitful to first investigate conditions under which instructional designs lead to productive failure as opposed to just failure. in press).

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Hady and Jasmine left Ken’s house and biked together at Jasmine’s average speed of 0. All the waiting for buses would definitely make us late. After that there is a sign telling you how to get to Singapore Expo. Jasmine biked over a piece of glass and her tire went flat. They were practicing at their friend Ken’s house and were planning to bike to the auditions at Singapore Expo. how do we get to the Singapore Expo from here? Ken: Well.15 km/min. There is no direct bus from here to Singapore Expo. Jasmine: Oops! My tire is flat! What shall we do now? Can I just ride with you on your bike or shall we take a bus the rest of the way? Hady: I don’t think that is a good idea. Hady and Jasmine were going to audition as a team. Taking the bus is not a very good idea either. Jasmine: How long does it take you to reach Singapore Expo? Ken: It normally takes me 7 minutes to drive from my house when I am traveling at an average speed of 75 km/h. Hady: Ken. so we would have to take one bus and then transfer to another one. My bike is old and rusty and it cannot hold both of us.64 Mathematical Problem Solving Appendix A An Ill-structured Problem Scenario It was a bright. After getting the directions. follow this road (pointing to a map) until you reach the expressway. After biking for 25 minutes. I usually drive at a uniform speed of 90 km/h on the expressway for about 3 minutes. Do you have any money on you? . sunny morning and the day of the Singapore Idol auditions. The auditions were supposed to start at 2 pm and Hady and Jasmine wanted to make sure that they could make it in time.

. I only have $1 for a drink. I only have $2. How long does it take you to walk to school? Jasmine: It takes me about 13-15 minutes to walk to school which is about 450 meters from my home. Hady: I did not bring my wallet. Why don’t you lock up your bike and take my bike and bike ahead.2 km/min. Jasmine: That sounds like a good idea! But how far should I ride your bike before leaving it for you and walking the rest of the way. no. I forgot to withdraw money today. We will end up late. Hady: No. Leave my bike somewhere along the route and begin walking to the audition. I will walk from here until I get to my bike and ride it the rest of the way since I can bike at a faster speed.Learning through Productive Failure in Mathematical Problem Solving 65 Jasmine: Let me check…. Since we are auditioning together as a team. we have to reach there at the same time!? How far should Jasmine ride Hady’s bike so they both arrive at the audition at the same time? . My average biking speed is 0. no! Walking would take too much time. shall we just leave our bikes here and walk? Hady: It takes me approximately 5 minutes to walk to school which is about 250 meters from my home. Jasmine: Since we do not have enough money to take a taxi.

A plane takes 7 h 20 min to fly from Singapore to Sydney. find its time of arrival in Sydney. Find his average speed for the whole journey. If the plane departs from Singapore at 0955 hours. He then cycles 6 km at 12 km/hr. The flight distance between Singapore and Sydney is about 6316 km. . Give your answer correct to the nearest km/hr. b) Sydney’s time is 3 hours ahead of Singapore’s time. a) Find the average speed of the plane from Singapore to Sydney. Jack walks at an average speed of 4 km/hr for one hour.66 Mathematical Problem Solving Appendix B Examples of Well-structured Problems 1. 2.

which hummingbird will get to Chile first? Tabular representation item: The property market has been on the rise for the past few years. Calculate his average speed for the entire journey. In the newspaper. If both birds can travel 1 km for every 550 wing flaps and they leave Canada at approximately the same time. you find the following table with the growth rate over the past 5 years. It measures 23cm long and it flaps its wings between 8-10 times per second.4 gm. weighing 18-20 gm. The Broad Tailed Hummingbird beats its wings 18 times per second. For every 18 hours of flying it requires 6 hours of rest. The Giant Hummingbird is the largest member of the hummingbird family.Learning through Productive Failure in Mathematical Problem Solving 67 Appendix C Items on Post-test 1 A post-test well-structured item: David travels at an average speed of 4km/hr for 1 hour. For every 12 hours of flying it requires 12 hours of rest. Each year they migrate approximately 8583 km from Canada to Chile and then back again. He then cycles 6km at an average speed of 12 km/hr. The higher-order application item: Hummingbirds are small birds that are known for their ability to hover in mid-air by rapidly flapping their wings. It is approximately 10-11 cm and weighs approximately 3. Year 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 % Growth 2% 7% 11% 14% 16% .

Other are saying that it is slowing down.68 Mathematical Problem Solving Some people are saying that the property market is growing. Which graph . or both . Study the two speed-time graphs A and B carefully. what do you think—is the property market growing or slowing down? Explain your answer with calculations.can represent Bob’s journey? Show your working and explain your answer. Graph A Speed Speed Graph B .A. B. Based on the table above. Graphical representation item: Bob drove 140 miles in 2 hours and then drove 150 miles in the next 3 hours.

which can be developed and maintained through interaction within dynamic social contexts. ALBERT Christopher BOWEN Jessica TANSEY This chapter provides two teaching episodes to illustrate what note taking as a tool for thought might look like in scaffolding problem solving learning. conclusions are made regarding why the model works. If the notebook contains notes. they generally are incorporated into the daily class-work section and are limited to 69 . daily class-work. quizzes. In addition. group-work products. Finally. The teaching episodes illustrate practical models for instructing students on how to take notes. This discussion includes the notion that learning and thinking depend upon internal speech.Chapter 4 Note Taking as Deliberate Pedagogy: Scaffolding Problem Solving Learning Lillie R. noting some of the issues that surface when note taking as a tool for thinking and learning is applied in mathematics classrooms. The notebook is typically a binder divided into sections consisting of work completed by students: homework. it includes a discussion of the role the teacher educator in scaffolding the performance of the teachers. and journaling. A theoretical discussion examines how note taking can be deliberate in nature. 1 Introduction Assigning a mathematics notebook is a common practice in middle schools (Years 5 to 8) in the United States (US). highlighting the work of Bruner and Vygotsky. The aim is to explore how conceptual hard scaffolding influences the interactions between teachers and their students.

and to replace this commonly held belief with a philosophy that promotes equitable mathematics learning for all students. Scaffolds are the supports provided by more knowledgeable others to help a learner move from a current level of performance to a more advanced level. it can also be a tool to express thoughts. 253). 2000. Boaler asserts that practices. there is very little evidence of students’ use of notes beyond organizational purposes (Boch and Piolat. 1979.70 Mathematical Problem Solving definitions and problems modeled by the teachers. With the publication of Principles and Standards for School Mathematics in 2000 (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Wertsch. as written language. teaching them to appreciate the need for written communication and justification. such as the Connected Mathematics Project (CMP) in the US. Olive. may assist students in understanding “questions posed to them. Vygotsky. 2005). this practice does not expose students to the metacognitive aspect of note taking—writing to learn new content (Piolat. Essential to scaffolding within instruction is the use of language for mediation (Albert. nor does it provide equitable mathematical learning experiences for all types of students. In the ethos of reform-oriented curricula. is an important communicative tool that can serve as a cognitive function assisting learners in acquiring new knowledge. Furthermore. 2000). and discussing with them ways of interpreting contextualized questions” (p. The NCTM asserts that expectations must be raised – . This position is similar to a finding from a study by Boaler (2002) about the potential of reform-oriented curricula to promote equity. teachers need to provide students with experiences to learn how to skillfully write notes in ways that will help them develop their own knowledge and thinking about mathematics. 2005). Too often. Note taking. this general reason for the notebook seems to be for organizational purposes. Note taking can serve as a tool for scaffolding learning. teachers seldom teach note-taking skills or require students to use their notes as an aid in the problem solving process. 1986). For this reason. and Kellogg. the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) challenges mathematics teachers to reject the notion that only some students can succeed in mathematics. While these organizational purposes may validate requiring students to take notes in class. which help students access reform approaches. 1980.

together with appropriately scaffolded instruction on deliberate note taking. To do so.” (p.Note Taking as Deliberate Pedagogy 71 “mathematics can and must be learned by all students. nature. Next. 13) and deliberately organized note taking may act as a tool through which mathematics teachers can promote equity in their mathematics classroom and make mathematics content more accessible to their students with diverse learning needs. limits. we provide two teaching episodes to illustrate what note taking as a tool for thought might look like in mathematics classrooms. note taking in this chapter is discussed under the principle of epistemology. 1966) idea that learning new knowledge should be a deliberate process informed by teachers’ professional development. grounding this scheme of note taking in Bruner’s (1963. The aim is to explore aspects of the teaching episodes and how conceptual hard scaffolding influences the interactions between teachers and their students. noting some of the issues that surface when note taking as a tool for thinking and learning is applied in mathematics classrooms. which encompasses the study of the origin. we present teaching episodes to illustrate practical models for teaching students how to take notes. How might teachers encourage students to use their notes to discern what they know about the mathematical knowledge learned through their problem solving . These increased expectations. which can be developed and maintained through interaction within dynamic social contexts. teachers must deliberately increase the expectations for note taking that they hold for all students in a way that parallels the increased expectations NCTM places on them to promote equity in their classrooms. we consider why the model works. This discussion includes the Vygotskian notion that learning and thinking depend upon internal speech. We begin with a brief discussion of how note taking can be deliberate in nature. 2 The Deliberate Nature of Note Taking: Bruner and Vygostsky From a philosophical viewpoint. may lead to increased equity on performance in mathematics classrooms. Finally. In this chapter. This section also includes a discussion of the role the teacher educator play in scaffolding the performance of the teachers. and methods of knowledge.

Bruner (1973) asserts that learners move from a concrete understanding to an abstract understanding of the mathematical concepts they encounter. p. “[k] nowing is a process. metacognition fosters students’ awareness of what they need to learn. 2000). 1981. 1994). This can be seen when mathematics teachers apply deliberate pedagogical methods for taking notes in their classrooms. 1973. not a product” (Bruner. The zone of proximal development is the distance between a student’s “actual . allows students to demonstrate their conceptual understanding of mathematics on an abstract level in that writing is a concrete representation of thought (Albert. 1978) believed that learning in the classroom must coalesce with deliberate pedagogy. Vygotsky introduced the notion of the zone of proximal development to explain how students make the transition from interpsychological functioning to intrapsychological functioning. and self-knowledge of personal and intellectual qualities. students can best operate at a high metacognitive level when pedagogical processes are deliberate and intentional. Their work is useful in explaining what processes trigger student performance when participating in practices directed by deliberate pedagogy and when identifying what resources or experiences may form the basis for student learning of mathematics. Note taking then. Vygotsky (1994. & 1963) and Vygotsky (1994. deliberate pedagogical practices that include note taking may assist students in making this transition. Like Bruner. and consensual. When used deliberately and purposefully. 72). when and how they need to learn it. & 1978). Such a view suggests that mathematical learning calls attention to the ways in which learning is changed and continuously renewed as learners interact in contexts that scaffold sense-making of the content (Driscoll. 1966.72 Mathematical Problem Solving reform-oriented textbooks? How does the deliberate nature of note taking scaffold students in their learning of new mathematical concepts presented in these texts? Implicated in the epistemology of mathematical learning via note taking is the work and research of Bruner (1996. 1986. note taking acts as a bridge that connects the concrete domain to the abstract domain presented in reform-oriented texts. Both Bruner and Vygotsky position their notion of learning and development within a practical view in which the authenticity of learning is deduced. Thus. as a tool. From Bruner’s perspective. negotiated.

conceptual hard scaffolds can provide directions that help students seek relevant information to use when problem solving. Conceptual hard scaffolds may be models of approaches or processes (Simons and Klein. Greenfield (1984) suggests that the metaphorical nature of a scaffold. it extends the range of the workers.Note Taking as Deliberate Pedagogy 73 developmental level as determined by independent problem solving” and the higher level of “potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers” (1978. it allows the worker to accomplish a task not otherwise possible. “It provides a support. Therefore. For example. a teacher may provide a model of a simpler problem so students can apply it to solve a complex problem. as students apply strategies and techniques to solve difficult or unfamiliar problems. Then. p. and it is used selectively to aid the worker where needed…a scaffold would not be used for example. at least in part. 118). Hard scaffolds are fixed supports or guides based on teachers’ prior expectations and knowledge of difficulties students might encounter as they engage in problem solving tasks. it functions as a tool. has five attributes. 86). 2000). why the phenomenon of using note taking as a tool for scaffolding mathematical learning makes sense. Note taking provides students with opportunities to learn through writing while extending their understanding of concepts and content. when a carpenter is working five feet from the ground” (p. the students can use their written notes as a model of how to start a difficult problem or as a hint and support in the problem solving process. For example. 2007). the inner dialogue with self unequivocally offers students opportunities to write. The attributes of a scaffold also make clear how note taking can be a tool that assists students in solving problems that may be difficult or unfamiliar. 2002). they use their written notes to help them begin to connect their thinking to mathematical ideas. . and make their thinking visual and concrete (Albert. practice. as it is known in building construction. Note taking can be viewed as a “conceptual hard scaffold” that guides students in the problem solving process (Saye and Brush. Such an approach may promote higher-order thinking as well as a way for students to make connections between simple and complex problems. This idea is useful in explaining.

their teachers need proper scaffolding to learn how to teach this new approach to note taking. requiring them to evaluate their thoughts so as to organize information in ways that may not have been immediately visible to them. is scaffolded so as to prompt a progression of cognitive functioning that results in an improved. 3 Practical Applications of Deliberate Note Taking The preceding theoretical discussion establishes the deliberate practice of note taking as a process that promotes learning. These classrooms contain students with very diverse learning styles and needs. It helps develop students’ thinking. Orland is a second-year teacher and Miss Lipan is a fifth-year teacher. Professional development provides the opportunity for teachers to develop an understanding of and to improve upon the pedagogical practices needed to effectively practice deliberate note taking.74 Mathematical Problem Solving Students need proper scaffolding to be introduced to the deliberate process of note taking. however. Both teachers originally required students to maintain notebooks and encouraged students to take notes during class discussions and interactions. including students who perform at an advanced level and others who have documented learning disabilities. similarly. which in turn leads to independent thinking and problem solving. which compels students to approach mathematical knowledge and ideas with higher cognitive functions such as analysis and synthesis. using the CMP curriculum in their Algebra I classrooms. Mr. Their learning. just as their students’ learning. The implementation of this approach to note taking is successful in the practical teaching episodes presented largely because the teachers received instruction and feedback. the teachers wanted to encourage writing to learn and build . and rarely encouraged students to use their notes beyond preparing for a weekly or unit test. The teachers seldom mentioned students’ notes. The two teachers vary in their experiences and backgrounds. The following practical cases emerge from our research and work with two middle school teachers. As part of their professional development plan. which included goals to improve their implementation of CMP. Mr. Orland and Miss Lipan. more equitable approach to mathematics instruction.

First. In these collaborative groups.Note Taking as Deliberate Pedagogy 75 collaborative groupwork into their pedagogical practices. The idea was to develop and implement an explicit and deliberate pedagogical model that not only engaged students in the learning process during the launching and modeling phases of the lesson but also helped them when they worked in groups (especially in the area of providing written explanations). Orland and Miss Lipan launch multi-step problems and require written statements explaining strategies and procedures applied to solve the problems explored by students. In Mr. Orland and Miss Lipan’s previous attempts to use writing techniques for multi-step problems. Orland and Miss Lipan stated that modeling similar problems in front of the class did not seem to resolve this issue because many of the students only recorded computational information and formulas in their notebooks. they found that their students experienced difficulties in providing coherent written explanations of how they solved problems. the students did not refer to them when transitioning into group or individual work. Orland and Miss Lipan. met with Mr. To address this shortcoming. Orland and Miss Lipan model problems to their classes. we developed a process that would scaffold students’ learning and exploration of the studied content. the teacher educator met again with Mr. Furthermore. Mr. scaffolding their learning and understanding . The teacher educator. Orland and Miss Lipan to share and discuss observations and thoughts with them. The next day involved observing Mr. Because these notes were too brief. Mr. the more knowledgeable other (in this case the teacher educator) works with Mr.1 Scaffolding in the zone of proximal development The practice that emerged is grounded in the Vygotskian construct of the zone of proximal development on two levels. Orland and Miss Lipan the day before the lesson to assist them in creating reflection questions for their students. These same questions would aid the teacher educator in focusing her observations of the classroom teachers during the launching and modeling phase of their lessons. 3. lead author of this chapter. The day following the lesson.

students write to reflect on key questions about the problem. the Mr. they showed thinking and reflection in action and demonstrated to students what information is essential to include in their notes. and scaffolded by the students’ interactions with their teachers. Second. write to reflect. During this phase. models.76 Mathematical Problem Solving of how to model problems for their students. The model needs to support student learning and must equally support the pedagogy by complementing the instruction that students receive. students make judgments about the content they are learning. Next. during the academic year. supported. which teachers use to show how they are thinking throughout the problem-solving process. Using a think-aloud-protocol. students might work closely with other students as the teacher continues to scaffold their thinking. students need their teacher’s scaffolding less because they have repeatedly participated in the collaborative activity and made use of their written notes. the students engage in mental interaction with the teacher. At this time. pairs. In other words. and can increasingly use their notes as scaffolds. The practice is designed so all students will write to focus. . Overtime. Orland and Miss Lipan provided the reflection questions to students. they are gathering relevant information about the content. Then. At this stage. students work in groups. or independently of the teacher and write to apply their knowledge while referring to their notes. students attempt to summarize what the teacher says. The following two episodes reflect this approach to mathematics instruction of effective note taking to solve problems. or demonstrates. The core of the zone of proximal development is the collaborative discourse between students and teachers—a social system that is actively constructed. while modeling the problems for their students. Orland and Miss Lipan stimulate students within their zone of proximal development through the think-aloud-protocol. When students are writing to focus. and write to apply what they are learning. Mr. The teacher must form the questions in a way that requires students to use their notes to grapple with the content and to extend their thinking beyond simple rote memory tasks such as recalling information or performing computational procedures.

and the number of rubas.” [The king revised the plan. the queen said. Each square will have twice as many as the previous square. 2 rubas on the second square. until you have covered all 64 squares. a peasant saved the life of the king’s daughter.2 Episode one: Mr.” When the king told the queen about the reward he had promised the peasant. Make a table showing the number of rubas the king will place on squares 1 through 16 of the chessboard. The page is folded to hide the questions so that students would focus on summarizing information presented during the launching and modeling phase of the lesson. As the number of squares increase. r. 3 on the next. Students made notes of the teacher modeling on the following problem (Lappan. He scaffolds students’ progress in each mathematical learning activity. 7): One day in the ancient kingdom of Montarek. 8 on the fourth square. 2004. Fey. n. Orland launches a problem in which the objective is to model for students how to identify and compare the rate of growth in exponential relationships. 9 on the next. p. The king was so grateful that he told the peasant she could have any reward she desired. Orland Mr. The peasant–who was also the kingdom’s chess champion–made an unusual request: “I would like you to place 1 ruba on the first square of a chessboard. “You have promised her more money than we have in the entire royal treasury! You must convince her to accept a different reward. and so on. Each square would have three times as many rubas as the previous square. presenting the Note Taking Model illustrated in Figure 1. Friel and Philips.Note Taking as Deliberate Pedagogy 77 3. . and so on.] He would place 1 ruba on the first square. how does the number of rubas change? What does the pattern of change tell you about the peasant’s reward? What is the growth factor or rate? Write an equation for the relationship between the number of the square. Fitzgerald. 4 on the third square.

Figure 1. he focused on the language of the problem (e. illustrating that the algebraic expression 2n-1 justifies the result that one obtains empirically by trying several particular numbers. This component required translation from a verbal representation to a symbolic representation using a letter as a variable to represent any number with the underlying aim of arriving at an expression. In launching the problem. Reflection Questions List strategies your teacher used to help him understand the problem. underlining key terms and grappling with word meaning) and used algebraic thinking. 3. progressing gradually from one phase of the problem to the next. How did the strategies help the teacher understand the problem? Name another strategy you might use to solve a similar problem.78 Mathematical Problem Solving Notes 1. Note Taking Model (Adapted from Paul. He constructed a table to show the results of the two plans. Then he wrote an equation for the relationship and used the data generated to decide which plan the peasant should take. Figure 2 contains a selection from the teacher educator’s observation of Mr. 1974) Mr.g. which included a discussion of how the patterns of change in the number of rubas under the two plans are similar and different. 2. Orland presented the objective by writing it on an overhead transparency and then proceeded by analyzing the situation and showing students how to approach the problem. Orland’s launching and modeling phase of the lesson. He articulated his thoughts orally. .

Mr Orland’s Lesson After completing the modeling phase of the lesson.” S2: “Circled words you did not know. growth factor). He asked students. . Orland explicitly explains what he is doing to solve the problem: “I can use this picture to help me understand the problem…I am going to keep going by making a table. Then. .” S5: “You eliminated unimportant facts to get to the question…” .” S4: “You asked yourself questions.. 2187 79 Figure 2. I forget what a term means. Orland constructs a table: Square 1 2 . . Orland gives students five minutes to use their notes to answer the reflection questions and then to share their answers with their group.Note Taking as Deliberate Pedagogy Teacher Educator’s Observation Notes Mr. so I need to look it up…Sometimes. Observation Excerpts. Mr.” He illustrates metacognitive thinking: “Have I seen this problem before? How is it connected to what I have done before? I need to read the next part of the problem… I think I will look back to help me understand the problem.” He reviews and reads the next part of the problem.” Mr. pattern of change) and highlighting unfamiliar terms (e.. “What strategies did I use to help me understand the problem?” Students responded: S1: “Tried one step at a time. . Orland engaged the whole class in a discussion about some of the strategies he used to understand and solve the problem. Mr. Then he models how to look up unfamiliar terms: “I’m not sure what growth factor means.” S3: “You looked at the picture. .g. . 128 Plan 2 1 3 . underlining key terms (e. 8 Number of Rubas Plan 1 1 2 .g.

Miss Lipan gave students a chance to use their notes to answer the Guiding Questions. She concluded the modeling process by reviewing the steps for using the strategy and by providing an explanation of the mathematical procedures she applied.80 Mathematical Problem Solving Next.3 Episode two: Miss Lipan Miss Lipan began the modeling process by selecting and identifying for students an irregular shape. students completed several similar problems in which they made graphs that they compared to the graph modeled for Plan 1. Through a systematic approach. they moved into their groups and computed the area for a number of irregular figures as well as wrote explanations that describe the strategies used to find the areas. which she identified by name (“the surround-and-subtract strategy”). of how to apply the surround-and-subtract strategy. the student counted squares to determine the area but . she promoted the development of students’ understanding of how to find the area of an irregular shape. Name another strategy you might use to find the area of an irregular shape. She then recorded the steps. using their notes. Figure 3 presents a selection from the teacher educator’s observation about Miss Lipan’s lesson as it progressed. the area of which she would compute. while communicating her thinking and reasoning to students. Figure 4 shows a student’s approaches to the problems. After the teacher reviewed students’ answers. For example. some students wrote 2n – 1 or 2n – 1. Observation of students suggests that even when they are successfully taught symbolic manipulation. they may be unsuccessful in seeing the power of algebra as a tool for representing the general structure of a situation. Students needed continued scaffolding and interaction with the teacher to move toward an appropriate generalization. Some of the students struggled with representing a general statement and using the statement to justify numerical arguments. In the first problem. 3. Students wrote notes during the modeling phase of the lesson and used their notes to answer the following reflection questions: What was the name of the strategy that Miss Lipan used to solve the problem? Describe in words what she did to find the area of the shape.

found the area of the triangle. and then added the area of both triangles to solve for the area of the figure. it was the Miss Lipan’s launching and modeling of the problem that prompted students to ask themselves. In her modeling. as well. many of them applied other strategies that emerged from prior experiences involving area. Observation Excerpts. the consistent reference to their notes. which is 3 x 3. such as finding the area of a square or triangle. the student explained that she divided the figure into two triangles. I am modeling a strategy for finding the area of an irregular shape. the total area is 9. “First. and students’ continued interaction with the teacher scaffolded their application of the surround-and-subtract strategy and others strategies. For the second problem. “I am modeling one strategy.” She draws the following. relates it to other figures with which students are familiar. she demonstrates how to figure out the area of a given region and. I… then I…so I subtract from the original shape…” At this point. a student asks a question. Miss Lipan records the steps for using the surround-and-subtract strategy. She proceeds by analyzing the situation and showing students how to approach area.Note Taking as Deliberate Pedagogy Teacher Educator’s Observation Notes Miss Lipan presents the objective. which is to help students learn about how to find the area of an irregular shape. You need to write down what I do. at the same time. showing how to surround the original shape. modeling how to apply the steps. It is important to note that although some students made use of the strategy demonstrated by the teacher. Miss Lipan’s Lesson 81 applied a different approach to the next problem.” She provides a summary of how to apply the steps of the surround and subtract strategy by reviewing the steps. “Does this strategy work for every irregular shape?” Figure 3. “So. Then again. I am going to name my strategy and prove to you how I can use it to find the area. “Why is this not working?” “Should I try something else?” These questions. .

and how successful the model is in helping students manage information for later use. which included specific thoughts about the mathematical ideas that the teachers modeled during the . Orland and Miss Lipan scaffolded students through the process. Orland. At this time. observations of the lesson were shared. Mr. Miss Lipan. which focused on how well Mr. and teacher educator convened for an initial debriefing session to discuss observations about the level at which the students made use of their notes. A Student’s Description of Strategies Used to Find the Area 3.82 Mathematical Problem Solving Figure 4. how effectively the reflection questions assisted students’ examination of their notes to identify key ideas that helped them understand the content at hand.4 Lesson debriefing with the teacher educator Immediately after the lessons. A much longer debriefing session occurred the next day.

Furthermore. It is imperative that these demands be taught to students who are compelled to meet them. The discussion with Miss Lipan centered on determining if the launching of the lesson should be the time at which students are provided with the definition of an irregular shape. For example. many buildings are irregular. For example. We also discussed the extent to which students made use of their notes to appropriately produce the algebraic expression 2n-1 or 3n-1. mapping gradual development of both the content and . 3. it was noted that as she recorded and modeled how to use the strategy. “Some shapes are not shaped like squares or triangles. They are irregular shapes. We concurred that the figure challenged some students because it was not immediately solvable. it was necessary because the intent was for students to understand how to apply what they knew about finding the area of a square or a triangle. Manouchehri and Goodman (2000) suggest that when using problem solving based curriculum. Mr Orland’s discussion focused on whether the launching and modeling of the problem helped students to understand how to translate the numerical data into a variable expression and whether students were able to examine the pattern as well as manipulate the data to yield an algebraic expression.” We also talked about whether or not too much emphasis was placed on the mechanics of carrying out the procedure.Note Taking as Deliberate Pedagogy 83 lessons. Most important. teachers need to include approaches that facilitate “guiding students’ inquiry. We concluded that because of the various learning disabilities represented in the classroom. She realized that she could have stated at the beginning of the modeling phase that. the reform-oriented curriculum places unusual demands on the students than that of a more traditional curriculum. Repeating the steps during the review of the problem also helped students understand the procedures needed to arrive at an appropriate solution. many students were taking notes.5 Why does this model work? The section provides an explanation of how deliberate pedagogy serves as a scaffold for assisting students in learning how to take notes and then use these notes to solve mathematical problems.

given the difficulties many students with learning disabilities in mathematics have accessing reform-based curriculum. for example. it is essential to integrate pedagogical practices that are both deliberate and explicit. Maccini. In Miss Lipan’s modeling. Step 2: Find the total area of the square/rectangle you drew around the original shape. These two modalities generate a quasiinteraction with students. “I am going to name my strategy and prove how I can use it to find the area. Mulcahy. and creating a balance between fostering students’ conceptual understanding while assisting them in acquisition of basic skills” (p. Metacognition refers to the abstract thought process through which an individual thinks about and reflects upon one’s own thinking. Miss Lipan demonstrates how to solve the problem. Orland and Miss Lipan modeled their own thought processes through both writing and oral statements. and Wilson (2007) assert that. making her implicit thinking and knowledge explicit for her students.84 Mathematical Problem Solving learner’s thinking.” In addition. the teacher and students think about the way they are learning the mathematics at hand. which are scaffolded . Draw a square/rectangle around the borders of the original shape. Mr. Step 3: Subtract the area of the outside shape from the total area of the square/rectangle you drew. My strategy is called surround-and-subtract. the teachers went beyond simply requiring students to take notes. According to the model described in this chapter. as opposed to merely thinking about the mathematics content itself. she states. This occurs because the teacher provides deliberate and explicit modeling of note taking. “Step 1: Surround the original shape. This model allows both the teacher and students to make metacognitive advances. This is Total Area – Outside shape = Area of Original Shape. which helps the students to develop the metacognitive skills necessary for learning how to take notes that will subsequently help them to think about the concepts they are learning.” Then she both says and writes. Another reason that this model is an improvement over current use of note taking in mathematics instruction is that the teacher allows time for students to review and reflect on their notes. in which students focus on capturing their teacher’s application of an effective strategy and then restating in their own words what they observed and understood about the problem launched and modeled. 29).

and meeting with the teachers after the lesson to share observation notes. state the requirements for meeting those criteria. As noted earlier. 305). and shape their ideas in a meaningful way. An important observation is that because of organizing and applying a deliberate instructional approach. the actual situation may also be described as nominative. and providing affective support. Mr. Orland and Miss Lipan throughout the planning phase. Orland and Miss Lipan engage students in dialogue about the problem to provide any clarification that they might need about the task set before them. We . In addition to note taking as a deliberate part of instruction. “the ability to solve problems through dialogue with [teachers] or peers is a harbinger of competencies that will later become internalized” (p. understand. as in these two classrooms. teachers need to explicitly communicate their expectations regarding the use of written notes for completing a problem-solving task.” These include the following: elaborating. Orland and Miss Lipan set criteria pertaining to the most effective way of taking notes and. The central point here is that the mathematics learning community. students must become accustomed to their teacher setting high expectations to prevent negative fallout that could result in low problem solving performance. Farmer (1995) offers the explanation. at the same time. simplifying. Students’ note taking skills improve over time as students grow in their understanding of how their notes help them to organize. linking. observing and taking notes during the launching and modeling phase. Mr. These expectations must be generalized to classroom norms and procedures that are applied to all classroom activities. prompting. Giving crucial scaffolding is fundamental in the learning phase of note taking as learners progress through the zone of proximal development. In other words. the teacher educator served as the more knowledgeable other in assisting Mr.Note Taking as Deliberate Pedagogy 85 by the written reflection questions. the teachers also used many of the techniques that Rogoff (1990) describes as “scaffolded learning supports. which included critical reflection and questions about the recent mathematics instruction. A final explanation of why this model works involves the collaborative nature of the model. exists as a means for appropriating deliberate discourse that is within reach for all learners. In this instance. With respect to this approach.

As Vygotsky (1978. The emphasis is on processes and strategies rather than products and solutions. What discerns the note taking instructional approach described in this chapter is that it reflects the needs of the learner. benefits students because it provides them with teachers that are more knowledgeable about how to make reform-oriented curricula accessible to all learners.86 Mathematical Problem Solving worked together to achieve a shared understanding of the teaching and learning of mathematics. providing opportunities for problem-solving and inquiry-based activities that encourage the development of complex thinking and logical reasoning. In other words. These practices must be designed to enhance mathematical learning experiences. This. the demands and purposes of the mathematical content. such as supporting development of the students as effective note takers. in turn. 4 Conclusion Bruner’s conception of knowledge representation and Vygotsky’s construct of the zone of proximal development have a place in contemporary discussion of the importance of creating effective learning communities that support all learners. 1981) theorizes. instead of merely focusing on the what—the final answer. and the attributes of the context in which the launching and . they are likely to move forward in their development as mathematics teachers. This method of deliberate pedagogy allows teachers to move beyond the function of imparting knowledge and organizational skills. teachers must call attention to the why and how of mathematics. especially when using reformoriented curricula. when teachers are challenged to work on activities collectively and are encouraged to achieve what they are not capable of doing individually. especially when the dialogue between the teacher and the other is sustained long enough to become a deliberate process. Professional development activities that coalesce with Bruner and Vygotsky’s research can assist teachers in the development of deliberate pedagogical practices. Such a framework calls for a reconceptualization of the traditional role of teacher and learner. Teachers need to understand how to assist all learners in their zone of proximal development.

& Piolat. P. 51-65). Learning from teaching: Exploring the relationship between reform curriculum and equity. As practicing teachers strive to work with diverse learners using reform-oriented mathematics curricula. Lave (Eds. the content. 2003). Everyday cognition (pp. Rhetoric Review. 16. (1963). (1995). 109-142. Note taking and learning: A summary of research. J. Norton. In C. On knowledge: Essays for the left hand. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. New York: W. S. Voice reprised: Three etudes for a dialogic understanding. (1966). Bruner. (2005). Cimino. M. Educating young adolescents: Conversations in excellence (pp. (1994). 101-113. S. Albert.Note Taking as Deliberate Pedagogy 87 modeling transpired. Mulcahy. inside out: Seventh grade students’ mathematical thought process. Boaler. R. R. Educational Studies in Mathematics. F. Draper. Washington. The relevance of education. 2003. Rogoff & J. Cambridge. Bruner. & J. School mathematics reform. 13. (2000). 45(6). . J.). note taking can provide much more—a metacognitive tool to enhance students’ mathematical understanding. L. 2002. and the instructional context must be given considerable attention to be effective and successful (Albert. 33(4). (1973). MA: Harvard University Press. J. (Eds.). J. DC: National Catholic Education Association. L. Bruner. 304-320. Haney. (1996). W. Theory of the teacher in the learning activities of everyday life. & Wilson 2007. In B. Maccini. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education. (1984). MA: Harvard University Press. 520-529. S. Note taking can provide students with a structure for organization. when teachers deliberately use it to model the thinking and learning processes. J. M. 117-138). the learner. New York: W. Norton. Creating caring learning communities that support academic success. Boch. Psychology of learning for instruction. White. Greenfield. 239-258. Bruner. M. Farmer. O’Keefe. constructivism. M. further. The WAC Journal. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. 41. S. Toward a theory of instruction. Cambridge. Draper. The culture of education. R. Driscoll. R. W. F. A. (2002). MA: Harvard University Press. (2002). J. References Albert. (2003). Cambridge. and literacy: A case for literacy instruction in the reform-oriented math classroom. Outside in.

& Goodman.. (1994). Armonk. S. Human Development. 37-53. 144-188). Promoting productive mathematical classroom discourse with diverse students. Scaffolding critical reasoning about history and social issues in multimedia-supported learning environments. Implementing mathematics reform: Challenge within. W.. L.88 Mathematical Problem Solving Lappan. V. S. S. D. A. Vygotsky. (2007). The problem of cultural development of the child. Valsiner (Eds. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Educational Studies in Mathematics. The genesis of higher mental functions. (2000). C. and inner speech. The significance of dialogue in Vygotsky’s account of social. Principles and standards for school mathematics. & Kellogg.. W. (1990). Manouchehri. Vygotsky. 19. T. J. (1986). Friel. S. E. (1981). The concept of activity in Soviet psychology (pp. 77-96. MA: Harvard University. Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. & Phillips. Wertsch. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. 22. Fitzgerald.. 120-162. & Klein. (2004). J. Applied Cognitive Psychology. A follow-up of mathematics interventions for secondary students with learning disabilities. Educational Technology Research and Development. S. In J. D. . V. In R. J. Thought and language. (2000). (1978). K. T. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice. (2002). S. L. From social interaction to higher psychological processes: A classification and application of Vygotsky’s theory. Apprenticeship in thinking: Cognitive development in social context.. Wertsch. D. Olive. Journal of Mathematical Behavior. (2007). Wertsch (Ed. & Brush. L. 35. Reston. Massachusetts: Blackwell. Y. N. D. Instructional Science. Paul. J. 57-72). Needham. Van Der Veer and J. 58-74. Saye. MA: Pearson Prentice Hall. G. P. 5. Vygotsky.). T. 50(3). (1979). W. White. M. 1-22. The impact of scaffolding and student achievement levels in a problem-based learning environment. Simons. Cambridge. Fey. J. Connected mathematics. (1980). Cambridge. The Vygotsky reader (pp. Rogoff. (2005). M.). (2003).. VA: Author. T. Contemporary Educational Psychology. Maccini. B. Cambridge. 22(1). R. & Wilson. New York: Oxford University Press. egocentric. Piolat. 291-312. 1-34. growing. How to study in college. L. A. 22. Mulcahy. 41-72. V. Cognitive effort during note taking. 42. Vygotsky. growing. MA: MIT Press. Growing. NY: Sharpe. A.. (1974).

how teachers plan a lesson by trying to allow mathematics to be problematic for students. The selected findings of large-scale international studies of classroom practices in mathematics are examined for discussing the uniqueness of how Japanese teachers structure and deliver their lessons. Examples of textbook problems and anticipated students’ solutions to them are presented to show how teachers share and analyze the solutions in the classroom discussion for achieving their goal of teaching mathematics. 1 Introduction Japanese mathematics teachers often organize an entire lesson by posing just a few problems with a focus on students’ various solutions to them. They seem to share a belief that learning opportunities for their students are best raised when they are posed a challenging problem. and to tell the right things at the right times. to focus on the methods used to solve problem. Why do 89 .Chapter 5 Japanese Approach to Teaching Mathematics via Problem Solving Yoshinori SHIMIZU Japanese approach to teaching mathematics via problem solving is overviewed with a description of typical organization of mathematics lessons in Japanese schools. some practical ideas in the classroom shared by Japanese teachers are presented. Finally. The fundamental assumption that underlies the Japanese approach is discussed. In particular.

2 Mathematics Lesson as Structured Problem-Solving 2. some practical ideas in the classroom shared by Japanese teachers are presented. Kantowski. 1999). 1990. Examples of textbook problems and anticipated students’ solutions to them are presented to show how teachers share and analyze the solutions in the classroom discussion for achieving their goal of teaching mathematics. teachers often organize lessons by posing a few problems with a focus on the various solutions students come up with. which lasts forty-five minutes in the elementary schools and fifty minutes in the junior high schools. Finally.90 Mathematical Problem Solving teachers in Japan consider teaching mathematics via problem solving beneficial? How do they achieve their goal of teaching mathematics content through the process of problem solving? In this chapter. This organization is particularly useful when a new concept or a new procedure is going to be introduced during the initial phase of a teaching unit. often organize an entire mathematics lesson around the multiple solutions to a few problems in a whole-class instructional mode. to focus on the methods used to solve problem. Even during the middle or final phases of the teaching unit. has been observed to be divided into several segments (Becker. Travers. Silver. A typical mathematics lesson in Japan. The fundamental assumption that underlies the Japanese approach is discussed. how teachers plan a lesson by trying to allow mathematics to be problematic for students. and to tell the right things at the right times. These segments serve as the “steps” or “stages” in both the teachers’ . In particular. in elementary (grades 1 to 6) and junior high (grades 7 to 9) schools.1 A typical organization of a lesson Japanese teachers. in particular. Japanese approach to teaching mathematics via problem solving is overviewed with a description of typical organization of mathematics lessons in Japanese classrooms. Stigler & Hiebert. & Wilson.

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planning and delivery of the teaching-learning processes in the classroom (Shimizu, 1999): • Posing a problem • Students’ problem solving on their own • Whole-class discussion • Summing up • Exercises or extension (optional depending on time and how well students are able to solve the original problem.) Lessons usually begin with a word problem in the textbook or a practical problem that is posed on the chalkboard by the teacher. After the problem is presented and read by the students, the teacher determines whether the students understand the problem well. If it appears that some students do not understand some aspect of the problem, the teacher may ask these students to read it again, or the teacher may ask questions to help clarify the problem. Also, in some cases, he or she may ask a few students to show their initial ideas of how to approach the problem or to make a guess at the answer. The intent of this initial stage is to help the students develop a clear understanding of what the problem is about and what certain unclear words or terms mean. A certain amount of time (usually about 10-15 minutes) is assigned for the students to solve the problem on their own. Teachers often encourage their students to work together with classmates in pairs or in small groups. While students are working on the problem, the teacher moves around the classroom to observe the students as they work. The teacher gives suggestions or helps individually those students who are having difficulty in approaching the problem. He or she also looks for students who have good ideas, with the intention of calling on them in a certain order during the subsequent whole-class discussion. If time allows, the students who have already gotten a solution are encouraged by the teacher to find an alternative method for solving the problem. When whole-class discussion begins, students spend the majority of this time listening to the solutions that have been proposed by their classmates as well as presenting their own ideas. Finally, the teacher reviews and sums up the lesson and, if necessary and time allows, then

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he or she poses an exercise or an extension task that will apply what the students have just learned in the current lesson. 2.2 The Japanese lesson pattern The video component of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) was the first attempt ever made to collect and analyse videotapes from the classrooms of national probability samples of teachers at work (Stigler & Hiebert, 1999). Focusing on the actions of teachers, it has provided a rich source of information regarding what goes on inside eighth-grade mathematics classes in Germany, Japan and the United States with certain contrasts among the three countries. One of the sharp contrasts between the lessons in Japan and those in the other two countries relates to how lessons were structured and delivered by the teacher. The structure of Japanese lessons was characterized as “structured problem solving”, here again, while a focus was on procedures in the characterizations of lessons in the other two countries. Table 1 shows the sequence of five activities described as the “Japanese pattern”. In this lesson pattern, the discussion stage, in particular, depends on the solution methods that the students actually come up with. In order to make this lesson pattern work effectively and naturally, teachers need to have not only a deep understanding of the mathematics content, but also a keen awareness of the possible solution methods their students will use. Having a very clear sense of the ways students are likely to think about and solve a problem prior to the start of a lesson makes it easier for teachers to know what to look for when they are observing students work on the problem. The pattern seems to be consistent with the description of mathematics lessons as problem solving in the previous section, though there are some differences between them such as “reviewing the previous lessons” above and “exercises or extension” in the previous section.

Japanese Approach to Teaching Mathematics via Problem Solving Table 1 The Japanese lesson pattern (Stigler & Hiebert, 1999, pp.79-80) Reviewing the previous lesson Presenting the problems for the day Students working individually or in groups Discussing solution methods Highlighting and summarizing the main point

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2.3 Beyond the pattern Characterization of the practices of a nation’s or a culture’s mathematics classrooms with a single lesson pattern was, however, problematised by the results of the Learner’s Perspective Study (LPS) (Clarke, Mesiti, O’Keefe, Jablonka, Mok & Shimizu, 2007). The analysis suggested that, in particular, the process of mathematics teaching and learning in Japanese classrooms could not be adequately represented by a single lesson pattern for the following two reasons. First, lesson pattern differs considerably within one teaching unit, which can be a topic or a series of topics, depending on the teacher’s intentions through out the sequence of lessons. Second, elements in the pattern themselves can have different meanings and functions in the sequence of multiple lessons. Needless to say, it is an important aspect of teacher’s work not only to implement a single lesson but also to weave multiple lessons that can stretch out over several days, or even a few weeks, into a coherent body of the unit. It would not be possible for us to capture the dynamic nature of activities in teaching and learning process if each lesson was analysed as isolated. An alternative approach was proposed to the international comparisons of lessons by the researchers in LPS team. That is, a postulated “lesson event” would be regarded to serve as the basis for comparisons of classroom practice internationally. In LPS, an analytical approach was taken to explore the form and functions of the particular lesson events such as “between desk instruction”, “students at the front”, and “highlighting and summarizing the main point” (Clarke, Emanuelsson, Jablonka & Mok, 2006).

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In particular, the form and functions of the particular lesson event “highlighting and summarizing the main point”, or “Matome” in Japanese, were analyzed in eighth-grade “well-taught” mathematics classrooms in Australia, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Mainland China (Shanghai), and the USA (Shimizu, 2006). For the Japanese teachers, the event “Matome” appeared to have the following principal functions: (i) highlighting and summarizing the main point, (ii) promoting students’ reflection on what they have done, (iii) setting the context for introducing a new mathematical concept or term based on the previous experiences, and (iv) making connections between the current topic and previous one. For the teachers to be successful in maintaining these functions, the goals of lesson should be very clear to themselves, activities in the lesson as a whole need to be coherent, and students need to be involved deeply in the process of teaching and learning. The results suggest that clear goals of the lesson, a coherence of activities in the entire lesson, active students’ involvement into the lesson, are all to be noted for the quality instruction in Japanese classrooms. Also teachers need to be flexible in using a “lesson pattern”, when they plan and implement a lesson as “structured problem-solving”. 2.4 A story or a drama as a metaphor for an excellent lesson Associated with the descriptions of “structured problem-solving” approach to mathematics instruction discussed above, several key pedagogical terms are shared by Japanese teachers. These terms reflect what Japanese teachers value in planning and implementing lessons within Japanese culture. “Hatsumon”, for example, means asking a key question to provoke and facilitate students’ thinking at a particular point of the lesson. The teacher may ask a question for probing students’ understanding of the topic at the beginning of the lesson or for facilitating students’ thinking on a specific aspect of the problem. “Yamaba”, on the other hand, means a highlight or climax of a lesson. Japanese teachers think that every lesson should include at least one “Yamaba”. This climax usually

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appears as a highlight during the whole-class discussion. The point here is that all the activities, or some variations of them, constitute a coherent system called a lesson that hopefully includes a climax. Further, among Japanese teachers, a lesson is often regarded as a drama, which has a beginning, leads to a climax, and then invites a conclusion. Japanese teachers often refer to the idea of “KI-SHO-TEN-KETSU”, which was originated in the Chinese poem, in their planning and implementation of a lesson. The idea suggests that Japanese lessons have a particular structure of a flow moving from the beginning (“KI”, a starting point) toward the end (“KETSU”, summary of the whole story). If we take a story or a drama as a metaphor for considering an excellent lesson, a lesson needs to have a highlight or climax based on the active role of students guided by the teacher in a coherent way. Stigler and Perry (1988) found reflectivity in Japanese mathematics classroom. They pointed out that the Japanese teachers stress the process by which a problem is worked and exhort students to carry out procedure patiently, with care and precision. Given the fact that the schools are part of the larger society, it is worthwhile to look at how they fit into the society as a whole. The reflectivity seems to rest on a tacit set of core beliefs about what should be valued and esteemed in the classroom. As Lewis noted, within Japanese schools, as within the larger Japanese culture, Hansei—self-critical reflection—is emphasized and esteemed (Lewis, 1995). In sum, the selected findings of large-scale international studies of classroom practices in mathematics examined above suggest that “structured problem solving” in the classroom with an emphasis on students’ alternative solutions to a problem can be a characterization of Japanese classroom instruction from a teacher’s perspective. Also, a coherence of the entire lesson composed of several segments, students’ involvement in each part of the lesson, and the reflection of what they did are all to be noted for the approach taken by Japanese teachers. To comprehend what Japanese teachers value in their instruction with a cultural bias, a story or a drama can be a metaphor for characterizing an excellent lesson in Japan.

. and to tell the right things at the right times. As for the angle bisector problem. the teacher first needs to pose a thought-provoking. to focus on the methods used to solve problem. The angle bisector problem To make the mathematics problematic for students. Draw the bisector to the following angle by using compass and straightedge. teacher can use a paper on with the problem is printed and tear it off in front of the students as shown in Figure 2. Students are expected to learn how to draw the bisector to any given angle by using compass and straightedge. The topic is taught in 7th grade within the current national curriculum standard in Japan. Figure 1. The following example illustrates these points. Here is a typical construction problem of an angle bisector (see Figure 1). teachers need to plan it by trying to allow mathematics to be problematic for students. but not too difficult.96 Mathematical Problem Solving 3 Preparing a Lesson by Focusing on Students’ Problem Solving To prepare a lesson with a focus on students’ problem solving. problem for the students to solve.

The student who produced Figure 3c used parallel line (l3) to have triangle ABC. The “torn. students are involved in the problem situation and will start to think about it deeply. In the lesson. and 3c show some of the solutions that were found by the students in 9th grade mathematics classroom. Teachers may encourage their students to work together with classmates in pairs or in small groups. 3b. Can you still draw the bisector to the original angle? 97 Figure 2. Figures 3a.off” angle bisector problem can be used in the classroom of 8th or 9th grade students. The angle bisector problem revised By setting the context for the angle as described above. Students will come up with various methods by using mathematical ideas they have learned.Japanese Approach to Teaching Mathematics via Problem Solving When you were going to draw the bisector to the angle by using compass and straightedge. the paper was torn off as below. While students are working on the problem. The angle bisector line is drawn as the perpendicular line to the “bottom” BD. By extending the line BC to get point D on the other given line (l2). Figures 3a and 3b are the solutions by using inscribed circle to the given lines in different ways. the teacher needs to observe the students as they work. The teacher may give suggestions or help individually those students who are having difficulty in approaching the problem and also look for the students who have good ideas with the intention of calling . we can see the large “triangle”. certain amount of time is to be assigned for the students to solve this challenging problem on their own. if they have difficulty understanding it.

The analysis includes analyses of the mathematical connections both between the current topic and previous topics (and forthcoming ones in most cases) and within the topic. There are many ideas used to solve the problem. teachers need to analyze the topic carefully in accordance with the objective(s) of a lesson. 4 Some Practical Ideas Shared by Japanese Teachers Various teachers with whom I have worked over the past several years have made numerous suggestions to me regarding the Japanese approach . Students’ alternative solutions to the problem on them in a certain order during the subsequent whole-class discussion. In a whole-class discussion. teachers need to think about aspects described above. and planning of instructional activities based on them. Throughout the process of preparation and implementation of a lesson. Before implementing the lesson. The focus here is not just presenting alternative solutions but to reflect on them to consider similarities and differences among the methods from mathematical points of view. The students who have already gotten a solution should be encouraged by the teacher to find an alternative method for solving to the problem. students’ solutions are presented and discussed. The mathematical ideas used to solve the problem can be classified into groups and then integrated. Through the discussion the students can understand that the key to the solutions can be regarded as transforming the “missing angle” to appear again on the paper.98 Mathematical Problem Solving Figure 3a Figure 3b Figure 3c Figure 3. anticipation for students’ approaches to the problem presented.

This practical technique may seem to be trivial but it is very important to ensure the student’s “ownership” of the presented method and makes the whole-class discussion more exciting and interesting for the students. Whenever possible. 2003). organized manner. which can be translated as “polishing up”. five are especially pertinent to the focus of this chapter. works as a metaphor for the process of “polishing” students’ ideas and getting an integrated mathematical idea through a dynamic whole-class discussion. Suggestion 1: Label students’ methods with their names During the whole-class discussion of the students’ solution methods. it is much easier to compare multiple solution methods. which is referred as “bansho” (board writing) by Japanese teachers. Japanese teachers regard “neriage” as critical to the success or failure of the entire lesson. giving both the students and the teacher a birds-eye view of what has happened during the lesson. . This word. Also. teachers put everything written during the lesson on the chalkboard without erasing. Among these suggestions. “neriage.” is used to describe the dynamic and collaborative nature of a whole-class discussion in the lesson. the chalkboard can be a written record of the entire lesson. Suggestion 2: Use the chalkboard effectively Another important technique used by the teacher relates to the use of the chalkboard. each solution method is referred by the name of student in the discussion.Japanese Approach to Teaching Mathematics via Problem Solving 99 to teaching mathematics (Shimizu. By not erasing anything the students have done and placing their work on the chalkboard in a logical. Thereafter. each method is labeled with the name of the student who originally presented it. Suggestion 3: Use the whole-class discussion to polish students’ ideas The Japanese word.

5 Final Remarks The Japanese approach to teaching mathematics via problem solving usually takes a form of organizing an entire lesson around posing one or two problems with a focus on the subsequent discussion of various solution methods generated by the students. It is important for the teacher to provide additional encouragement to the students to find alternative solution methods in addition to their initial approaches. Suggestion 5: Consider how to encourage a variety of solution methods What else should the teacher do to encourage a wide variety of student responses? There are various things the teacher can do when the students come up with only a few solution methods. teachers have to understand well the relationship between mathematics content to be taught and students’ thinking about the problem to be posed. Rather. In this approach problem solving is an essential vehicle for teaching mathematics. the context for the problem is crucial for the students to be involved in it. In particular. Anticipating students’ responses to the problem is the crucial aspect of lesson planning in the Japanese approach to teaching mathematics through problem solving.100 Mathematical Problem Solving Suggestion 4: Choose the context of the problem carefully The specific nature of the problem presented to the students is very important. The students’ own ideas are incorporated into the classroom process of discussing multiple solution methods to the problem. . This instructional approach is not used only on special occasions or once per week. it is the standard approach followed for teaching ALL mathematics content. Even the numbers in word problems are to be carefully selected for eliciting a wide variety of student responses. In order for lessons to be successful. Careful selection of the problem is the starting point for getting a variety of student responses.

International Journal of Educational Research. (Eds. (1999).A.A. VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. I. Y.. & T. Shimizu. Mahwah.). Arithmetic Teacher.Japanese Approach to Teaching Mathematics via Problem Solving 101 References Becker. Cooney (Eds. O’Keefe. J.) Perspectives on research on effective mathematics teaching (pp. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers. Jablonka & I.J.. (2006). C. Clarke. Cross cultural studies of mathematics teaching and learning: Recent findings and new directions. & Wilson. Grouws.K. M. (1990. The Free Press. 127-145).W.. D. 2(1).. E. 107-116. 46.C. Making connections: Comparing mathematics classrooms around the world. (2003). (1995). (2007).. Educating hearts and minds: Reflections on Japanese preschool and elementary education. How do you conclude today’s lesson? The form and functions of “Matome” in mathematics lessons. Shimizu. 280-293. & Mok. Teaching mathematics through problem solving: Grades Pre K . (pp. VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.G. Aspects of mathematics teacher education in Japan: Focusing on teachers’ role. D.C. M. Problem solving as a vehicle for teaching mathematics: A Japanese perspective. 205-214). 12-21.. (2006). J.. C. J. Emanuelsson.. Lewis. 38. Shimizu..A..6. Emanuelsson. & Shimizu. E. Travers. Jablonka. 194-223). (1988). M. .). In D.J.. New York: Cambridge University Press. Silver. New York: NY.A.W.. J. J. & Hiebert.. J. Some observations of mathematics teaching in Japanese elementary and junior high schools. October). E. The teaching gap: Best ideas from the world’s teachers for improving education in the classroom. Kantowski. Lester (Ed.W. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers. Clarke. Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education. Stigler. I.) Making Connections: Comparing Mathematics Classrooms Around the World (pp. In F.. (1999). C.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates & Reston. In D.P. Y. Jablonka. Mesiti. Clarke. A. Addressing the challenge of legitimate international comparisons of classroom practice. Stigler. J.. C. K. & Perry. NJ. (Eds. Y.. Reston. E. Y. Mok.

for problem solving. namely problem posing that occurs before. during or after problem solving. The use of problem posing for various instructional goals such as to develop concepts.Chapter 6 Mathematical Problem Posing in Singapore Primary Schools YEAP Ban Har Mathematical problem posing is the generation of mathematics problems as well as the reformulation of existing ones. Silver delineated three types of problem posing. and (e) connecting to one’s experiences. for drill-and-practice. These processes include (a) posing primitives. examples on the use of problem posing before. (b) posing related problems. 1 Introduction Mathematical problem posing is defined as the generation of new problems. Silver’s definition suggests that it is necessary to consider mathematical problem posing in any discussion on mathematical problem solving. 1994). to assess understanding. as well as the reformulation of existing ones (Silver. 102 . (c) constructing meaning for a mathematical operation. (d) engaging in metacognition. and to provide differentiated instruction is described and illustrated using cases from Singapore schools. during and after problem solving are given and illustrated. The chapter focuses on problem-posing process that primary school students engaged in. In this chapter.

2002. selected research on the relationship between problem solving and problem posing are described. This chapter focuses on mathematical problem posing. it is hoped that students are able to “formulate and solve problems (p.Mathematical Problem Posing in Singapore Primary Schools 103 In Singapore. In the second part of the chapter. fifth and seventh graders in Australia. 2007).)”. 2 Mathematical Problem Solving and Problem Posing The relationship between mathematical problem solving and problem posing has been the subject of many research studies. Perrin.1. Students who were better in non-routine problem solving were better problem posers. 2007). she found that competence in routine . Ministry of Education. the different roles of problem-posing tasks in the classroom are described. 2006a. some research on mathematical problem posing are presented. Among the aims of the curriculum. English (1997b. including understanding and problem-solving ability. students’ (1) aptitude in mathematics. In particular. The benefits of using problem-posing tasks in the mathematics classrooms has been investigated across grade levels and cannot be ignored as such tasks can influence. among other things. 1997c. Knuth. p. (2) attitudes towards mathematics. 1997a. In particular. including curiosity and interest. Ramakrishnan & Gan. 2002. Ministry of Education 2006b. In the first part of the chapter. and (3) ownership of their work (English. The other chapters in this book focus on various aspects of mathematical problem solving.g. 1998) found some relationship between problem solving and problem posing. The findings from one research on Singapore students focusing on the problem-posing processes are presented. Problem-posing tasks are also common in primary school textbooks used in Singapore (e. Grundmeier. 5. Silver and Cai (1996) found that problem-solving ability of American middle school students highly correlated with their ability to pose semantically complex problems in one type of problem-posing task. Fong. the mathematics curriculum framework focuses on mathematical problem solving. In a series of investigations on third.

In all these research studies. Pittalis. Pantazi and Sriraman (2005) studied sixth graders to understand processes that students used during mathematical problem posing. Research on problem posing during and after problem solving is comparatively less established. connecting to one’s experiences. students were asked to pose the problems given some stimulus. . 2002). Among others. Winograd (1990) found that many students generated and selected information from their experiences or immediate physical environment when they posed problems. posing related problems. 3. 2002). posing primitives. In addition.104 Mathematical Problem Solving problem solving is associated with posing of computationally complex. it was found that primary school students engaged in five categories of problem-posing processes (Yeap. Among Singapore students. which was confirmed in a study by Silver and Cai (1996). constructing meaning for a mathematical operation. and 5. Mousoulides. The categories included: 1. Competence in novel problem solving is associated with posing of structurally complex problems. the relationship between problem solving and problem posing was not dependent on grade level. In a study on third grade and fifth grade Singapore students posing arithmetic word problems. but not necessarily structurally complex. problems. More recently. 4. engaging in metacognition. it was found that good problem solvers had significantly higher problem-posing scores than poor problem solvers (Yeap. 3 Mathematical Problem-Posing Processes Kilpatrick (1987) argued that one of the basic cognitive processes involved in mathematical problem posing is association. it was found that the students were engaged in selecting quantitative information during problem posing. 2. Christou. it was found that when the students had no prior experience in problem posing.

1 Posing primitives According to Krutetskii (1976). significantly fewer students posed questions to determine the number of . Similarly. You can include other numbers.” The unstated question is “How many pipes of each kind were laid?” Silver and Cai (1996) referred to such questions as primitives. The first statement is a relational one which compares the number of girls in two classes. A Task for Mathematical Problem Posing (Task 1) girls in Primary 4A. Write three mathematics questions about the two classes.Mathematical Problem Posing in Singapore Primary Schools 105 3. For example. 2002). in a test to identify mathematicallyable students. Many students posed questions to determine the number of boys in the two classes. given the number of girls in Primary 4B. Figure 1 shows a problem-posing task used in the study to investigate problem-posing processes (Yeap. Responses in Category A were common as were responses in Category B. Figure 1. The students’ responses were of four types (see Table 1). where students posed questions to determine the number of There are 3 more girls in Primary 4A than in Primary 4B. given the number of girls in Primary 4A. The second statement is an assignment one which describes the number of boys in the two classes. students who are good in mathematics can see the ‘hidden’ questions when presented with text containing numerical information. Significantly fewer students posed questions to determine the number of girls in Primary 4B. the test requires students to pose a question that follows the text “25 pipes of lengths 5 m and 8 m were laid over a distance of 155 m. if you like. There are 15 boys in each class.

How many pupils are there in 4A? If there are 40 pupils in Pr. Students are said to have posed serial questions when each question requires information from the previous one. The first type of related questions is called serial questions. given the number of children in the class. Using the task shown in Figure 1. how many girls are there in Primary 4A? D Miss Sem teach 4A. Table 1 Responses to Task 1 Category of Response A B Sample Responses How many boys are there in both classes? How many girls are there in Primary 4A if there are 33 girls in Primary 4B? C If there are 40 girls in Primary 4B. Silver & Cai. Two of the three types of relatedness are described here. Silver et al. 1993.106 Mathematical Problem Solving girls in one class. how many girls are there (in 4A)? Note: The sample responses were taken verbatim from the data (Yeap..2 Posing related problems Kilpatrick (1989) argued that one of the basic cognitive processes involved in problem posing is making associations. Yeap (2002) found that students posed three types of related questions to a given situation. given the number of girls in that class. 2002). Figure 2 shows two such responses. 4A has 27 girls. Silver and his associates have previously explored this process in several studies (Leung. or to determine the number of children in one class. 4A. 1996). 3. . 1996.

How many girls are there in 4B? Figure 3. How many children are there in 4B? There are 32 children in 4B. Figure 3 shows two such responses. If there are 33 pupils in Primary 4A. Response 2 There are 30 children in 4A. Serial questions 107 Response 1 If there are 20 girls in Primary 4A. how many girls are there in 4A? How many students are there in 4A? How many students are there in the two classes? Figure 2. The answer of the preceding question does not facilitate the answering of the one that follows. For example. Students are said to have posed parallel questions when each of the questions have the same structure.3 Constructing meaning for mathematical symbols Yeap (2002) found that when students were asked to pose a word problem that has as one of its solution steps the multiplication sentence 4 × 6. 3. Parallel questions The second type of related questions is called parallel questions. none of the third graders posed . How many pupils are there in Primary 4B.Mathematical Problem Posing in Singapore Primary Schools Response 1 How many girls are there in Primary 4A? How many girls are there in Primary 4B? Response 2 If there are 24 girls in 4B. How many children are there in 4A? There are 21 girls in 4A. How many pupils are there in Primary 4B. they posed problems to show the meanings of multiplication that they had been taught.

Table 2 shows examples of the students’ responses. He needs to buy another 5 more boxes. it was found that the students were just as likely to pose the more difficult multiplicative comparison type problems. A student demonstrated substantial monitoring of his problem-posing process from the way he edited his .108 Mathematical Problem Solving problems involving area as they had not been taught the concept. Although it was expected that equal groups problem would have been easier.4 Engaging in metacognition A few examples of students engaging in metacognition as they posed problems are given below. I collected 4 times as many phone cards as him. How many phone cards did I collected? Rectangular Array There are 6 chairs in a row. How many oranges are there? Comparison Tom collected 6 phone cards. Table 2 Meanings Students Associated Multiplication with Type of Situation Equal Groups Sample Responses There are 4 boxes of oranges. Neither the third graders nor the fifth graders had any experiences with combinatorial problems. If there are 4 rows how many chairs were there? Area A rectangular room has a breadth o4 m and a length 6 m. Previous studies with students in the same age group (English. What is the area of the rectangular room? Rate Ahmad bought a box for $4. there are 6 oranges. Each box. This could be because the Singapore third grade textbooks emphasize the more difficult multiplicative comparison and rate problems. 1996) found that students tended to pose equal group problems and few of them posed multiplicative comparison problems. How much money would he have spent for all the boxes? 3. hence none of them posed such problems.

he changed Mary to Ali and his eventual statement was: if Jane and Ali have the same amount of money. 10 of them burst. All the names he included were his good friends’ and his. which he edited to Mary has $30. however. The effect was. A primary five student used the names of real people in his problems. And included a third 6 person. to satisfy the condition that the answer must be 10. When asked to pose a problem that has an answer of 10. 40 of them had been stole and 20 of them had been given away. Menon (1995) found that children tended to pose problems based on their nonmathematical experiences.5 Connecting to one’s experiences Ellerton (1986) found that the content and style of students’ problems uniquely reflect their mathematical experiences and ideas. Figure 4 shows an example of the problems posed by this student. 10 of them burst. probably to make the problem more complex: if Jane and Mary have the same amount of money. He deleted his pending question and continued: and peter has spent all his money how much is their Average money altogether? Another student wrote: Britney Spears has 100 balloons. 30 of them had been stole and 30 of them had been given away. he edited his text because he probably realized the answer would not be 10. 3.Mathematical Problem Posing in Singapore Primary Schools 109 problem as he posed it. 20 of them flied away. 20 of them flied away. He also used an object that he was probably familiar with (a popular toy called pokemon) in some of his problems. He then continued: Ali has 1 of Mary’s money. He was evidently using his non-mathematical experiences when he posed his problems. Yeap (2002) found that students in Singapore were making connections to their non-mathematical experiences as well as to their experiences with textbook problems. Her final text read: Britney Spears has 100 balloons. . However. what is … At this point. on superficial features of the problems. Her initial question was: How many balloons had been stole than been given away? She decided to make hers a two-part problem and wrote the second part: How many balloons are there left? The student demonstrated ability to monitor her thoughts as she went back to her original text and changed two numbers. he initially wrote: Mary has $60.

Textbook analysis revealed that the primary three textbook emphasized the comparison problems when dealing with multiplication. And children would pose problems about John and Mary: John has 11 sweets. Each ant has 6 legs. there are 6 oranges.110 Mathematical Problem Solving Qiwen has 25 pokemon. For example. How many ball had Mary? In modelling their word problems after textbook ones. Iman and Huang Yong decided to combine their pokemon together. some students suspended their sense of reality. She wrote a problem based on science facts she knew. How many stamps did Kelvin have?) than equal group problems (There are 4 boxes oranges. What is the difference of Iman and Huang Yong pokemon and Qiwen’s pokemon. although these names were rare among the peers of the students in the study. The textbooks also influenced the students in more superficial ways. There were 16 comparison problems and eight equal group problems in the textbooks used by the students in the study. Many students used names commonly used in the textbook word problems such as John and Mary. John has 326 stickers more than Mary. How many will he has now? Mary has 956 stickers. Among the primary three students. that an insect has 6 legs and that an ant is an insect. A primary five students. How many stickers do they have altogether? And John has 5 balls. Iman’s problem In a rare case. If he eats 1 sweet. Mary has twicw as many as John. Figure 4. How many oranges are there?) although the former is structurally more challenging. How many legs are there altogether? The textbooks seemed to have a big influence on the problems posed by the students. John was the character in two word problems among nine that appeared on two pages of a textbook. when . Each box. a student used her knowledge in another school subject to pose her problems. it was surprising that more of them posed comparison problems (Tom has 4 stamps. She wrote: There are 4 ants. Kelvin has 6 times as much as Tom. Iman has 10 pokemon and Huang Yong has 5 pokemon.

Others ignored relationships. wrote John is 6 m tall and his sister is 4 times as tall as him. 4. A primary three student posed this problem: There are 12 adults in the hall. Mrs Pang conducted a lesson on the use of square tiles to help students develop the concept of area of a figure. There are 3 times as many women as adults. 4 Mathematical Problem Posing in the Classroom The use of mathematical problem posing to develop concepts. Among the questions posed was one about the relative size of the two rectangles: Which rectangle is bigger? Based on the question posed by students. as an assessment tool. as a motivational tool and to cater to mixed-ability classes are described with specific examples. The preceding sections describe some processes that students engage in when they pose mathematical problems. to provide drill-and-practice.1 Developing a concept Mrs Pang showed a class two rectangles and asked the primary three students to ask questions about the two rectangles. 4. for problem solving. The use of problem posing helps students achieve a focus in a lesson. How tall is the sister?. Which rectangle is bigger?. In the next section. students also develop the ability to focus on significant aspects of situations presented to them. How many women are there?. When problem posing is used on a regular basis. the roles of mathematical problem posing in the classroom are discussed. The student failed to see that women are a subset of adults. became the focus of the lesson on area.2 Providing drill-and-practice Mr Osman asked his primary six students to sketch composite figures that included circles or part of circles such that the area of each figure . The question posed.Mathematical Problem Posing in Singapore Primary Schools 111 asked to pose a problem that has an answer of 4 × 6.

4. The use of problem posing allows teachers to add value to drill-andpractice activities by engaging students in a range of higher-order thinking skills and habits of mind. In coming up with the required figures. Figure 5. David started his journey 30 minutes earlier than Michael. students practiced repeatedly the use of formulae to calculate area of various figures including circles. David and Michael drove from Town A to Town B at different speeds. David had travelled 4 5 of the journey and was 75 km away from Town B. Michael reached Town B 50 minutes earlier than David. The students also had the chance to exercise their creativity and tried to out-do each other by coming up with figures that none of their peers had come up with. Both did not change their speeds throughout their journeys. The students were allowed the use of calculators. The students were given the text shown in Figure 5.3 Problem solving Miss Siti asked her primary six students to pose questions based on the text of a word problem she was using to teach problem solving in the topic of speed. They also had the opportunity to make adjustments to ‘incorrect’ figures to obtain the required ones. However. Text used in Miss Siti’s class Some of the questions asked by the students are: • What was the distance between the two towns? • Who took more time for the journey? How much more? • How much time did David take? How much time did Michael take? • What was David’s speed? What was Michael’s speed? . students had the opportunity to evaluate if their figures satisfied the given conditions. When Michael reached Town B.112 Mathematical Problem Solving was 154 cm2 instead of asking students to compute the areas of composite figures drawn for them. In addition.

and Tom collected 6 phone cards. Students who lacked an understanding of multiplication posed problems such as Ani has 4 sweets and Bala has 6 sweets. students have to know the intermediate questions they need answers to. multi-step problem. Such students posed problems involving array (There are 6 chairs in a row.Mathematical Problem Posing in Singapore Primary Schools 113 Subsequently. I collected 4 times as many phone cards as him. By giving students. Miss Siti asked students to decide the questions that can be answered directly using the information in the text and those that require further information before they can be answered. many opportunities to pose problems in problem-solving lessons. He also encouraged them to make the problems as different as possible. How many does she had. In solving a complex.4 Assessing understanding Mr Iqbal asked his primary three students to make up three word problems that can be solved by doing 4 × 6. teachers are essentially teaching them the problem-solving process. Each fish costs $4 each. 4. He was able to get a glimpse of the students’ conceptual understanding. He was able to assess his students conceptual understanding of multiplication by looking at the situations the students used in the word problems. If there are 4 rows how many chairs were there?) and rate (Mr Tan bought 6 kg of fish. How many books did David have after buying the 4 books? Students who had the appropriate concept of multiplication posed problems such as: Bob had 6 bags of flowers each bag of flower had 4. How much did he pay?) By using a problem-posing task Mr Iqbal was able to go beyond assessing procedural knowledge. . How many phone cards did I collected? Mr Iqbal was also able to see that some of his students were more advanced as they posed problems with situations that most primary three students do not often associate with multiplication. How many sweets do they have altogether? and David had 20 books and he bought another 4 books.

Miss Gan then asked these students to solve the problem based on the what-if questions. she allowed her struggling students to leave 3 out one of the whole numbers and encouraged her advanced students to make their problems multi-step. some managed to do it quickly while others struggled for a long time. Other asked what if they were not allowed to use. This provided advanced students to be . In asking her primary four students to write a word problem that includes the numbers 2 . 6 and 24. + She asked students who managed to find possible solutions quickly to ask themselves what-if questions.5 Differentiating instruction Madam Gowri likes to use problem-posing in her mixed-ability class. the digit 0. This allows the struggling students to handle the tasks at their level and that in itself is motivating. say. While the average student may pose a problem such as: Primary 3A has 6 boys and 24 girls. Problem posing also prevents the advanced students from becoming bored with standard tasks as they were able to challenge themselves by trying to figure out how to compose the three numbers in a way that the problem is solvable. Some of them asked what if the sum is a four-digit number. She asked the latter to also make their problems more challenging. How many students like pizza? An 3 advanced student may pose problem: John read 6 pages of a book on Monday. 2 of the students say they like pizza. When she asked her primary three students to use the digits 0 to 9 exactly once to make a correct addition sentence.114 Mathematical Problem Solving 4. He read 2 of the remaining pages on Tuesday and still has 24 3 pages left. How many pages does the book have? Miss Gan often uses what-if questions with her students.

Mulligan & M. English. (1996).Mathematical Problem Posing in Singapore Primary Schools 115 engaged with challenging. Seven-grade students problem posing from open-ended situations. 34(3). (1997b). L. 17. 183-217. English. 39-49). D. L. An understanding of these processes allows teachers to choose appropriate problem-posing tasks for classroom use. D. D. Children’s problem-posing and problem-solving preferences. Journal of Research for Mathematics Education. self-directed tasks which in turn was a form of motivation. Biddulph & K. Educational Studies in Mathematics. English. D. Investigations into problems posed by students can be used to explore students’ mathematical understand as well as generic ability such as creativity.). 261-271. . F. Children’s number learning (pp. Mitchelmore (Eds. Teaching Children Mathematics.). Some ideas for classroom research include investigating the problems students posed as well as investigating the effects of problem posing as an intervention. 5 Conclusion This chapter outlines some processes that students engage in when they pose mathematical problems. (1986). References Ellerton. Carr (Eds. Investigations using problem posing as an intervention can show it effects on problem solving and attitudes. The development of fifth-grade children’s problem-posing abilities. L. 29(1). N. (1997c). 227-242). Adelaide. English. problem posing during problem solving (such as Miss Siti’s example) and problem posing after problem solving (such as Miss Gan’s example) illustrates the various roles that problem-posing tasks can play in the classroom. (1997a). Educational Studies in Mathematics. In F. 172-179. L. 4. Sydney: Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia Inc. People in Mathematics Education (pp. Australia: The Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers Inc. Children’s problem posing within formal and informal context. Promoting a problem-posing classroom. L. Children’s made up problems: A new perspective of talented mathematicians. (1998). English. In J. 82-106. D. Different types of problem-solving tasks including problem posing before problem solving (such as Mr Iqbal’s example).

NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. P. E. (1976). Silver. E. J. For The Learning of Mathematics. & Gan. J. Singapore: Curriculum Planning and Development Division. J. 14. A. 182-192. 123-147). (1996). E. E. 122-134. & Kenney. H. (1996). An analysis of arithmetic problem posing by middle school students. K. Ministry of Education (2006a). problem-solving ability and task type. (1990). J. The relations of mathematical knowledge and creative thinking to the mathematical problem posing of prospective elementary school teachers on tasks differing in numerical content. H.. University of Pittsburg. C. (2007). 17(1). Relationship between children’s mathematical word problem posing and grade level. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Singapore: Curriculum Planning and Development Division. Journal of Research for Mathematics Education. J. 293-309. Leung.. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. University students’ problem-posing abilities and attitudes towards mathematics. Hillsdale.).. Writing. Focus on Learning Problems in Mathematics. Journal of Research for Mathematics Education. A. Problem posing at all levels in the calculus classroom. The psychology of mathematical abilities in school children. F. Schoenfeld (Ed. 95. (1994). (2002). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. (2007). V. My Pals Are Here! Maths Second Edition. (2002). 12. S. S. Silver. Fostering mathematical curiosity. A.. School Science and Mathematics. University of Northern Colorado. Cognitive science and mathematics education (pp. Grundmeier. 27(3). Problem formulating: Where do good problems come from? In A. Mathematics syllabus: Secondary. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Education. K. Mamona-Downs. solving and sharing original math story problem: Case studies of fifth grade children’s cognitive behavior. R. Yeap. 25-33. 107(5). PRIMUS. A. A. S. & Cai. 126-130. (1987). Winograd. (2002). Kilpatrick. R. H. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Ramakrishnan.. 19-28. Nanyang Technological University. 521-539. B. (1993). Silver. S. (1995). Mathematics Teacher. T. S. The role of context in student-constructed questions. Mathematics syllabus: Primary. K. 27(5). Ministry of Education (2006b). Menon. Posing mathematical problems: An exploratory study.116 Mathematical Problem Solving Fong. . Knuth. A. Perrin. Krutetskii. Leung. On mathematical problem posing.

1997) believe that mathematical investigation 117 . In fact. In this chapter. We also deliberate whether induction is proof and how heuristics are related to investigation. as a process and as an activity..g.Chapter 7 Solving Mathematical Problems by Investigation Joseph B. Few educators would talk about solving mathematical problems by investigation. By looking at two examples of closed mathematical tasks. justifying and generalising. W. Lee & Miller. we consider the implications of the idea of solving mathematical problems by investigation on teaching. we discuss the relationship between problem solving and investigation by differentiating investigation as a task. and we show how the process of investigation can occur in problem solving if we view mathematical investigation as a process consisting of specialising. YEO YEAP Ban Har Most educators would think of heuristics when it comes to solving closed mathematical problems. we examine how investigation can help teachers and students to solve these problems when they are stuck and how it can aid them to develop a more rigorous proof for their conjectures. 1 Introduction The use of problem-solving heuristics or strategies to solve mathematical problems was popularised by Pólya (1957) in his book How to solve it (first edition in 1945). many educators (e. Finally. HMI. 1985. conjecturing. while many researchers believe that mathematical investigation must be open and is different from problem solving.

Some educators (e. they usually ended up separating them as distinct processes: problem solving is convergent while investigation is divergent (HMI.g..g. We begin by examining what constitutes a problem to a particular person. and then characterising the process of mathematical investigation as involving the four core thinking processes of specialising. justifying and generalising. 1985). and to discuss how they can make use of investigation to develop a more rigorous proof for their conjectures. In particular. investigation as a process and investigation as an activity. Thus the idea of solving closed mathematical problems by investigation is a contradictory notion. Evans. Then we deliberate whether induction is proof by looking at the different meanings of the terms ‘induction’. conjecturing. 1996) have observed that there are overlaps between problem solving and investigation. whether problems must be closed or whether they can be open. 1987. 1987) have even claimed that it is not fruitful to discuss the similarities and differences between them. Subsequently. we observe how investigation can help them to develop a more rigorous proof for their conjectures. Therefore. Orton & Frobisher. the main purposes of this chapter are to clarify the relationship between problem solving and investigation. The chapter ends with some implications for teaching. and how investigation is related to problems. Although many educators (e.. but we agree with Frobisher (1994) that this is a crucial issue that may affect how and what teachers teach their students. to illustrate how investigation can help teachers and students to solve two closed mathematical problems when they are stuck. Pirie. We argue that investigation as a process can occur when solving closed mathematical problems and we examine how investigation can aid teachers and students to solve these problems when they are stuck by looking at two closed mathematical tasks.118 Mathematical Problem Solving must be open and that it must involve problem posing. and we consider how investigation is related to problem-solving heuristics after establishing that investigation is a means to solve closed problems. we discuss the relationship between investigation and problem solving by first separating investigation into investigative tasks. . ‘inductive observation’ and ‘inductive reasoning’.

it implies that the task is a problem to the person because if otherwise. we do use the terms ‘mathematical problems’ and ‘problem solving’ in this chapter. but whenever such terms are used. Lindquist.g. 2002). the United States of America. 1991) used the phrase ‘mathematical tasks’ instead of ‘mathematical problems’ (see. One of the contentious issues among educators concerns the closure or openness of mathematical problems. Lambdin. and Orton and Frobisher (1996) claimed that very few mathematics educators would classify mathematical investigations as problems because they were of the opinion that investigations must have an open and ill-defined goal. If the person is “unable to proceed directly to a solution” (Lester.. Thus most textbook ‘problems’ are actually not problems to many students partly because they know how to ‘solve’ them and partly because the main purpose of these ‘problems’ is to practise students in the procedural skills that have been taught in class earlier (Moschkovich. For example. However. Henderson and Pingry (1953) believed that a problem must have a clearly defined goal. Nevertheless. Smith.Solving Mathematical Problems by Investigation 119 2 Relationship between Problem Solving and Investigation Whether a situation is a problem or not depends on the particular individual (Henderson & Pingry. would call investigations ‘open problems’. and Suydam (2004) believed that this difficulty must require “some creative effort and higher-level thinking” (p.g. Reys. then the situation is a problem to him or her. 25) and Schoenfeld (1985) wrote. then the investigation is still a problem to the student. e. p.. it may be a better idea to use the term ‘mathematical task’ instead of ‘mathematical problem’ when we are referring to the task itself. But we agree with Evans (1987) that if a student does not know what to do when faced with an investigation. Orton and Frobisher (1996) also observed that educators in some countries. 74). e. But this phrase is an oxymoron if one holds on to the view that problems must be closed. this suggests that many educators seem to separate mathematical problems . the Professional Standards for Teaching Mathematics (NCTM. “… being a ‘problem’ is not a property inherent in a mathematical task [emphasis mine]” (p. then there is no need to solve the task. 30). 1980. 1953). 115) to resolve. p. Therefore.

2005. each of the 70 participants shakes hand once with each of the other participants. Find the total number of handshakes. which may help the students to solve the original problem. For example. thus suggesting . a thorough search has revealed a few writings.g. 10). 1987). Although many educators have claimed that there are overlaps between problem solving and investigation.g. For example. But there seems to be very little literature on this subject of solving a closed problem by investigation. to verify) throughout the Standards” (NCTM. Some teachers believe that these students can begin by investigating what happens if there are fewer numbers of participants. If students do not know how to solve this task. they still ended up separating them. to investigate. Bloom. Frobisher. to formulate. school teachers are often not so clear about the differences between problem solving and investigation. 1994) have suggested that investigation should involve both problem posing and problem solving. p. to find. Cai & Cifarelli... The Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics stipulated that “our ideas about problem situations and learning are reflected in the verbs we use to describe student actions (e. consider the following mathematical task which is closed: Task 1: Handshakes At a workshop.120 Mathematical Problem Solving from investigations in that the former must be closed while the latter must be open. HMI (1985) stipulated that there is no clear distinction between problem solving and investigation but it still ended up separating problem solving as a convergent activity from investigation as a divergent activity partly because the writers believed that investigation should involve problem posing as well (Evans. However. then this task is a problem to them. Engelhart. Some of them even feel that their students are doing some sort of investigation when solving certain types of closed problems (personal communication). 1989. Furst. in the synthesis class in Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives in the cognitive domain. However. and Krathwohl (1956) wrote about the “ability to integrate the results of an investigation [emphasis mine] into an effective plan or solution to solve a problem [emphasis mine]”. For example. Hill. Others (e.

which is consistent with Christiansen’s and Walther’s (1986) definitions of a task and an activity. An analogy is Pólya’s (1957) four stages of problem solving for closed problems. They called the following an open investigative task. Yeo and Yeap (2009) differentiated between investigation as a task. 2005). they are engaged in an activity.Solving Mathematical Problems by Investigation 121 that the Standards do recognise investigation as a means of dealing with problem situations. This led them to separate investigation as a process from investigation as an activity involving an open investigative task. . During the first stage. 18 = 3 + 4 + 5 + 6. Just as Christiansen and Walther (1986) distinguished between a task and an activity. The conflict appears to arise from the different uses of the same term ‘investigation’. When students attempt this type of open investigative tasks. Yeo and Yeap (2009) tried to reconcile the differences between the view that mathematical investigation must be open and the view that investigation can occur when solving closed problems. 9 = 2 + 3 + 4 = 4 + 5. Yeo and Yeap (2009) called this an open investigative activity which involves both problem posing and problem solving: students need to pose their own problems to solve (Cai & Cifarelli. as a process and as an activity. For example. Investigate. the problem solver should try to understand the problem. 11 = 5 + 6. rather than the ambiguous phrase ‘mathematical investigation’: Task 2: Polite Numbers Polite numbers are natural numbers that can be expressed as the sum of two or more consecutive natural numbers. Yeo and Yeap (2009) observed that when students pose a problem to solve. However. The actual problem-solving process begins during the second stage when the person tries to devise a plan to solve the problem and it continues into the third stage when the person carries out the plan. they have not started investigating yet. But the person has not started solving the problem yet.

mathematical investigation can occur not only in open investigative activities but also in closed problem solving. then generalisation has occurred (Height. then we can solve closed mathematical problems by investigation when we are stuck. Along the way. Therefore. Therefore. Therefore. they usually start by examining specific examples or special cases which Mason. they should first try to understand the task and then pose a problem to solve. justifying and generalising. 1989). Thus investigation involves the four mathematical thinking processes of specialising. 1994). Burton. the students should look back and pose more problems to solve. 1991). if we view investigation as a process involving specialising. However. Kissane. we need to characterise what investigation is. the students will formulate conjectures and test them (Bastow. Similarly. If a conjecture is proven or justified. Hughes. this is before the actual process of investigation. This is why the separation of problem posing in open investigative activities from the process of investigation is very important. The purpose is to search for any underlying pattern or mathematical structure (Frobisher. conjecturing. After the investigation. conjecturing. Yeo and Yeap (2009) observed that when students investigate during an open investigative activity. Hence. From this point onwards. This distinction is important because we would like to argue that investigation can occur when solving closed problems. then investigation cannot happen when solving closed problems. and Stacey (1985) called specialising. there is a difference between the process of investigation and an open investigative activity: the former does not involve problem posing but the latter includes problem posing. (1985) applied to problem solving involving closed problems. . when students attempt an open investigative task. justifying and generalising. But first. which is the fourth stage. But if investigation must involve problem posing. the actual problem-solving process occurs in the second and third stages although problem solving should involve the first and fourth stages also: what the person should do before and after problem solving. the person should look back. & Mortlock. the term ‘investigation’ will be used in this chapter to refer to the process while the activity will be called an ‘open investigative activity’.122 Mathematical Problem Solving After solving the problem. which Mason et al.

so this was a problem to them.. and how the result of an investigation can be used to develop a more formal or rigorous proof for their conjectures. i. what is the sum of the first two fractions. + 2008 . 1 1+ 2 1+ 2 + 3 1+ 2 + 3 + 4 1+ 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 1+ 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 . etc. Furthermore. to see if there is any pattern: 1 1 4 S2 = + = 1 1+ 2 1+ 2 1 1 1 9 S3 = + + = 1 1+ 2 1+ 2 + 3 1+ 2 + 3 1 1 1 1 16 S4 = + + + = 1 1+ 2 1+ 2 + 3 1+ 2 + 3 + 4 1+ 2 + 3 + 4 1 1 1 1 1 25 S5 = + + + + = . we will illustrate how investigation can help teachers and students to solve two closed mathematical problems when they are stuck. the sum of the first three fractions. This task was given to a group of in-service primary school teachers during a workshop at Mathematics Teachers Conference 2008 in Singapore.. Let us start by looking at the following task: Task 3: Series Find the value of 1 1 + 1 1+ 2 + 1 1+ 2 + 3 + . After some pondering. All of them had not seen this question before and they did not know how to solve it immediately. Most of them were stuck: they did not even know how to begin.e. So the first author guided them to investigate some specific examples by starting with smaller sums. + 1 1 + 2 + 3 + .. we deliberate two important issues: whether induction is proof and how heuristics are related to investigation.Solving Mathematical Problems by Investigation 123 3 Solving Mathematical Problems by Investigation In this section.... some of them tried to evaluate the denominators of all the fractions but it led to nowhere.

the cubic polynomial Tn = an3 + bn2 + cn + d. the missing term is only 10 if the sequence is an arithmetic progression. This is probably due to how they were taught number patterns in schools when they were students themselves. So the four equations are: T1 = a + b + c + d = 1 T2 = 8a + 4b + 2c + d = 4 T3 = 27a + 9b + 3c + d = 7 T4 = 64a + 16b + 4c + d = 22.. the next term can be any number. The 1 + 2 + 3 + . ____ Most of the teachers were taught that the answer must be 10 and so it is unique. For example. 2 2n 4016 . For example. the general term is Tn = 3n − 2.g. and a polynomial with four parameters is of degree 3. while most of them did not even realise that this was only a conjecture. in which case. e. T2 = 4. However. all you need to do is to form and solve four simultaneous equations with four unknowns. + n n( n + 1) sum of the numbers in the denominator can be found easily as . what is the next term? 1. S 2008 = . and now they are teaching their students the same thing: there is always a unique answer for the missing term in a sequence. Some of them knew that this was only a conjecture because the observed pattern might not be true but they forgot to test the conjecture.124 Mathematical Problem Solving . In theory. 4.. in the following sequence. i. the fourth term for the above sequence can be 16 if the general term is Tn = n3 − 6n2 + 14n − 8 (the reader can check that T1 = 1. Therefore.. Some teachers were able to observe that S n = n2 .e. 7. 22.. If you want the missing term in the above sequence to be any number. so S n = n +1 2009 Unfortunately. T3 = 7 and T4 = 16 using this formula). most of the teachers thought that this was the answer.

b = −12. then we cannot just assume that the missing term is 32. 8. to avoid ambiguity. For example. we cannot go for ‘the most likely number’ if the sequence has a context and is linked to some underlying pattern. 16. then ‘the most likely number’ is 32 because the general term Tn = 2n−1 is less complicated than a formula such as Tn = nC4 + n−1C2 + nC1. the pattern should become more obvious and most of us may agree on one ‘most likely number’. 2. ____. 16. You can even try non-polynomials like a sine function. consider the following circle: . T3 = 7 and T4 = 22 using this formula). 4. ‘the most likely number’ for the missing term in the above sequence is 10 but some people may disagree. So Tn = 2n3 − 12n2 + 25n − 14 (the reader can check that T1 = 1. For example. if we just consider the following sequence. ____ But if this sequence has a context and is linked to some underlying pattern. 4. 19 However. e. However.. there is no unique answer for the missing term of a sequence. you will find a suitable polynomial. although it can still be any other number if we settle for a complicated formula for the general term. then fewer people would disagree that ‘the most likely number’ for the missing term in the following sequence is 10. Therefore. 1. a polynomial of degree 4. and sooner or later. 1. The answer that we want when we set this type of question is ‘the most likely number’ and what this means is that we prefer the formula for the general term to be less complicated. if we increase the number of given terms as shown below. c = 25 and d = −14. the coefficients may not always be ‘nice’ integral values or the simultaneous equations may have no solutions. we obtain a = 2. Thus the more terms we give for a sequence. T2 = 4. So. you can always try another polynomial that has more parameters. 7. 13.g. such as a polynomial of degree 6. For the latter.Solving Mathematical Problems by Investigation 125 Solving the equations simultaneously. For example.

3.126 Mathematical Problem Solving Figure 1. … If n = 6. Tn. If we consider the case when n = 1. or else the first author would not be giving them this counter example. then the total number of regions inside the circle. 2. 16. The chords divide the circle into regions. … . 4. Circle with six points . 8. will form the following sequence: 1. there are 16 regions inside the circle. Circle with five points There are five arbitrary points on the circumference of the circle. In this case. 4. Then the teachers counted the total number of regions for the following circle manually: Figure 2. what will be the total number of regions? The teachers in the workshop predicted that there would be 32 regions although a few of them suspected that this might not be the answer. when n = 5 (where n is the number of points on the circumference of the circle). and each point is connected to every other point by a chord such that no three chords interest at the same point inside the circle. 2. 5.

16. T4 = 8. + − Line #5 2 3 3 4 4 5 2008 2009 2 2 = 1+ − 2 2009 4016 = 2009 ..... while others realised that it was possible to have a sequence as follows: 1. In fact.. + 2008 3 6 10 2 × 3 3× 4 4 × 5 2008 × 2009 = 1 + 1 ÷ + 1 ÷ + 1 ÷ + . some of them concluded that the above sequence has no pattern. T2 = 2.. 16. T5 = 16 and T6 = 31 using this formula). 4. After some time. The first author reiterated that there is still a pattern in the above sequence. + 1 + 2 + 3 + . but the underlying pattern is not Tn = 2n−1 which is the ‘more obvious’ observed pattern in the sequence 1. 2.. + 2008 1 1 1 1 = 1 + + + + .Solving Mathematical Problems by Investigation 127 When they found out that there were only 31 regions in the circle in Figure 2.. a teacher managed to develop a rigorous proof. + + + 2 × 3 3× 4 4 × 5 2008 × 2009 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 = 1 + − + − + − + . this teacher did not even solve the problem by investigation: she did not follow the hint of the first author above but she did the following on her own: 1 1 1 1 1 + + + + . 2. Let us return to the observed pattern in Task 3. + 1 ÷ 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 Line #3 = 1+ + .. … However. At first. 8. no one was able to prove or refute it. some of them thought that they had counted wrongly and so they recounted the number of regions.. 8.. T3 = 4. … In fact. + 1 1+ 2 1+ 2 + 3 1+ 2 + 3 + 4 1 + 2 + 3 + .. 31.. there is even a formula for the total number of regions: Tn = nC4 + n−1C2 + nC1 (the reader can check that T1 = 1. The teachers finally realised that this was only a conjecture and they needed to test it.. 4.

. + .... But how did the originator of this proof know what to do? The person most likely had to do some investigation first.. 3 6 10 1 + 2 + 3 + . + 2008 1 1 1 1 1 1 Then S = + + + + ... there is more to the (first) proof than is shown here.. There is a more elegant but similar proof: 1 1 1 1 1 Let S = + + + + ... 142)..128 Mathematical Problem Solving All the other teachers were very impressed that this teacher was able to devise such a proof 1 .. We will leave it to the reader to find the reasons. + 2008 1 1 1 1 = 1 + + + + . + 2 2 6 12 20 2(1 + 2 + 3 + . The first author asked the teacher how she managed to think of Line #3 and Line #5 which were the key steps in her proof. 1 Actually. but she herself could not explain how and why she did it this way. most people would never have thought of finding half the sum in this second proof. + 1× 2 2 × 3 3 × 4 4 × 5 2008× 2009 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 = 1 − + − + − + − + . which agrees with what Lakatos (1976) wrote when he observed that “it seems impossible that anyone should ever have guessed them” (p... There must be good reasons to believe that the patterns in Lines #3 and #5 will continue. + 2008) 1 1 1 1 1 = + + + + .. All the other teachers agreed that they themselves would never have thought of this type of rigorous proofs that seem to come out of nowhere.. + − 2 2 3 3 4 4 5 2008 2009 1 = 1− Line #5 20009 2008 = 2009 4016 ∴S = 2009 Similarly. . + 1 1+ 2 1+ 2 + 3 1+ 2 + 3 + 4 1 + 2 + 3 + .

and they were able to give the answer almost immediately. Let us look at another example: the Handshakes task in the previous section (see Task 1). But if anyone does not have all these resources at his or her disposal. 10. are triangular numbers. the teachers and the better students were able to solve it by ‘other means’. The person might also have recalled − n(n + 1) n n +1 that the numbers 1. the second . then the person may have to do more investigation to discover these first. To summarise. Some of the teachers and students have seen this question before. which in this case is simple deductive reasoning: since the first participant must shake hand with the other 69 participants. which appear in the denominators of the original series.Solving Mathematical Problems by Investigation 129 However. and that very few teachers were able to solve it using a rigorous proof directly. The first author has given this task to primary and secondary school students. what might have helped in the investigation were some prior mathematical knowledge and skills which the person might have relied upon. For example. or perhaps the person can conjure the first proof provided by the teacher above (this teacher has admitted that she knows the method of differences) and then refine it later to become a more elegant proof like the second one. … . After a while. For those who saw this for the first time and were unable to solve it immediately. 3. this example (Task 3) illustrates the two main approaches to solve a closed mathematical problem: by investigation or by ‘other means’ (which is rigorous proof in this case). and pre-service and in-service teachers. so this task was not a problem to them. which is one step away from getting 2 1 1 1 = − . and he or she might also be familiar with 1 1 1 expressing as . this was a problem to them. the person might have known the method of differences (which is the key step of the proof: see Line #5 of the second proof). These might have helped the person to think of n(n + 1) n n +1 starting with half the sum after some investigation. 6. which Schoenfeld (1985) called resources which were necessary for effective problem solving. and that the general term for 1 triangular numbers is Tn = n(n + 1) .

70C2.130 Mathematical Problem Solving participant must shake hand with the remaining 68 participants and so forth. This type of deductive proofs. This is specialising in order to form a conjecture towards a generalisation. n=1 n=2 n=3 n=4 n=5 T1 = 0 T2 = 1 T3 = 3 T4 = 6 T5 = 10 Figure 3. is within the grasp of many teachers and students. 4.. But for the weaker ones who were unable to reason it in this way. 10. 6. unlike the formal proofs for Task 3. 1. 3. 2. Some high-ability students can even use a combinatorics argument that the total number of handshakes is equal to the total number of different pairs of participants. 5.e. which are essentially the core processes in a mathematical investigation. most of them were unable to find a formula for the general term of this sequence. because every different pair of participants will give rise to one distinct handshake. then the total number of handshakes is 69 + 68 + 67 + … + 1. many of them tried to solve the problem by drawing a diagram for smaller numbers of participants (see Figure 3 where n is the number of participants and Tn is the total number of handshakes) in order to observe some patterns so as to generalise to 70 participants. … for n = 1. i. But they were able to observe this pattern: . However. 3. … respectively. Handshakes task Many of them were able to observe from their diagrams that the total number of handshakes for n participants is 0.

But this is not a proof. including the teachers and the better students. If the conjecture is wrong. without realising that this was only a conjecture to be proven or refuted. Not a single person was able to find a reason. We shall illustrate these two approaches of justification using the Handshakes task. Similarly. if you add the sixth participant to T5. (1985) believed that this type of argument using the underlying mathematical structure is good enough for school students. … +4 Using this pattern as a scaffold. 1985) support justification using the underlying mathematical structure. to obtain T5 from T2. 10. then do you really need a formal or rigorous proof to prove it? Some educators (e. +2 3. this is a good reason to believe that the observed pattern will continue in this manner because this argument can always be applied from Tn to Tn+1. The next question is how to guide these teachers and students to construct a more rigorous proof for their conjecture from their . Therefore. Therefore. Holding. Unfortunately. 1991) believe in using rigorous proofs while others (e. what happens? Some of them were able to observe that if you add the fifth participant to T4. most of them. then the fifth participant must shake hand with each of the four participants. thought that this was the answer.Solving Mathematical Problems by Investigation 131 0. most of the teachers and students were able to see that T4 = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4. Tall. so there are five additional handshakes and thus T6 = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5... So the first author guided them with this question: if you go from T4 = 1 + 2 + 3 to T5. The first author began by asking the teachers and students whether there was any reason to believe that the observed pattern would continue. +1 1. Mason et al. Mason et al. But if the conjecture is correct.g. +3 6. This enabled most of them to observe that T4 = 1 + 2 + 3. so there are four additional handshakes and thus T5 = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4.g. you can refute it by using a counter example. they were able to observe that T70 = 1 + 2 + 3 + … + 69. 1991. the first author guided the teachers and students by asking them how to obtain T4 from T2. However. which is the total number of handshakes for 70 participants. Using the same argument.. then the sixth participant must shake hand with each of the five participants.

but both induction and analogy involve specialising in order to discover the underlying mathematical structure. From the underlying mathematical structure discovered in the above investigation (i. Yeo and Yeap (2009) believed that the problem lies in the different meanings of the terms ‘induction’. One major issue to deliberate in this section is whether induction is proof. 1991) have used the phrase ‘inductive reasoning’ to mean ‘inductive observation’. According to Pólya.. Mason et al. Pólya’s idea of heuristic reasoning is very similar to the concept of the process of investigation outlined in the previous section. and he or she has to shake hands with all the other 69 participants.. 2009). Unfortunately. then the new participant must shake hand with the n participants. 113). Pólya’s (1957) idea of induction is inductive observation only. heuristic reasoning is based on induction or analogy. 1985). If students observe a pattern when specialising.g. Therefore. For example. Holding. Therefore. The same goes for the word ‘induction’: it can mean either ‘inductive observation’ or ‘inductive reasoning’ or both.e. thus the total number of handshakes for T70 is 69 + 68 + 67 + … + 1. the teachers and students have managed to use their investigation to develop a more rigorous proof for their conjecture. But if students use the underlying mathematical structure (Mason et al. In this way. ‘inductive observation’ and ‘inductive reasoning’. Thus there is a big difference between inductive observation and inductive reasoning: inductive observation is definitely not a proof but inductive reasoning is considered a proof by some educators (e. and so forth.. This agrees with what Pólya (1957) believed when he wrote that “we need heuristic reasoning when we construct a strict proof as we need scaffolding when we erect a building” (p. then it involves rather rigorous reasoning and so this can be called ‘inductive reasoning’ (Yeo & Yeap. a few teachers and students were able to realise that they could use the same argument in the reverse manner: start from the first participant. whether induction is . the pattern is only a conjecture and Lampert (1990) called this ‘inductive observation’. then the second participant has only 68 participants to shake hand with.. some educators (e.132 Mathematical Problem Solving investigation. if you add one participant to n participants.g. 1985) to argue that the observed pattern will always continue.. thus resulting in n additional handshakes and so the total number of handshakes for Tn+1 is 1 + 2 + 3 + … + n).

For example. we can compare investigation with heuristics. Characterising the process of investigation as involving specialising. But if students use a deductive argument directly. If teachers have a vague idea of what investigation entails. 1985) but very few of them mention the use of investigation to solve closed problems. Schoenfeld. e. conjecturing. probably because few educators have ever characterised the process of investigation. Literature abounds with problem-solving heuristics (see. Another main issue to discuss in this section is the relationship between heuristics and investigation as a means to solve closed mathematical problems. as a process and as an activity has helped to separate problem posing from the process of investigation. In this chapter. 2009). For example.g. conjecturing.Solving Mathematical Problems by Investigation 133 proof or not depends on which meaning you attach to the term ‘induction’. students can use a deductive argument when proving a conjecture that is formulated during their investigation. the term ‘induction’ is used to include both inductive observation and inductive reasoning. This agrees with what some teachers believe when they ask their students to investigate to solve a closed problem but most of them have no idea what investigation actually involves. Pólya. Any heuristic that makes use of specialising can be considered an investigation (Yeo & Yeap. 1957. It does not mean that students cannot use deductive reasoning during an investigation. if students use the heuristic of systematic listing or the heuristic of drawing a diagram for some specific cases. justifying and generalising. Now that we have observed that investigation involves the four core processes of specialising. 4 Conclusion and Implications Differentiating between investigation as a task. then it involves specialising and so this can be viewed as an investigation from another perspective. then they may . This is important because if investigation entails both problem posing and problem solving. justifying and generalising. then investigation cannot happen during problem solving. then this is not an investigation.. it becomes clear that investigation can also occur when solving closed mathematical problems.

Issues in teaching mathematics (pp. Perspectives on mathematics education: Papers submitted by members of the Bacomet Group (pp. Christiansen. (2005).. Orton & G. Cognitive domain. Handbook I. (1989). UK: Cambridge University Press. (1991). Furst. 27(3).134 Mathematical Problem Solving not be able to teach their students how to investigate properly (Frobisher. Otte (Eds.). Western Australia: Mathematical Association of Western Australia. justifying and generalising. J. F. W. Problems..). K. D. J. B. Hill. (1986). Washington. (1956). (1985).. Mathematics in School. Task and activity.... Howson. In H. Hughes. M. Engelhart. & M. T. Henderson. 1994). V. J. E. conjecturing. Cai. Height. The learning of mathematics: Its theory and practice (pp. (1953). In B. B. D. Investigations: The state of the art. B. Problem solving in mathematics. Focus on Learning Problems in Mathematics. Therefore. R. 150-173). H. 1957) instead of conjuring a formal proof out of nowhere (Lakatos. Frobisher. J. Another implication for teaching is how to make use of the results of an investigation as a scaffold to construct a more rigorous proof for a conjecture (Pólya.. B. Wain (Eds. L.. 27-30. 1976). & Walther. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (HMSO). . Christiansen. Fehr (Ed. Dordrecht.. The Netherlands: Reidel. R. Holding. & Cifarelli. Mathematical investigations in the classroom. References Bastow. HMI. 243-307).). Evans. R. The investigations book: A resource book for teachers of mathematics. Australia: Longman Cheshire Pty. Bloom. 228-270). New York: David McKay.. S. & Pingry. Mathematics from 5 to 16. Cambridge. DC: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. & Krathwohl. investigations and an investigative approach. (1991). J. 40 mathematical investigations (2nd ed. 16(1). P. G. 43-72. G. In A. & Mortlock.). Kissane. Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. A. Exploring mathematical exploration: How two college students formulated and solve their own mathematical problems. E. the implication of defining the process of investigation more clearly in this chapter is to help teachers understand more fully what investigation means and how to help their students to investigate more effectively by focusing on each of the core thinking processes of specialising. London: Cassell. B. (1994). (1987).

D. Schoenfeld. Thinking mathematically (Rev. Singapore. . (1985). (1991). (1990). & Miller. Mason. Basingstoke. N. New York: Cambridge University Press. VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. 1-11). (1991). Moschkovich (Monograph Eds. Orlando. Reston. L. NJ: Princeton University Press. New York: Scholastic Professional Books. L. M. & Yeap.). M. Proofs and refutations: The logic of mathematical discovery. Nanyang Technological University. Smith. D. Advanced mathematical thinking. Yeo.. Mathematical investigation: Task. Moschkovich. A. (1980). Pirie. G.. UK: Addison-Wesley. F. (1997). B. (1989). M.. & Suydam. 27. Helping children learn mathematics (7th ed. Problem solving: Is it a problem? In M. J. J. N. (1957). Pólya. The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Press. CA: McCutchan. 29-45). J.). Lindquist. Everyday and academic mathematics in the classroom (pp.) & M. Real-life math investigations: 30 activities that help students apply mathematical thinking to real-life situations. FL: Academic Press. Tall.). V. Brenner & J. An introduction to examining everyday and academic mathematical practices. National Institute of Education. I. (2002). & Frobisher. W. Rep. 29-63. Yackel (Series Ed. Orton.. L. Lampert. Lambdin. American Educational Research Journal. B. ed. VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Mathematical problem solving. UK: Macmillan.. How to solve it: A new aspect of mathematical method (2nd ed. Princeton. Jr. Curriculum and evaluation standards for school mathematics. When the problem is not the question and the solution is not the answer: Mathematical knowing and teaching. & Stacey. process and activity (Tech. (2004). S. M. E.. H.. N. M. (1985). A. Hoboken. Insights into teaching mathematics. Dordrecht. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. H.). (2009). Reston. K. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.. R.. (1996). NJ: John Wiley & Sons. In E. Reys. VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (1987). London: Cassell. ME2009-01).Solving Mathematical Problems by Investigation 135 Lakatos. Lester. K.. M. Burton. Mathematical investigations in your classroom: A guide for teachers. E. Professional standards for teaching mathematics. Berkeley. Lee. Selected issues in mathematics education (pp. Reston. Wokingham. (1976). Lindquist (Ed.). N. M.

Research in mathematics education has 136 . These activities are rooted in the tradition of function-based algebra and utilize a classroom network of handheld devices. equivalence (the intersection of two expressions) and concepts of the linear functions (slope. The teachers involved with the project put in much hard work on changing their pedagogical practices to encourage creativity and take advantage of the classroom network to further students’ conceptual understanding of mathematics. intercept). Results from the Singapore classrooms show the creative potential of these types of activities.Chapter 8 Generative Activities in Singapore (GenSing): Pedagogy and Practice in Mathematics Classrooms Sarah M. dynamic structure. agency and participation. A curricular intervention was done where the algebra topics in the Secondary 1 Scheme of Work were rearranged into three structural concepts. equals (where two expressions are everywhere the same). 1 Introduction To function in the 21st century students need deep conceptual understanding of mathematics. DAVIS This chapter discusses a new technology-supported classroom pedagogy. Generative Activities. rate. Activities were created using the Generative Design principles of space creating play. specifically algebra as it is the gatekeeper to higher-level mathematics.

2002). to harness the ideas of everyone in the room to create a host of artifacts to explore.Generative Activities in Singapore (GenSing) 137 shown that educational environments in which students engage in mathematics as mathematicians. Davis. The exploration of these artifacts. 2007. and understandings to one’s self and to others. the ability to switch between representations of mathematical concepts and to fully understand those representations. Kaput. Ares. This fluency. Wilensky. While the generative activities discussed in the chapter may not be what one expects to see when hearing the phrase “problem solving”. 1995. Hurford. pg. or representations of algebraic concepts. & Lesh. (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Mack. Stroup & Davis. Lampert. 1998. 1990). Representations should be treated as essential elements in supporting students’ understanding of mathematical concepts and relationships. 66) Successful models of instruction in algebra have employed a focus on multiple representations and Generative Design principles as the basis of instruction (Kaput. Roschelle. Traditional algebraic instruction has students arriving at Secondary 3 and 4 with only a computation understanding of algebraic topics. expression and table. and in applying mathematics to realistic problem situations through modeling. Ares. Representational fluency. 2000). 2005. Hegedus. 2001). They create opportunities for students to solve mathematical problems as a class. It has created students without robust conceptual connections between the different algebraic representations of graph. is believed to be crucial to students success in mathematics (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. sharing and discussing ideas. 1998. 2000. in recognizing connections among related mathematical concepts. Stroup. fosters this deeper understanding (Boaler. we believe that these activities problematize mathematics. arguments. Stroup. Hurford. in communicating mathematical approaches. 1990. An approach that shifts the focus from procedural computation with its emphasis on right and wrong to an emphasis on ideas and structure. builds representational fluency. 2002. requires a change in the pedagogical practices of the classroom (Lampert. the ability to navigate .

Both projects point to the effectiveness of a focus on powerful mathematical ideas and new styles of interaction. To facilitate the reader’s understanding of the types of activities and pedagogy this paper will be discussing. tabular. verbally and with gesture).. In this way doing mathematics is a process involving experimentation. what they look like in a classroom and how they contribute to a deep understanding of mathematics. 2 What is a Generative Activity? At the core of Generative Design is the belief that a well-designed activity should “never ask a question with only one right answer” (Judah Shwartz. p 32). have implemented generative activities in mathematics classrooms in Singapore (Davis. the following narrative of an activity being done at a Singapore Secondary school given below. Before we continue with the theoretical aspects of Generative Design is critical for the reader to have a good understanding of what Generative Activities are. This chapter will discuss the theoretical foundations of Generative Design with examples of classroom work from Singapore to illuminate how the theory relates to practice. Harvard). knowing mathematics means remembering and applying the correct rule when the teacher asks a question” (Lampert. One of the great shortcomings of traditional instruction is that it teaches students that “doing mathematics means following the rules laid down by the teacher. GenSing Pilot and GenSing1.g. 1990. creativity and even failure (finding out what doesn’t work can be as valuable as finding out what does). The projects discussed in this chapter. they are 16 challenged to come up with 3 functions the same as 2x. graphical. 2007). instead of having the students simplify . . Generative activity work to change 25 x + 7 x that perception. symbolic. facilitates the development of problem solving skills. and knowing mathematics is using the underlying structural concepts as to find answers that meet the criteria (in this case that two expressions are equivalent if their graphs are the same).138 Mathematical Problem Solving different ways of representing mathematical phenomena (e.

This first activity has the students embodying the definition of function. The students are now ready to use the technology as a tool to gain mathematical knowledge. The teacher computer updates in real time. students need to be given an opportunity to explore prior to settling in to the core task. For the first minutes of this task. as the students move their point on their calculator.Generative Activities in Singapore (GenSing) 139 3 Narrative Function Activity 2.” This allows the students to learn the calculator interface and get familiar with the group representation before they are asked to do a more robust mathematical task. As with any new manipulative in the classroom. The calculator is their private-space. the students are not playing (as in a game with no instructional goals). In the upfront projection of the teacher computer. They are free to talk with their peers about what this means. the projection of the teacher computer is the public-space (see Figure 1). “Find a point whose Y value is twice the X value”. which they can move around their screen using the arrow keys on the device. the class begins: The students log into the TI Navigator network and are shown a Cartesian plane from -10 to10 on the X axis and -20 to 20 on the Y axis. Move to the origin. As will be mentioned in other places in the paper. On their TI 84+ calculator they see one point (their point). After the students have had a chance to try and figure out what “make your Y twice your X” means. all of the students’ points are visible. the upfront display shows only the coordinate plane with the points moving to follow the rule. their icon in the group display also moves. the teacher changes the upfront display so that in addition to the graph . Move to the second quadrant. The students are given a series of “playful” tasks to help them learn the point submission interface and explore the possibilities: “Move to a place on the graph where your X and Y coordinates are positive. While they are racing each other to get to the next designated location. but each student must submit their own point. they are playfully interacting with mathematics. the teacher challenges the class. No two students can have the same X value but different Y values. they are learning the interfaces and reviewing concepts of the coordinate plane.

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window, the students can now see a list of the coordinate pairs created by each point. For students who are struggling to translate the verbal description to a mathematical relation, seeing the numeric values of their classmates’ points can help to scaffold their understanding. The “more knowledgeable peer” (Vygotsky, 1978) does not need to be sitting next to them, the group display provides a venue for all students to mentor and be mentored interchangeably. With this just-in-time modification of the task, the teacher keeps all students engaged at a level and in a way that is meaningful for them. After another minute, the activity is stopped. This freezes the student devices and allows for the submitted data to be discussed.

X=4

Y=8

Before Rule

After Rule

Figure 1. The group public-space is shown on the left and the students’ private-space is shown on the right

“Do you see a pattern in the data? What is the pattern? Do you see any points that don’t seem to fit the pattern? Can we fix those points?” The teacher and students explore the data. The class works together to fix all of the points that were not following the rule. The activity is restarted in function mode. Now, instead of controlling a point, the

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students can submit functions. On their calculator screen they can see the set of points created by the class and have a prompt to input a function to fit the data. As with the points, while students are first struggling to figure out what it would mean symbolically for Y to be twice X, the upfront display only shows the set of points and any graphs of submitted functions. After a number of students have found a function to fit the data set, the teacher changes the display to show both the graph window and the equation window. Once the students have found one function to go through the data set, they are challenged to find two additional functions that also go through the data set. Displaying the graphical and symbolic forms of the functions accomplishes two things. First, for students who are still struggling to find a first function to model the data set, seeing the work of their peers can help them figure out a correct equation. More importantly, the display of submitted functions helps to build a sense of theater among the students. Wanting their function to standout, to get noticed, students start to get more and more creative with the functions they submit (Davis, 2003). For a sample of student created functions, see Table 1. The rich data in the group display gives the teacher formative insight as to which concepts the students are or are not comfortable (for example if there are no decimal coefficients). With this knowledge, the teacher can guide discussion by privileging certain functions in the group display. “Oh look, there is one using division of variables. Wow, this one uses 15 terms. Can anyone figure out an expression using multiplication with negative numbers?” As these different functions are remarked upon by the teacher, or noticed by peers, students are motivated to ascertain how they were created, and then try to submit one even more interesting. Armed with the structural knowledge that two expressions are the same if their graph is the same, students can experiment and discover rules for what works. If the graphs are the same, they got it right. The teacher and class then discus the submitted functions, admiring and analyzing the ones that were correct, and working together they correct the ones that had errors. As the students focus on an incorrect

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function, they have to try and determine what the person who submitted it was trying to accomplish, and then correct the mistake. Was the error in order of operations? Did the person make an addition error? Is there an error due to a miss match in factoring variables? In fixing functions submitted by their classmates, students focus on the strategies used by other people. 4 GenSing Theoretical Foundations There is a tendency to view schooling and especially mathematics as individual work done in a group setting. Generative Activities, facilitated by classroom networks, allow for the classroom to become a true group space, a place where all individuals interact to form rich and unique digital artifacts. These group artifacts represent a collective intelligence that the teacher and students can investigate to come to deeper understandings of mathematical concepts. By combining these powerful networks with the new pedagogical practices and curricular goals of Generative Design, classroom environments can be created that thrive on the variety of answers students can create. This environment allows the focus to be placed on ideas, and the exploration of many different answers makes powerful mathematical discourses possible. 5 Generative Design Theory and Practice Such Generative Activities as described above are at the heart of the GenSing projects. This section will weave together the design principles upon which Generative Activities are built and examples of what those theoretical principles provoke in actual practice. In 1995, Jim Kaput outlined what he felt would need to happen to make algebra more accessible to more students and how that change would most likely occur. First he laid out three dimensions of reform for algebra, breadth, integration and pedagogy (Kaput, 1995). To achieve breadth one must interweave the many different facets of what it is to do algebra; modeling, working with functions, generalization and

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abstraction. In addition to breadth within mathematics, he felt it would be important for algebra to be integrated across other subjects. Finally, he stated that the pedagogy for teaching algebra, especially as supported by new technologies would have to change. Kaput then went on to outline three phases of reform. Near term, where existing curriculums were enhanced by the use of new technologies, mid-term where algebra was more significantly implemented in the middle grades and long term where the mathematics curriculum would be totally restructured across all grade levels and algebra as a specific course would disappear. This section will discuss the ways in which the GenSing project has used Kaput’s vision of reform to shape classroom implementation in Singapore. Specifically the theories and practices surrounding breadth, pedagogy and near and mid-term reform. 5.1 Breadth The GenSing intervention uses a curriculum of function-based algebra supported by a classroom network (TI Navigator), and is grounded by the belief that most algebraic topics can fit within three key areas; “equivalence (of functions), equals (one kind of comparison of functions), and a systematic engagement with the linear function” (Stroup, Carmona, & Davis, 2005, p 3). The classroom integration of the TI Navigator network were described in the narrative. This section will focus on large structural ideas on which the curriculum was built. Within typical introductory algebra topics there are three big areas of instruction; ideas of equivalence, ideas of equals and ideas of the linear functions. Equivalence is the idea that you can have two equations that look completely different in their algebraic form but graphically they are the same (Figure 2). Equivalence encompasses (but is not limited to) simplifying, factoring, combining like terms and expanding polynomials.

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Figure 2. Equivalence: Two expressions that look nothing alike create the same graph

These ideas are usually completely disjoint for students for most of their mathematic career. Other than exactly following the rules they don’t understand why what they are doing works, why it is correct. The big idea of equivalence gives students the ability to see that for expressions, there are different ways of writing the same thing.

Figure 3. Equals: A special relationship between two expressions where they intersect. “Doing the same thing to both sides”, preserves the solution set. Even in the extreme example of multiplying both sides by sin(x), the solution set is preserved (new solutions are added, but the original intersection point is preserved)

If we focus on where 2x is greater than . the X-values which had been greater than. Here the focus is on the place (or places) where two different expressions are the same. For example. students easily confound the rules for Equals and Equivalence. specifically doing activities to separate for the student the ideas of intercept and slope. The project starts by tying ideas of physical motion to slope. solving systems of linear equations. we are looking at points that are in the first quadrant.5X+2 and the same graphs multiplied by -1 The final idea is of linear function. Taking a function-based look at the concept of equals helps students answer. Here the focus is not on expressions that are everywhere the same. Figure 4.Generative Activities in Singapore (GenSing) 145 Equals and or Inequalities are the second big part of introductory algebra. the region of greater-than less-than has to be changed because the graphs aren’t in the same relationship to each other any more. 2x and -. the intersection(s) (Figure 3).5x+2. solving inequalities and finding where one expression is greater than another. If both sides are multiplied by -1. are now less than. The graphs literally move. Without a visual representation of why the rules they are using to solve algebraic problems work. Why do I flip the inequality if I multiply or divide by a negative? and What does it matter if the X and the Y are different sides of the equals sign? Take for example the two expressions in Figure 4. The rule of flipping the inequality when you multiply by a negative ceases to be an obscure rule that is just memorized. Much work is done with motion detectors.5x+2. Graphs of Y=2X and Y=-. This allows students to see that moving towards . Why am I supposed to do the same thing to both sides?.

start at a point away from the motion detector and move at a constant moderate pace towards it. Figure 5.146 Mathematical Problem Solving the motion detector is a positive slope. there is no complexity in it to see the changes in speed to make sense of it. moving away is a negative slope. There is not enough variety or richness of information available for the students to build understanding. its in the changing points in the graph that you start to make sense of where the fast parts and slow parts are. we look at constant rates. The students then fit a function on top of it (Figure 5). The network is used to collect the one graph and send it out to all the calculators in the classroom. A series of these rules are done to tie the ideas of what the person acted out to features of the expression. faster motion is steeper. one student will act out a rule in front of a motion detector. then we move to constant motion connecting up with functions to model that motion. We believe that starting with a linear function to explore ideas of slope and rate is like starting with black to explore colors. . Motion detector graph and expression After the students have become proficient with describing changing rates. If it is always moving the same speed. if it is always a straight line. For this reason. In this way the student is mathematizing the motion and quantifying the slope and intercept. we start with messy graphs and qualitative verbal descriptions of motion. It is in the slowing down and the speeding up. and slower is flatter. We start out with wiggly graphs to give students a rich environment to explore the faster and slower parts. As an example of an activity.

activities can be structured to allow for exploration of the mathematical space or scientific.Generative Activities in Singapore (GenSing) 147 5. 2002). Dynamic structure referrers to the impact the emerging artifacts have on how the activity will proceed. In one class period there might be examples of the distributive . & Hurford. There is no way to predict from one enactment to another exactly where the lesson is going that day. By focusing on space creating play.. allow greater agency for the students and increase participation (Stroup. During generative play. This type of question gives the student little if no ability to impact the direction of instruction. activities also have rules and guidelines that all participants agree to abide by. Ares. open up a space for mathematical play. Activities should have a dynamic structure. Games that students play have guidelines for appropriate participation. 6 Space Creating Play and Dynamic Structure Space creating play refers to the way in which activities are structured to allow for many valid ways of participation. In this way. There are four key principles for designing for the generative space. Play which can be seen as a negative concept in schools does not have to be perceived in that fashion. the list of responses to the 2x question will influence how the class proceeds. The artifacts of that participation are displayed back to the group in a way that is meaningful for use in concept development. Stroup et al. Space creating play is task dependent 25 x + 7 x and dynamic structure is people dependent. This can create some uncertainty for the teacher. within the classroom. In contrast. This fits in very closely with the concept of space creating play. 2005. activities can be designed to have a dynamic type of input where students follow rules and create a multitude of responses.2 Pedagogy The new pedagogy that the GenSing project employs is that of Generative Design. the 16 student response space is small. The displayed responses dynamically structure what is available for discussion during the lesson. There is only one right answer. In the example.

The artifacts are a reflection of the students’ ideas and current understanding. For others it will be exploring rational expressions and . and at a level. if a class has just finished a unit on negative numbers and no one uses negative numbers in the functions that are being submitted. The same can be said of generative activities. the basis for all classroom dialogue. this can indicate that the students are not comfortable with negatives yet. in another class there might be errors with multiplication of negatives to be discussed. Returning to the example of the 2x activity. Depending one the answer they choose to discuss. valid participation is simply returning the original function of 2x. for some students. According to Seymour Papert. In the class discussion a student can comment on an answer as if it was theirs or as if it belonged to someone else. students are invited to participate in a way. Both roles can be assumed independent of the correctness of the actual answer submitted by the student. which is meaningful to them. The teacher has formative information as to what the students have and have not incorporated into their own schemes of problem solving.148 Mathematical Problem Solving property. a technology should have a high ceiling and a low threshold. As such they can be used to do on-thefly formative instructions. Anonymity of response in the display space gives students the option of expanding their agency to play different roles. this allows them to play the role of someone who got the answer right or to hypothesize on the reasoning of someone who got it wrong. how they feel that identity is valued. This increase in agency provides opportunity for increased participation. It is the ownership of the very authorship of classroom content which increases students’ agency in generative activities. For example. 7 Agency and Participation Agency refers to the students’ identity in the class. is from the students. the entire space of responses. and how much influence they believe they have on the content of the class. By asking questions that have more than one right answer. By virtue of the anonymity in the display space all answers become everyone’s answers. In generative activities.

Each class was visited once every two weeks. During the first eight weeks segment. researcher lead. concepts of equals and inequalities were explored.Generative Activities in Singapore (GenSing) 149 sending in 100x/50. These ideas are what shape the school-based work of the GenSing project. participation. During the four weeks segment. In this way the . 8 Examples from Singapore Classrooms In 2007 (GenSing Pilot) an intervention was done as a series of three. The schools’ curriculum specialist and I collaborated to reorganize the Secondary 1 scheme of work and gather all of the algebraic topics covered across the year into two cohesive groupings. activities with 183 Secondary 1 students at an upper performing secondary school in Singapore. Fostering empathy. The data was collected during the second activity (the Function Activity 2 described above). just somewhere in the process there was a mathematical error. when teachers are reviewing responses with the class. unlike tutoring where only one student can answer the question. The next section will share some examples of work done in Singapore. then what needs to be fixed? Encouraging the students to focus on the structure of the mathematics to determine where the solution went wrong. This section has explored the foundational ideas for generative design. they are either exemplars of the mathematic properties or in the case of incorrect responses they are a chance for the class to explore what the other person was thinking. they are encouraged to ask . In generative classrooms. concepts of equivalence. Finally. “What is right about this?”. All responses are learning opportunities. These two groupings were then organized such that they aligned with the big three conceptual ideas. every student can answer every question in the generative classroom. What is right. What their logic process was. Class sizes ranged from 38-42 students. one lasting eight weeks and one lasting four weeks. rate and linear functions were covered. Many wrong answers have been well thought out. Both are valid correct responses and let the student enter the “game” in ways that make sense to them.

where concepts were taught using generative activities and skills were taught via traditional instruction (Lesh & Doerr. These included: Addition / Subtraction / Multiplication / Division of numbers.e.2X+0. 2003). generalizations on mathematical objects Y= PI(X+6)/PI. identity property of multiplication Y=100000000000X/100000000000+6. equivalence) and skills (i. Students displayed a number of interesting strategies within their equivalent expressions. Addition / Subtraction / Multiplication of variables.2X+0. concepts that are traditionally taught in discreet chunks of memorized material.2X) and many others. .” Using examples from Table 1. order of operations Y=(X^2)/X*((X^2)^2)/X/X/X/X+6.e. Additive 0— / these items were coded as distinct because the students used “chunks” of terms (X-X or 6-6) that totaled zero to create functions the same as 2X or X+6 (example Y=3X-X+X-X+X-X+X-X). students created functions using.150 Mathematical Problem Solving entire intervention was grounded in the Generative Design literature. Rational expressions. Additionally the topics of instruction were grouped into concepts (i. Student work from both implementations showed that generative activities are surfacing important mathematical concepts. This data was created by either the rule “Make your Y twice your X” or “Make you Y 6 more than X. Multiplicative 0—where the student would put in a term or a parenthetical group of terms and then multiply it by 0 to make it disappear. the distributive property Y=10(X+5)-10(5)-8X.2X+0. factoring). Rational 1 expressions—where the students used the concept that the numerator and denominator would cancel each other out and form a 1 (example Y=7878787878X/7878787878+6). Expressions in Simplest Form.2X+0. combining like terms Y=2(0. The following will give examples of student data from this activity and discuss work from the GenSing Pilot and GenSing1. 8.1 Student learning: Powerful means of learning mathematics Equivalence is the major structural concept in Function Activity 2 (the activity from the narrative).

Generative Activities in Singapore (GenSing) Table 1 Social Strategies Student Examples 151 Manipulations of real numbers and non-rational algebraic expressions were the most frequent mathematical strategies adopted. The students had previously learned that if they created two functions that . None of these strategies were directly taught. they emerged from the students experimentation in the private space of the calculator.

152 Mathematical Problem Solving made the same graph. made it open for interpretation. 2001). 8. The act of submitting their functions to the public space. As in sports or other games. It is in the social strategies that the importance of a space for mathematical play shines through. Similar to activities outside the classroom such as sports. Clearly this type of mathematics classroom requires a pedagogy different from that of lecture and independent practice. Being a mathematician is not only about math content it is also about working in a community and communicating ideas (Lampert. Here is evidence from the GenSing Pilot. or if they simply wanted to be different for themselves. and 4) Humorous. but one where rules bound play and children can explore new social structures (Vygotsky. to perform. the functions were the same. They find ways to stand out.2 Teacher pedagogy: Model of teacher professional development The activity in the narrative above is based on a pedagogy where the teacher facilitates discussion and gets the students to explore. This gave them the ability to try out different combinations of terms to find things that work. For this reason. Four Social Strategies immerged from the student work: 1) Big Numbers. Many Terms were functions that had five or more terms. Getting teachers to change classroom practice . Big numbers were any that had a term with five or more digits. mathematical strategies were not the only ones that were identified. These were considered to be social strategies because they were noticed by others in the classroom. or out do it. 2) Many Terms. 1990. students explore the possibilities. 3) Unique Strategy. they want to copy it. The Unique Strategies used mathematical notions that were rare across the classes and Humorous were functions that seemed to have a tongue in cheek feel to them (for example taking a very large number and then multiplying it by 0). In these activities it is the Vygotskyian sense of play that is being focused on. Not an anything goes environment. A vein for future research is to explore if the student’s desired audience was peer or teacher attention. 1978). when students see a great move. understand and extend their work and that of their classmates. The social strategies of the students show the beginnings of thinking of mathematics as social.

There is research which links lack of conceptual understanding with a tendency to focus on procedural aspects of functions (Stein. How do noteworthy expressions in the group space affect other students? How can the mass amounts of data be meaningfully organized so the teacher can reflect on student progress outside of class? What data needs to be easily accessible so that it can be re-used in another activity or additional practice? To start the process of answering the questions. 1997). detailed curricular materials were created to assist the teachers in situ with orchestrating these more dynamic and interactive lessons. Most have experienced mathematics in schooling (with great success) as a set of procedures to work through to get the correct result. sharing ideas and building a community of practice.Generative Activities in Singapore (GenSing) 153 is a challenge (Ball & Bass. The new script collected all function submissions by the students with a time stamp.3 Technology innovation The initial data analysis done for the GenSing Pilot study was exciting and surfaced a number of interesting research questions. 2000). Baxter. Additionally it also captured any changes to the data made by the teacher on the up front . & Leinhardt. 8. All activities were done with the multiple goals of increasing pedagogical content and domain knowledge and changing classroom practice (Lloyd & Wilson. Jones. staff meetings and debrief sessions with the teachers as they were implementing the new sequence of instruction. The next layer was intensive technical training on how to run the equipment. First. we needed to be able to collect more than just end state data from the activities. The first layer was teachers watching the pilot implementation where the visiting researcher worked with their students modeling the activities and pedagogical approaches. So a script was created for continuous data collection. the GenSing1 project needed to create new software. 1998. Additionally. 1990). Swafford. The final layer was ongoing site visits. The next layer was having the teachers experience activities as students. the GenSing projects created a model of teacher professional development that was layered and prolonged. & Thronton. For these reason.

The software displays a mark next to the student icon at every time interval at which that students submits data.154 Mathematical Problem Solving computer. In the first view. the Timeline Viewer (Figure 6) gives an overall idea of when activity is happening in the class. 2008b). The second tool is the GenSing Timeline Viewer. flexibility and modeling capability. using NetLogo (Wilensky. The first tool. It is able to display all of the functions submitted for a given activity. a set of analysis tools. evaluate them and write information back to the data file about the functions. 2008a) and the GenSing Timeline Viewer (Davis & Brady. were created to help visualize the student data. the Timeline Viewer lets you filter out other data and view the submissions from just one student (Figure 7). Second. We decided to use NetLogo for it’s low overhead. Figure 6. Y2. This allows for the identification of patterns in submissions. Y3 and Y4 at the same time. Timeline viewer class view In addition to the whole class view. Y1. . For example the student highlighted in the top box in Figure 6 has submitted 18 times during the activity period while the student in the lower box has only submitted 5 times. Using the placement of the icon as the timestamp (not the leading edge of the expression) the student view in Figure 7 shows that this student submitted a new Y1. GenSing Graphical Viewer imports all of the student submitted functions from a session. This software can also import the class created data file and creates a series of new views onto the data. 1999). w. the GenSing Graphical Viewer (Davis & Brady. on the Y axis is an icon representing each student and the X axis is time.

boxes have been placed around the responses that match Y=4X. When using the software correctness is indicated by the shading of the expression’s text. The student then corrected Y4 and returned to Y1 to work at finding a new expression to replace 4X. In the end this student submitted 5 correct expressions. as this paper is in black and white. Timeline viewer individual student view These two software interfaces have been a great first step to finding ways to visualize the large amounts of digital data but there is so much more that can be done to provide views of the data that teachers can use to make formative decisions about class and student knowledge. To get to a point where teachers can quickly see: What was the dominant mathematical strategy from class today? What mathematical strategies were used? Are there strategies that need to be reviewed? How is a .Generative Activities in Singapore (GenSing) 155 Y2 and Y3 were correct matches for the target expression in this activity which was Y=4X. The software knows which match and which do not because of the identifying data added to each expression in the Graphical Viewer. Figure 7.

This chapter has explored generative activities. For the created curriculum. Finally. equivalence (the intersection of two expressions) and concepts of the linear functions (slope. In giving students influence over the lesson content. equals (where two expressions are everywhere the same). This playful space makes for a dynamic classroom experience where both teacher and students influence the course of the lesson. The Generative Activities discussed in this chapter are rooted in the tradition of function-based algebra and utilize a classroom network of handheld devices. Many important mathematical concepts are generated by students and are available to the class to discuss. The responses show both mathematical and social creativity. Generative Activities. their agency in the classroom is increased. dynamic structure. intercept). The activities were created using Generative Design principles. agency and participation. Generative Activities should open up a space for students to engage playfully with mathematics. coupled with concepts of function-based algebra and the affordances of a classroom network create a powerful problem solving environment. a form of problematizing mathematics that utilizes the affordances of the full class to make meaning of the given tasks. These were space creating play. The teachers involved with the project have put in much hard work on changing their pedagogical practices to encourage creativity and take advantage of the artifacts in the group space to further students’ conceptual understanding of mathematics. the combination of the three previous principles gives students increased opportunity to participate in class. to show creativity and interact with data sent in by other students. rate. the algebraic topics covered in the Secondary 1 scheme of work were rearranged into three structural concepts. Results from the Singapore classrooms show the creative potential of these types of activities.156 Mathematical Problem Solving particular student doing? Do they need help? Are they consistently struggling with a specific type of problem? 9 Conclusion Problem solving can take many forms. .

J. When the problem is not the question and the solution is not the answer: Mathematical knowing and teaching. . S. Principles and Standards for School Mathematics. (2003). S. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education. VA: Author. (2000). (2008b). GenSing Timeline Viewer.. H. Reston. M. Dartmouth. and teaching. (2001). Boaler. Davis. 29-63. Davis. Experiencing school mathematics: Traditional and reform approaches to teaching and their impact on student learning.Generative Activities in Singapore (GenSing) 157 References Ball. 248-274. Boaler (Ed. Paper presented at the International Conference of Teachers of Mathematical Modeling and Applications (ICTMA). OH. & Bass. D. (1998).. Bloomington. CT: Ablex. & Wilson. Lesh. (2007). L. (2000). J.. S. MA: National Center for Improving Student Learning and Achievement in Mathematics and Science. J. J. Columbus. (1995). J. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Davis. 29(3). Supporting innovation: The impact of a teacher’s conceptions of functions on his implementation of a reform curriculum. M. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. Teaching problems and the problems of teaching. Boaler. 83-104). Lloyd. (1990). learning. M. Observations in classrooms using a network of handheld devices. Mahwah. H. (2008a). 19(3). Mahwah. In J. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.. M.). 298-307. R. (1998). & Doerr. New Haven. Lampert. & Brady. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education. (2000). Beyond constructivism: Models and modeling perspectives on mathematics problem solving. S. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning. (2002). Generative activities in Singapore: A beginning. Open and closed mathematics: Students experiences and understandings. A research base supporting long term algebra reform? Paper presented at the Seventeenth Annual Meeting of the North American Chapter of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education. S. (2003). M. G. 29(1). R. M. American Educational Research Journal. Interweaving content and pedagogy in teaching and learning to teach: Knowing and using mathematics. Kaput. Davis.. ERIC Kaput. M. C.. C. M. 27(1). Transforming algebra from an engine of inequity to an engine of mathematical power by “algebrafying” the K-12 curriculum. CT: Yale University Press. J. Multiple perspectives on the teaching and learning of mathematics (pp. ED441664) Lampert. NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. GenSing Graphical Viewer. Westport. 41-62. M. & Brady. IN.

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1993). depending on their field of work (Blum. However. some of the basic ideas and processes of mathematical modelling will be introduced and described as an approach to problem solving. mathematical modelling is obviously related to problem solving. 1 Introduction Mathematical modelling has featured prominently in school mathematics curricula as well as many tertiary mathematics courses. a computing tool is used in part of the modelling process. various aspects of mathematical modelling and problem solving will be discussed. It appears that different researchers adopt different definitions. In all the examples. However. Using concrete examples. As such. they may not mean the same thing. mathematicians and mathematics educators alike. In this chapter. have not been able to reach a consensus on a precise definition of the term. Some possible extensions of the modelling problems are also presented. 159 . demonstrating the critical role of technology in mathematical modelling. despite this fact.Chapter 9 Mathematical Modelling and Real Life Problem Solving ANG Keng Cheng Mathematical modelling is commonly regarded as the art of applying mathematics to a real world problem with a view to better understand the problem.

1980). one thing is clear: mathematical modelling has to have some connection with real life problems. However. several interpretations of mathematical modelling arising from different perspectives and research directions have been proposed and used. Whatever the views and differences in definition. This seems to make mathematical modelling a rather scientific endeavour. over the years. In contrast. a better understanding of the problem is achieved. it has to involve applying mathematics in situations where the results are “useful in society”. according to Mason and Davies (1991). Mathematical modelling is more than just problem solving.160 Mathematical Problem Solving In fact. In fact. simplifying and solving a real life problem in mathematical terms. In other words. but through the process of modelling. after applying the necessary mathematics to solve the problem in some given context. At times. However. applying and solving suitable equations. they are separable. Swetz and Hartzler (1991) define mathematical modelling as a process of observing a phenomenon. For instance. There are some researchers who hold the view that all applications of mathematics are mathematical models (Burghes. the actual problem is not solved. or a real life phenomenon. mathematical modelling is defined simply as a process of understanding. although the mathematics and the context are related. and interpreting the results. mathematical modelling is the movement of a physical situation to a mathematical representation. Galbraith claims that in a typical mathematical application. there are also those who feel that there is a difference between mathematical modelling and applications of mathematics (Galbraith. 1999). the problem to be solved arises from a real life situation. A modelling task is distinctly different in that the focus is on investigating a particular problem or phenomenon. as far as Cross and Moscardini (1985) and Bassanezi (1994) are concerned. we no longer “need” the context. and the mathematics used is simply a means in understanding or solving the problem. Yanagimoto (2005) thinks that mathematical modelling is not just a process of solving a real life problem using mathematics. conjecturing relationships. .

it is essential to be able to identify the variables in the problem. This process is illustrated in Figure 1 (Ang. A direct approach to do this may be difficult or impossible. The mathematical modelling process Beginning with a real life problem. 2006). this process is more like a cycle in which a model is continuously constructed. in practice.1 What is mathematical modelling Although there is no consensus on the precise definition of mathematical modelling. In other words. It is as follows. Mathematical modelling can be thought of as a process in which there is a sequence of tasks carried out with a view to obtaining a reasonable mathematical representation of a real world problem. and describe it in mathematical terms. the first step in the mathematical modelling process is to understand the problem. . Very often. Thus. the objective is to produce a real life solution. mathematize the problem. validated and refined. In doing so. a working definition will be adopted for the purpose of this chapter. Real World Mathematical World Real-world Problem Mathematical Problem Model Formulation Make Assumptions Formulate Equations Real-world Solution Model Interpretation Interpret Solutions Solve Equations Compare with data Model Refinement Figure 1.Mathematical Modelling and Real Life Problem Solving 161 1. and to form relationships between or amongst these variables.

Following the formulation of the model.162 Mathematical Problem Solving The next step is to construct a basic framework for the model. this is the most crucial stage and is often also the most difficult. This involves interpreting the results in physical terms. it is good to start with a simple model and then relax the assumptions later. very often some kind of technological or computing tool will need to be used. the next step is to find ways to solve the equations. upon comparison with observed data. qualitative and quantitative analyses. From the above discussion. it may be possible to find ways to refine or improve the model. In practice. The result from this step is a solution or a set of solutions to the mathematical problem that has been formulated. The next step is to link the results or solutions of the model to the real world problem. Although the modelling process may seem to terminate or culminate at the model interpretation stage. It is also at this stage that the real physical meanings of the variables in the problem are used to justify the formulation of the model. it is common that various mathematical tools and skills are involved. Very often. Given the assumptions. it is clear that mathematical modelling involves more than just a typical mathematical problem solving exercise. This is where various different methods or strategies in problem solving can be exploited. One common practice is to rethink the assumptions and perhaps modify or relax some of the earlier assumptions so that a more realistic or more reasonable model can be obtained. unless a model is particularly simple. and simple enough to be solved by known methods. . Generally. including use of graphs and tables. a model is constructed. some assumptions may need to be made. These assumptions are often necessary to keep the problem tractable. At this stage. a report on the results and interpretations becomes a “product” of this modelling process. Comparisons between the solutions and collected or known data can be made to validate the model. a set of rules or simply an algorithm governing how values of the variables may be found or assigned. Of course. and so on. a set of equations. The model may be an equation. Nevertheless. At this stage. this means that the solution arising from the model can only be as good as its assumptions.

What matters most is the . the expected method of solution is “model drawing method” (See Ministry of Education. there is a clear and distinct connection to a real life problem. Problem Solving Item 1 (Upper Primary) Paul had 30 more marbles than Peter. 2. How many marbles did they have altogether? Problem Solving Item 2 (Lower Secondary) A cargo container is a cuboid that is 6. Paul had twice as many marbles as Peter.44 m wide and 2. the marbles or the number of marbles that Paul and Peter own) is not really that important. Below are three typical problem solving exercises from textbooks or assessment books used by students in Singapore.06 m long. (b) Find its volume (i) in m3. Find the rate of change of the surface area when the volume is 36π 4cm3.59 m high.Mathematical Modelling and Real Life Problem Solving 163 In mathematical modelling. It is clear that the actual context of the problem (that is.2 Problem solving examples from textbooks In order to appreciate the distinction between typical mathematical problem solving and typical mathematical modelling. it may be useful to examine how some local textbook writers perceive mathematical problem solving. the radius of the balloon is r cm. After Peter gave Paul 15 marbles. 1. (a) Find its total surface area (i) in m2. In Item 1. (ii) in cm2. Problem Solving Item 3 (Post Secondary) A spherical balloon is being deflated in such a way that the volume is decreasing at a constant rate of 120 cm3 s–1. Find the rate of change of the radius when r = 30. (ii) in cm3. 2009). At time t s.

these problem solving items focus on the use of mathematics. In the next section. Item 2 can be useful in testing the learner’s ability to recall and use the formulae for the volume of a cuboid (and possibly also the meaning of the term) and the area of a rectangle. In other words. In other words. we examine the different approaches to mathematical modelling. 2 Approaches to Mathematical Modelling There are several different ways in which one can employ a mathematical model to solve real problems. the problem concerns real systems or real problems that one could possibly cast into a mathematical context and attempt a solution. focuses on the problem itself. In all the above typical problems. and the ability to perform unit conversion. Typically. Mathematical modelling. These typical textbook problems. Once it is recognized that the object is spherical (and the formula for the volume of a sphere is recalled). could hardly be called “real life” problems although some authors do try to inject some real life element into the context. the numerical computations that are required in the solution process. If the context or problem is changed.164 Mathematical Problem Solving method that can be used to tackle the problem. and. one could have just said “a cuboid is …” and the item and its solution would have remained exactly the same. perhaps. rather than the context or the “problem”. . These different ways may be classified into four broad approaches to mathematical modelling. on the other hand. Item 3 expects the use of the concept of rates of change in calculus. the fact that it is a balloon that is deflating is no longer of any importance. Whether the cuboid is a cargo container or not is immaterial and not at all important. the focus is on applying or using some specific mathematical concept or skill to solve the problem. One could generate many such “problems” using different contexts without changing the intent of the exercise. one would probably need to use a different solution technique or approach. strictly speaking.

Using a simulation. Another shortcoming is that parameters in empirical models often are just numerical values which may not have any real physical meaning in the problem.1 Empirical models In empirical modelling. There are many technological tools that can do curve fitting efficiently. For instance. while it can be used to explain historical relationship. simulation is used to model a phenomenon or situation when it is either impossible or impractical to conduct physical experiments to study it. These rules arise from an interpretation of how a certain process is supposed to evolve or progress. one uses methods such as the method of least squares. one examines data related to the problem. .Mathematical Modelling and Real Life Problem Solving 165 2. Typically. these parameter values will be different. In this approach. The main idea is to formulate or construct a mathematical relationship between the variables in the problem using the available data. One cannot be sure if the same model is still applicable outside the range of the data set used. Given a different data set. one may simulate a certain design for a telecommunication network to find the best design. It would be too expensive to build an actual system to test the design. 2. or some other kind of approach that minimizes the error between the observed data and the modelled relationship. it may not be useful for predictions. In other words. one main disadvantage of empirical modelling is its overreliance on historical data. This approach is also very simple and easy to apply in most cases.2 Simulation models Simulation models involve the use of a computer program or some technological tool to generate a scenario based on a set of rules. The main advantage is that the resulting model is capable of reproducing the data set in an accurate manner. Typically. However. the model usually involves certain unknown parameters that need to be obtained or estimated from the data set.

In this case. to model or predict the outcome of an event or the value of a quantity.166 Mathematical Problem Solving one could test how the network performs at different traffic loads. the equations used to represent real world problems are formulated based on fundamental relationships between the component variables in the problem. and so on. on the other hand. For instance. or whether a particular routing algorithm could increase performance levels. when we use an equation. partial differential equations. we can use the model to predict its motion at a later time. we are using deterministic models. 2. integral equations. when a ball is tossed up in the air. Simulation can be discrete events models or continuous models. In other words. the equations of motion. Continuous simulations. In discrete events.4 Stochastic models In deterministic modelling. and so on. and air resistance is assumed to be negligible. based on Newton’s laws. and so on). Generally. . the ball is assumed to behave like a particle. are a set of deterministic models governing the motion of a particle.3 Deterministic models Generally. 2. given that certain variables (such as its initial velocity) are known. The equation or set of equations in a deterministic model represents the relationship amongst the various components or variables of a system or a problem. changes are continuously fed into the system over time and responses are continuously quantified. one set of conditions results in one solution. or a set of equations (which may include ordinary differential equations. random variations are ignored. It is important to note that there are some assumptions that must be stated when using models. Thus. the assumption is that the system changes instantaneously in response to changes in certain discrete variables.

we make use of empirical data obtained experimentally by Roach and Burton (1957) for an iliac artery. 3 Examples In this section. There are different ways of modelling this relationship. such stochastic models have become very popular with researchers and professionals in the fields of finance. we illustrate the different approaches of mathematical modelling through examples in real life applications. It should be noted that practical mathematical modelling often requires the use of some technological tools.Mathematical Modelling and Real Life Problem Solving 167 Many real world problems. T (x ) ) experienced by an elastic material caused by the strain ( x ) exerted on it (see Mazumdar. different outcomes may arise from the same set of initial conditions. Although it is possible to construct equations to predict the behaviour of reacting substances. are subjected to random variations and fluctuations. it is necessary to obtain a relationship between the stress (tension. MS Excel. Thus. 1991). In other words. there is some degree of randomness and uncertainty. The set of data is reproduced in Table 1 below and plotted in Figure 2. Ang and Soh. As an example. The model is constructed based on the fact that events take place with some probability rather than with certainty. The reader may wish to refer to the relevant references such as Beare (1996) for details. Example 1: Modelling elastic blood vessels In the mathematical modelling of blood flow through elastic arteries. In recent years. Describing these tools in detail is beyond the scope of the current discussion although some simple technique with regard to using the Solver function of the spreadsheet. however. chemical reactions occur only if there are effective molecular collisions. . In this example. business and economics. will be mentioned. In stochastic models. randomness and probabilities of events happening are taken into account when the equations are formulated. consider the modelling of chemical reactions.

77 1.50 1.80 1. Graph of stress against strain in iliac artery .71 1.35 1.40 1.83 stress ( y) 4 8 13 20 22 28 33 40 44 60 71 83 95 109 Stress-Strain relationship from experimental data 140 120 100 stress 80 60 40 20 0 1.168 Mathematical Problem Solving Table 1 Observed experimental values of stress and strain in an iliac artery strain (x) 1.57 1.60 1.64 1.74 1.80 2.00 strain Figure 2.00 1.55 1.67 1.22 1.60 1.45 1.20 1.

(1.2) where x ≥ 1. some knowledge of functions and their graphs and a good technological tool capable of performing function approximations.3) where (xi . The Solver tool allows the user to minimise (or maximise) the value of a selected cell by varying the values of other cells specified by the user. or by minimizing the error between the model and the data. along with a graph of the model and experimental values in Figure 3. What is required would be an interesting data set.007427 and A = 5. In the present case. T (1) = 0. (1. and A and k are both positive.1) where A. Applying the condition for an unstressed blood vessel.Mathematical Modelling and Real Life Problem Solving 169 The relationship between the stress and strain in an elastic artery is assumed to take the form T ( x) = Aekx + B . . The values of parameters A and k may be estimated using the least squares method. Defining the “sum of residual squares” (SRS) as S= ∑ ( y − T ( x )) i i i =1 n 2 . Empirical modelling can be easily exploited by the mathematics teacher in the classroom.263 (to four significant figures) with a minimum value of S = 39.53936. In Microsoft Excel. the equation can be simplified to T ( x) = A(ekx − ek ) . B and k are constants to be determined. yi) are the observed data points. namely. for instance. the “solver” tool may be used. a spreadsheet may be used to find the values of A and k that will minimize S. These results from the spreadsheet are shown in Table 2. the Solver tool returns the value of k = 0. (1.

0 60.67675 0.64 1.20 1.19504 47.53936 Comparison between model and experimental data 140.31528 58.27752 6.40 1.40168 0.59166 3.170 Mathematical Problem Solving Table 2 Results of fitting model to data using Solver tool in Microsoft Excel A= k= Strain x 1.45 1.0 120.60 1.57 1.19393 0.03804 10.86 y 4 8 13 20 22 28 33 40 44 60 71 83 95 109 132 0.07835 S= Squared Error 0.007427 5.14924 0.77 1.263085 Stress T(x) 3.48876 27.22 1.0 40.00 strain Figure 3.0 0.0 1.80 1.87977 3.36621 32.99109 1.80 2.35 1.50098 0.61369 13.03029 81.88072 18.0 20.74 1.03848 7.75598 0.72381 131.08251 95.0 stress 80.77567 2.29220 40.13053 7. Graph of model and experimental data .41912 0.49085 24.84944 39.19616 111.71 1.0 100.50 1.00 1.73839 69.60 1.55 1.83 1.67 1.

0). say. she takes a step in north. The values in cells A2 and B2 are set to 0.Mathematical Modelling and Real Life Problem Solving 171 For instance. east and west directions with equal probability. there is an equal chance that she takes a step in any of the four directions.4)”. Again. the simulation model is a discrete event simulation. In cell C2. south. 100 steps. and we make the assumption that the events are independent. and the third column stores the direction in which she will move in the next step. “2”. Example 2: Random Walk For an example of the simulation model. “West” and “South” respectively. consider a “random walk” problem. a spreadsheet such as Microsoft Excel may be used to construct this simulation model. In this case. The spreadsheet can be set up with three columns. the teacher could ask students to find information about “braking distances” of vehicles from the Internet. Suppose a person begins walking at some starting point. Figure 4(a) below shows the first 10 rows of a truncated Excel worksheet set up for the random walk simulation. The directions can be conveniently coded as “1”. Since each event is a separate distinct event. The problem is to determine how far from the starting would she have gone after taking. Being quite drunk. indicating that the walk begins at the origin (0. say. The challenge is to construct a model that will predict the braking distances of certain makes of cars. One possible way to look at this problem is to use some computing tool to simulate the situation. That is. a three-week period and then construct a mathematical model for the growth based on their data. “North”. These are usually experiments carried out by automobile companies to test the braking efficiencies of their vehicles. students could be asked to collect data on the growth of bean sprouts over. This means that the person’s next step will not be dependent on her previous step. and randomly drawn from a uniform . which returns an integer between 1 and 4. The first two columns contain the x and the y coordinates of the position of the person respectively. the direction for the next step is simulated by using the Excel formula “= randbetween(1. “3” and “4” to represent “East”. As another example. each step taken by the person is regarded as an event.

these may be implemented by entering the following formulae in cells A3 and B3 respectively: “=IF(C2=1. 2. First 10 rows of spreadsheet in Random Walk example . Depending on the value assigned to cell C2. then: A3 = A2 – 1.A2+1. then: B3 = B2 + 1. each of the integers 1.(IF(C2=4.B2-1.172 Mathematical Problem Solving distribution.A2+1. The rules of the random walk are translated to the following algorithm: If value in C2 = 1.A2-1.B2+1. If value in C2 = 4.B2))) and =randbetween(1. In Excel. A typical run of this simulation is shown graphically in Figure 4 (b). If value in C2 = 2. then: A3 = A2 + 1.4) A 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 B C Direction 3 2 3 1 3 2 4 1 1 copy from this cell to cells directly below x 0 -1 -1 -2 -1 -2 -2 -2 -1 y 0 0 1 1 1 2 3 2 2 Figure 4(a).A2-1. If value in C2 = 3.B2+1. The formulae in cells C2. Thus. and cells A3 and B3 are then copied to cells directly below until 100 steps are taken.A2))) =IF(C2=2.(IF(C2=4.(IF(C2=3.A2)))” “=IF(C2=2. the values in cells A3 and B3 will be assigned accordingly. then: B3 = B2 – 1. 3 and 4 gets an equal chance of being selected.B2)))”. =IF(C2=1.B2-1.(IF(C2=3.

Another application is in the modelling of growth of cells.Mathematical Modelling and Real Life Problem Solving 173 6 4 2 0 -6 -4 -2 0 2 4 6 -2 -4 -6 Figure 4(b). That is. Although it may seem rather pointless to simulate such a situation. one suggestion is to start with a onedimensional random walk. x-axis. in actual fact. say. or abnormal growth of cells leading to tumour formation. As a classroom activity. This one-dimensional random walk can be simulated and it will not be difficult for students to with access to a tool like Microsoft Excel to construct the simulation model. . this simulation model can be applied to model movement of cells in a tissue. to the normal distribution. the probability of moving left at the next step is equal to that of moving right. A typical graphical output of random walk simulation Some possible extensions include changing the probabilities of the choosing each direction for the next step in the random walk. At any one point. and then. Another possibility is to impose other rules such as taking 3 steps in one direction before changing direction. This activity leads very naturally to binomial distribution. the walk is restricted to just moving along the. as the number of steps grows.

the S-I model can be written as the differential equation. Data for the SARS outbreak in Singapore are available in the public domain (Heng and Lim. 2003) and are reproduced in Table 3. Suppose x(t) represents the number of infected individuals at time t. In the year 2003.5) where x0 = x(0) is the number of infected individuals at the start of the outbreak. Assuming a closed community with a total of N individuals. or SARS. This equation is also commonly known as the logistic equation. SARS had struck about 30 countries and in Singapore. 1 + ( N / x0 − 1) e− kt (1. The solution to the logistic equation is x= N . it can be applied to a real situation. 206 cases were recorded and 31 infected people lost their lives during the 70-day outbreak.174 Mathematical Problem Solving Example 3: A disease outbreak (Logistic model) A basic model for the spread of an infectious disease can be constructed from a simple first order differential equation. In other words. now known as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. dx x = kx 1 − N dt (1. measured in . Although this is a very simplistic view of a disease outbreak. For this reason. and hundreds had died. there exists a movement of members from one compartment (“Susceptible”) to another compartment (“Infected”). healthy and susceptible individuals who come into contact with infected and infectious individuals will themselves get infected. was an emerging infectious disease that spread very rapidly. In this model. such a model is often called the “S-I” infectious disease model. Thousands of cases were reported. and denoting the number of infected individuals by x.4) where k is some constant related to the rate of transmission of the disease. a deadly disease struck some parts of the world. The disease.

Also. 2003) Day (t) 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 Number (x) 1 2 2 2 3 3 3 3 5 6 7 10 13 19 23 25 26 26 32 44 59 69 74 82 Day (t) 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 Number (x) 84 89 90 92 97 101 103 105 105 110 111 116 118 124 130 138 150 153 157 163 168 170 175 179 Day (t) 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 Number (x) 184 187 188 193 193 193 195 197 199 202 203 204 204 204 205 205 205 205 205 205 205 205 206 . assuming that the community is closed (which means that no one enters or leaves the system during the outbreak period). it would not be possible to use this model. of course. From the data. the idea here is to test and see if the logistic equation serves well as a reasonable deterministic model for the SARS outbreak.Mathematical Modelling and Real Life Problem Solving 175 days. This is. Moreover. a debatable assumption. However. Table 3 Number of individuals infected with SARS during the 2003 outbreak in Singapore (Heng and Lim. That is. it is clear that x0 = x(0) = 1. the outbreak had started with just one infected individual. the total number of individuals is assumed to be N = 206. without this assumption.

it can be seen that the model does not give a very good fit to the data. It is clear from Figure 6 that this new model is an improvement over the previous. However. From the graphs in Figure 5(b). The result is a modified or generalized logistic model for the SARS outbreak and is shown in Figure 6. between t=15 and t=50. and find a curve of best fit. if a spreadsheet like Microsoft Excel is used.1686. E. it is possible to refine the model so that a better fit can be obtained. the model appears to be fairly reasonable. A more general logistic model would be to relax this assumption so that the fractional rate of change of x(t) varies with (1 – (x/N) p) for some real constant p. In fact. To do so. It appears that at the beginning and at the end of the outbreak. is used. k. . an “average error”. The logistic equation assumes a linear relationship between the fractional rate of change of x(t) with (1 – (x/N)). For details on how this can be done. defined as E= ∑ n i =1 ˆ ( xi − xi )2 n . the reader may refer to Ang (2004). it turns out that the minimum value of E is found to be 1.176 Mathematical Problem Solving With these values. As before. The same procedure for finding the new value of k and the value of p that will minimize the error E can be applied. then the “Solver” tool may be used to find the value of k that minimizes the error E. xi are the values obtained from the model. and n = 71 is the total number of data points available. In fact. Results of this modelling exercise is shown in Figure 5 below. For this data set.9145 when k = 0. (1. the model can be further refined and improved. the model deviates from the actual SARS cases quite significantly.6) ˆ where xi are the data values. One way to find an estimate for k is to use the available data. what is needed to complete the model is a value for the transmission rate.

9536 2.6838 0.0950 0.4785 70 206 205.1686 SARS cases 1 2 2 2 3 3 E= Logistic Model 1.3083 1.9145 Squared Error 0.1205 1.6529 1.0000 0.3982 1.1000 (a) Minimizing error using a spreadsheet (b) Graph of SARS cases and solution from model Figure 5.Mathematical Modelling and Real Life Problem Solving 177 k= Day 0 1 2 3 4 5 0.6682 0. Modelling the SARS outbreak in Singapore using the logistic equation .0000 1.1826 1.3621 0.

perhaps more accurately. such as k in this case. The difference is that in this case. Mathematical modelling applied to a local context tends to add authenticity to the task and arouse greater interest amongst students. unlike in typical empirical models where parameters may sometimes not have any real physical meaning in the model.4334 This example illustrates the idea of model refinement in mathematical modelling. leading to a stochastic or. This is the reason why Example 3 has received much attention from local teachers when it was first discussed. one often needs to use empirical data to estimate parameters. hybrid model for the SARS outbreak.1988 and k = 0. Teachers may wish to look for relevant and real resources when sourcing for ideas. the parameter k has a physical meaning. Example 4: A disease outbreak (Stochastic model) The same logistic model discussed in the preceding example may be further modified to include a stochastic term. Modified logistic model with p = 0. .178 Mathematical Problem Solving Figure 6. It also shows that even in deterministic modelling.

Video clips demonstrating . The constant. 2. λ is a constant. In this method.7) In this equation. in which W (t ) is sampled at discrete t values. for j = 1. 0 ≤ t ≤ T .… (1. a Brownian path needs to be generated so that the difference (W j − W j −1 ) can be given a value. Details of the derivation and solution method can be found in Ang (2007). λ. namely λ X (t ) (N − X (t )) is commonly known as the “drift” and the stochastic part µ g ( X (t )) dW (t ) is known as the “diffusion” term. W(t) is a random variable representing a standard Wiener process and µ is a scaling factor. on the “noise” or uncertainties. to model a simple linear relationship between X (t ) and the stochastic term. (1. For instance. it is usual to consider a discretized Brownian motion. The derivation of the stochastic model and the computer programming involved are beyond the scope of the current discussion. that is the number of infected individuals. In numerical simulations. Here. the equation is written in the discretized form X j = X j −1 + λ X j −1 ( N − X j −1 )∆t + µ g ( X j −1 ) (W j − W j −1 ) . is related to the transmission rate of the disease. in which the method is implemented through a program written in MATLAB. The function g ( X (t )) is used to govern the dependence of the X (t ) .8) To solve this equation using this method. as before.Mathematical Modelling and Real Life Problem Solving 179 Rewriting the logistic equation with a stochastic term results in a stochastic differential equation (SDE) given by dX (t ) = λ X (t ) (N − X (t )) dt + µ g ( X (t )) dW (t ) . one could set g ( X ) = X . X (0) = X 0 . The above equation can be solved using the Euler-Mayurama numerical method. Interested readers may wish to refer to Ang (2007) for details on the actual construction and solution of this model. the deterministic portion of the equation.

It is not uncommon to find students thinking of mathematics as consisting of a set of distinct topics that are compartmentalized and selfsufficient. Problems often arise in a different discipline and this provides the mathematics teacher . It is important that the teacher is mindful of this difference and be prepared to accept a situation where no solution or multiple solutions are reached. As can be gleaned from the examples discussed in the preceding section. the emphasis is on the product (the models). the focus is on the process of arriving at a suitable representation of the physical.nie. Mathematical modelling provides an avenue for teachers and their learners to look at problem solving from a problem-centred point of view. it is possible for teachers to learn alongside their students. some skills and understanding of the processes involved in the model are required.edu. real world problem and solution. it is useful to consider real life applications of mathematics. Such practice makes it difficult to convince the learner that real life applications of mathematics do indeed exist.180 Mathematical Problem Solving the working of the MATLAB programs are found in http://math. Often. Real life problems tend to transcend a number of disciplines and are often not so well defined. In mathematical modelling. mathematical modelling provides an excellent platform for studies and experiments of an inter-disciplinary nature. However. Typical textbook problems on “real life applications” present problems in a very clean and tidy state. one needs to apply ideas and concepts in one area to solve problems arising in another. sg/kcang/ejmt0702. Mathematical modelling offers excellent opportunities to connect and use ideas from different areas. To teach and learn mathematical modelling successfully. In the latter. It is not easy for a teacher to have the same kind of experience or skills that a professional applied mathematician would have acquired over time. It is important to note that there is a difference between teaching mathematical modelling and mathematical models. 4 Pedagogical Implications Apart from solving routine mathematical problems in a context-free environment.

rather than struggle with complicated or tedious numerical computations. using mathematics that may be a little too advanced for the learners for which the problem was originally intended. tackling a complex real life problem through mathematical modelling will be an enriching problem solving experience for both teacher and learner.Mathematical Modelling and Real Life Problem Solving 181 with excellent opportunities to collaborate with other teachers in problem-solving. which the student can fill in good time. Nevertheless. While problem solving items in textbooks can provide the learner with ample opportunities to hone the necessary mathematical skills in problem solving. It is possible to work out the parameters by hand. The use of this technological tool thus bridges the gap. In some cases. in our example. it may be better to use a tool so that one could focus on the mathematics. that the use of technology plays a critical role in mathematical modelling. modelling traffic flow in a city with traffic problems. . one often has to deal with real life data. technology can also help make the mathematics more accessible. in practice. it will not be surprising if one fails to completely solve the problem. It should also be noted. which may not be as clean or “sanitized” as textbook examples or data. The experience will be even more enriching if the problem involves issues of public concern (such as spread of a disease like dengue. Real life problems may need to be simplified to make them more tractable and manageable. For instance. mathematical models can only be as good as their assumptions. the use of mathematical modelling as a means of problem solving is examined. we have used a feature in a spreadsheet tool that helps us to find parameters that best fits a function to a set of data. In such instances. 5 Concluding Remarks In this chapter. through the examples presented. Moreover. In real life problems. and so on). It is also important to recognize and acknowledge that while one may attempt to solve the problem. real problems provide a rich context in which the learner can actually use or apply these skills in a real context.

182 Mathematical Problem Solving References Ang. Learning the art of mathematical modelling. Mathematical modelling in the secondary school curriculum. Teaching and learning mathematics in context (pp. Roach. Beare. (2007). & Davis. 181–188.C.S. 1(2). 42–47. 24(1). (1957).R. 1–13. K. Ang. D. Yanagimoto. Geelong. Mason. K. Teaching Mathematics and Its Applications. & Soh. I. Singapore: McGraw-Hill. Educational Studies in Mathematics. 65–73. B. Reston. R.W.C. & Hartzler. & Moscardini. (1996). Chichester: Horwood and Wiley. M. 14(2). (1980).N. Cross. Australasian Physical and Engineering Sciences in Medicine. A. Mathematical modelling in mathematics education and instruction. 35. 113–131. 120–128.C. Mathematical modelling: A positive direction for the teaching of applications of mathematics at school. (2004). The Electronic Journal of Mathematics and Technology. (1994). 14(2). 3–14). (2003). D. Paper presented at the AAMT Virtual Conference 1999. Huntley & G. J. M. Modelling as a teaching-learning strategy. Bassanezi. .. (1993). Teaching Mathematics and Its Applications. J. (2005).C. London: Ellis Horwood. A mathematical study of non-Newtonian blood flow through elastic arteries. The reason for the shape of the distensibility curves of arteries. A. Heng. Ministry of Education. Ang. (2006). The Singapore Model Method for learning mathematics. (1999). Modelling with mathematics in primary and secondary schools. (1991). Blum. K. F. Australia. Adelaide. & Lim. 116–127. R. Teaching modelling as an alternative approach to school mathematics. 15(1). Canadian Journal of Biochemistry and Physiology. Singapore: Author. For the Learning of Mathematics. Epidemiological News Bulletin. (1991). (1985). Teaching Mathematics and Its Applications. Galbraith. Important issues in applications and modelling.). Burghes. L. Differential equations: Models and methods. Epidemiology and control of SARS in Singapore. Mazumdar.H. 23(4).C. Mathematical modelling using a new spreadsheet-based system. K. 11. 29.O. Australia: Deakin University Press. W.C. T. P. In T. J.L. A simple stochastic model for an epidemic — numerical experiments with MATLAB. (2009). 681–690. Daiser-Messmer (Eds. Ang. VA: The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. 31–35. A simple model for a SARS epidemic. (1991). & Burton. Breiteig. Swetz. S.

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Part III Mathematical Problems and Tasks .

problem generation or problem formulation. For school mathematics teachers. Kissane and Mortlock. Schoen and Oehmke. National Institute of Education. Over the years. particularly. 185 . 1945). In this paper. a 1 Part of this paper was given in a workshop held at the Mathematics Teachers Conference 2008. 1 Introduction Problem solving plays a very important role in the learning of mathematics. 2006a. the remedy is to innovate on existing and old problems that have proven to be useful and effective in teaching mathematical skills. 2000). as a process (Polya. 2006b). Singapore. its inclusion in the curriculum or its teaching has taken on various forms. problem solving has truly been considered in three ways (Branca.Chapter 10 Using Innovation Techniques to Generate ‘New’ Problems1 Catherine P. 1980). and must be. For one. Consequently. problem solving develops higher-order thinking skills that we need to function in today’s world (NCTM. Douglas. and as a basic skill (Malone. When those times come. 1980): as a goal (Singapore Ministry of Education. The technique is a borrowed concept from literature and is applied to mathematical problem solving. VISTRO-YU Teachers sometimes run out of ideas and have difficulty creating new problems for our students to solve. 1980. problem solving is. the author gives some pointers on how to innovate on “used” problems with the objective of developing “new” problems to give to students.

However. Yeap and Kaur. problem generation or problem formulation is am important skill that mathematics teachers need to develop. 1983).g. Prior to innovation. 2003.a sp#1) in literature to develop story-telling and story-writing skills among children. a teacher chooses a story and tells it to the children. existing problems except for some subtle differences. The technique that is described in this paper is what I call ‘innovation’. In particular.uk/custom_content/newsletters/newsletter_jan07.teachit. and Silver.186 Mathematical Problem Solving staple ingredient in their mathematics lessons. Various studies have given numerous ideas and suggestions on how school mathematics teachers could develop their problem posing skills (e. All three terms refer to the same technique of generating new problems out of old. Brown and Walter (1983) argued that one’s level of mathematical understanding is closely linked to one’s ability to generate and pose questions.co. The teacher then engages the children in activities to help them . Silver and his colleagues (1996) call it ‘problem reformulation’ while Crespo (2003) calls it ‘adaptation’ (p. Indeed. 1999. The intent is to generate problems out of existing problems. Crespo and Sinclair (2008) consider problem posing as necessary for prospective teachers because teaching entails posing good questions that would aim for students’ development of mathematical understanding. MamonaDowns. 250). 1996) by either providing a framework for teachers to work with or identifying specific steps that teachers could follow in formulating both old and new problems. and Kenney. Problem posing serves as an excellent way for teachers to practice posing good questions. a necessary ingredient for generating excellent problems. Leung. a concept borrowed from literature. Crespo. problem solving cannot commence unless there is a problem to solve and a good problem to solve at that! Where does one get good problems? One aspect of problem solving that school mathematics teachers need to engage in is the “art of problem posing” (Brown and Walter. 2 Innovation: A Borrowed Idea from Literature Corbett (2007) describes ‘innovating on a story’ as a technique (http://www.

places • addition – retelling the same story but adding in more description. modernising the setting. e. changing the ending • change of viewpoint – retelling the story from a different character’s view • transformation – retelling the story in a different genre • recycling the plot – re-using only the underlying plot pattern. objects. setting. and then asks the children to tell the story themselves. innovation can be done. then you can move on to ‘innovation’. Research have shown that problems generated based on a certain prompt or “outside of . 3 Innovation on Problems in Mathematics The aim of problem posing by teachers is to generate good and mathematically valuable problems. refining their expression until they have orally redrafted to their satisfaction.g.Using Innovation Techniques to Generate ‘New’ Problems 187 internalize the story. Some stories do turn out to be mere copycats of the original story but others provide excitement with some new additions or twists in the plot making story innovation a useful tool in literature. altering characterization. not just any problem. dialogue or events • alteration – making changes that have repercussions. Initially. ‘New’ stories created from innovating on existing stories show varying levels of creativity of students. making decisions – and then they try telling their new story. They will need to retell a number of times. the children adapt their story map or board. its characters. Once the story has been internalized. There are different types of techniques in innovating on stories and can range from very simple to complex types: • substitution – retelling the same story but making a few simple changes such as names. Corbett (2007) describes the innovation in the following manner: Once the children know the story really well and it is in their longterm working memory. patterns of events.

p. . The three approaches are: • making problems easy to solve. Exploration is analogous to the prerequisite for a successful innovation in story-telling. 1983). • posing problems blindly. • manipulating the given constraints of the task setting as they generated goals (‘challenging the given’ by Brown & Walter. 1983). • posing familiar problems.188 Mathematical Problem Solving the context of inquiry” (Crespo and Sinclair. The latter group produced more factual problems that are not mathematically interesting. problem posers are able to understand better and internalize the situation. This certainly contributes to one’s ability to pose problems that are more meaningful and mathematically valuable and interesting. the study by Crespo and Sinclair (2008) showed that prospective teachers. were more successful in posing reasoning problems compared to the prospective teachers who posed problems spontaneously. 397) are not always good or mathematically interesting problems. Recall that students have to be able to internalize the original story before they could be expected to innovate. Crespo and Sinclair (2008) seem to be onto the same idea in problem posing. Silver et al (1996) noted that some middle school mathematics teachers and preservice secondary school mathematics teachers generated problems by: • keeping the problem constraints fixed and focusing their attention on generating goals (‘accepts the given’ by Brown & Walter. 2008. In fact. who generated problems by first exploring the mathematical situation out of which they were to generate problems. By exploring a mathematical situation. It is in the first approach that preservice teachers tended to use adaptation as a way to generate problems. Crespo (2003) identified three approaches that preservice mathematics teachers use to pose problems to pupils in a study that used letter-writing as the mode of communication between preservice teachers and students.

units. contextualizing the problem to make it more relevant to students Problem becomes more relevant but is basically the same problem as the original.g. dialogue or events alteration – making changes that have repercussions. . changing the ending transformation – retelling the story in a different genre Innovation on Mathematics Problems replacement – posing the same problem but changing quantities.g. addition – posing the same problem but adding a new given or constraint or adding an obstacle modification – takes the same given but modifies the problem Feature of the Problem Problem becomes a drill exercise. altering characterization. 1980) recycling the plot – reusing only the underlying plot pattern Problem is different but uses knowledge of the same concept or skill as required from the original problem. e. etc. change of viewpoint – retelling the story from a different character’s view turning the problem around or reversing the problem – taking the same problem but taking the end goal as the given and the given as the end goal reformulation – posing the same problem in a different type (e.Using Innovation Techniques to Generate ‘New’ Problems 189 Table 1 Comparison of Innovation Techniques between Storytelling and Mathematic Problem Generation Innovation on Stories substitution – retelling the same story but making a few simple changes such as names. Problem becomes more interesting and challenging and completely different. places addition – retelling the same story but adding in more description. Problem is extended and could become more complex. amounts. shapes. Problem could become totally new but could still be solved using the original problem as a take-off point. from a proving problem to a situational problem. see Butts. objects. modernising the setting.

190 Mathematical Problem Solving I believe there are more ways to generate problems by applying the innovation techniques in literature to problems in mathematics. 1980) Depending on the innovation technique used. and novelty. sophistication. shapes. units. He then marks the goods so that he can give his customers a discount of 20% on the marked . • addition – posing the same problem but adding a new given or constraint or adding an obstacle • modification – takes the same given but changes the problem • contextualizing the problem to make it more relevant to students • turning the problem around or reversing the problem – taking the same problem but taking the end goal as the given and the given as the end goal • reformulation – posing the same problem in a different type (e. 4 Using Innovation to Generate Problems This section illustrates the use of innovation to generate problems through two examples. amounts. Below is the corresponding set of innovation techniques as adapted from innovation techniques in storytelling: • replacement – posing the same problem but changing quantities. from a proving problem to a situational problem. Table 1. the new problem generated may be better. or just the same in terms of the level of difficulty. 4.g. shows the corresponding innovation techniques between storytelling and mathematics problemgeneration and perceived features of problems resulting from the innovation technique. I discuss two problems and the new problems generated from them by applying the above-mentioned innovation techniques. In the next two sections. worse. etc.1 Example 1 The Problem: A merchant buys his goods at 25% off the list price. see Butts.

25(0.90M − 0. L 27 .75L. 0. A short solution to this problem is as follows: Let L be the list price. 0.1. Let M be the marked price. What is the ratio of marked price to list price? (Krulik and Rudnick.675M = 0. 1989. 0. which is the selling price S.80M) = 0.1 Innovation by replacement A merchant buys his goods at 20% off the list price. 149). L 4 Applying the techniques.25(0. But. which is the selling price S. S = 0. the profit is S − 0. M 5 = . .80M.80M.25S. 0. The merchant bought the goods at the price of 0. S = 0.80M – 0. So. therefore.60M = 0.25S.80L. Or. The merchant wants to sell the goods at a price of 0. Let L be the list price.75L = 0.90M.80L = 0. Thus.Using Innovation Techniques to Generate ‘New’ Problems 191 price but still make a profit of 25% on the selling price.80L. differs only in quantity but not in the structure. the profit is S – 0. Or. He then marks the goods so that he can give his customers a discount of 10% on the marked price but still make a profit of 25% on the selling price. The merchant wants to sell the goods at a price of 0. Thus. And therefore. M 32 = And therefore. But.75L.75L. nothing else was changed. one can generate several new problems.90M) = 0. p.90M.80L. Two of the given have been replaced (see underlined). What is the ratio of marked price to list price? This problem is very similar to the original problem. 4. Let M be the marked price. The solution. The merchant bought the goods at the price of 0. So.

80M). 75 M 5 Solving the inequality gives ≤ ≤ . What is the ratio of marked price to list price? The new problem generated by this innovation technique is quite different from the original problem.3 Innovation by modification A merchant buys his goods at 25% off the list price. Let M be the marked price.75L ≤ 0.2 Innovation by addition A merchant buys his goods at 25% off the list price. He then marks the goods so that he can give his customers a discount of 20% on the marked price but still make a profit of 25% on the selling price.20S ≤ 0.80M – 0. 64 L 4 It is not much different.192 Mathematical Problem Solving 4. He then marks the goods so that he can give his customers a discount of 20% on the marked price but still make a profit of anywhere from 20% to 25% on the selling price. 0.25S. the problem now involves an inequality. S = 0. The desire is for this quantity to be anywhere from 20% to 25%. If the merchant bought the goods at P200. what should be the marked price in order to realize said profit? [P represents pesos.80M.1. Thus.75L. But. The solution is as follows: Let L be the list price.80M. The added condition of a profit being anywhere between 20% to 25% makes the difference. The merchant wants to sell the goods at a price of 0. the profit is S – 0.75L ≤ 0. the inequality is really the only new feature in this problem.75L.1. The merchant bought the goods at the price of 0.25(0. Thus.20(0. 0.80M – 0.80M) ≤ 0. which is the selling price S. 4. So. the currency of the Philippines] .

when the list price is known and how these compare. which is the selling price S.67 .1. The price of P200 is 200 the net price after the discount. then this is not so easy because the student will still have to find a relationship between the list price and the marked price. She wants to sell the goods at a price of 0. What could be a possible list price and marked price and how do these compare? This new problem modernizes the context of the problem by talking about a particular person engaged in a particular business. buys her fiction books at 25% off the list price in a warehouse.75 From the original problem. 0. if the original problem had been solved then this new problem is simple. To solve. . She then marks the books so that when she sells these with a discount of 20% on the marked price she still makes a profit of 25% on the selling price. But. a slightly different problem is posed. 4 4. If the original problem had not been solved. M = ⋅ 266. Clara bought the books at the price of 0. L = = 266. slightly different from Problem c.4 Innovation by contextualizing the problem Clara. 4 5 Therefore.33 . the ratio of marked price to list price. one has to determine the list price L.67 = 333 . The answer could still be a ratio of marked price and list price but a final answer would include a particular list price and marked price.75L. Thus. Let L be the list price. Let M be the marked price. who is into a book buy-and-sell business. Along with modernizing the context.Using Innovation Techniques to Generate ‘New’ Problems 193 This problem is a slight modification of the original problem.80M. 5 given these same numbers is . that of giving the marked price.

25(0. But. Clara should mark this same book with the price of P300.25S.80M – 0.5 Innovation by turning the problem around A merchant buys his goods at a discount. 9 9 . 0. then Clara should put down its marked price as P125. = . So. 0. Thus. (1 − y ) M − (1 − x ) L = 0.75L.194 Mathematical Problem Solving Thus.75(1 − y ) L − (1 − x ) L = 0 2 9 8 (1 − y ) − (1 − x ) L = 0 9 1 y= x+ 8 8 8 1 y= x+ . Suppose the merchant wants the marked price to be one and a half times the list price. M be the marked price. x be the decimal equivalent of the discount of the list price. if a book’s list price is P100.1. S = 0.60M = 0. S be the selling price and y be the decimal equivalent of the discount off the marked price.80M.75L. He then marks the goods so that he can also give his customers a certain discount on the marked price but still make a profit of 25% on the selling price.25 S . 4 L Therefore. 4. What are the possible discount rates off the list price and the marked price? This is not a very easy problem but the previous innovations and their solutions are a big help. Or. if a book’s list price was P240.25(1 − y ) M 3 0. Let L be the list price. 5 M And therefore. Or.75L = 0. S − (1 − x ) L = 0. the profit is S – 0.80M) = 0.

Generalize the relationship between the marked price and the list price given a discount of X% on the list price.1 0. the two discount rates form a linear relationship. (1 − y ) M − z (1 − y ) M = (1 − x) L . M be the marked price. which is quite a revelation. . and S be the selling price. respectively. that of generalizing a relationship between two quantities.1.333333 Profit Rate on S (%) 25 25 25 25 4.Using Innovation Techniques to Generate ‘New’ Problems 195 Therefore.2 0. Let L be the list price. z be the decimal equivalent of X%. This was due to the fixed relationship given for the marked price and the list price.288889 0. Let x. then M = 150.333333 0.25 0. Thus.3% in order to realize a 9 4 9 3 fixed profit of 25% on the selling price S = 100. and Z%. Thus. a discount of Y% on the marked price and a desired profit of Z% on the selling price. Suppose the discount on the list price is 25% or the merchant bought the item at 75. L 100 100 100 100 M 150 150 150 150 x 0.666667 30 28. y. This also requires a solid knowledge of variables.6 Innovation by reformulation A merchant buys his goods at 25% off the list price.3333 Profit on S 25 26. Y%.15 y 0. The new problem generated by this technique requires a higher level of skill. Then.2 0. if L = 100. But S = (1 − y ) M . The discount on the 8 1 1 1 marked price should be y = ⋅ + = or 33.244444 S 100 106. the equation to be solved is S − (1 − x) L = zS .6667 120 113. a table of possible values could also be made. He then marks the goods so that he can give his customers a discount of 20% on the marked price but still make a profit of 25% on the selling price. As part of the solution.

there are only one or two techniques that could be used for innovation.20) 4 which is the answer to the original problem.20.25)(1 − 0. p. too. z = 0. 1989. For some problems.25 . L (1 − 0.25 5 = = .196 Mathematical Problem Solving Solving. M 1− x And. Krulik & Rudnick. 153) To solve this problem. Let us look at another example. this is generalizing the solution to the original problem. clearly. y = 0. 4. letting x = 0. 153 . one must come up with the correct diagram: Figure 1. = L (1 − z )(1 − y ) Thus. (1 − z )(1 − y) M = (1 − x) L . is exactly the original problem. Not all problems can be innovated on using all the techniques described above. this M 1 − 0. What length of band will be required? (Krulik & Rudnick. Then. if we are to substitute. 1989. p. Note the challenge of dealing with the many variables in order to solve this particular problem. But. .25.2 Example 2 The Problem: Three cylindrical oil drums of 2-foot diameter are to be securely fastened in the form of a “triangle” by a steel band.

Using Innovation Techniques to Generate ‘New’ Problems 197 Based on Figure 1. a correct diagram is important. the needed length of the band is (6 + 2π) feet or approximately 12. Thus.1 Innovation by replacement Four cylindrical oil drums of 2-foot diameter are to be securely fastened in the form of a “square” by a steel band. Therefore. The bands around each circle.28 ft. The lengths of the band around each circular drum make up the circumference of one drum. 4. which is 2π.2. the length of each rectangle is 2 ft and therefore. the length of each rectangle is 2 feet and there are 3 rectangles.28 ft. What length of band will be required? It is still helpful to have a diagram to work with. . Similar to the original problem. the band length from one tangent point of the circle to the tangent point of the adjacent circle is 2 ft for a total of 8 ft. the total length of the band needed for four drums is (8 + 2π) ft or approximately 14. Four-cylinder problem Once again. when put together make up the circumference of on circle with 2 ft diameter. Figure 2.

2. It can also be shown that the band wraps around of 6 the circumference of each of the small cylinders and each of the oil drums. All three of these cylinders are to be tied with the three drums. A cylinder of 1-foot diameter is to be placed on the space between each pair of oil drums.198 Mathematical Problem Solving 4. With three smaller cylinders It can be shown that the length of one tangent from the small cylinder to the oil drum is 2 2 ft because of the right triangle whose legs have lengths 3 ft and 1 ft. Each of the interior angles of the regular hexagon that . There are 6 of those tangents so the total 1 length is 12 2 ft.2 Innovation by addition Three cylindrical oil drums of 2-foot diameter are to be securely fastened in the form of a “triangle” by a steel band. What length of band will be required? Figure 3.

4.5 Innovation by turning the problem around Suppose a packaging company has 15 feet of steel band available to fasten three cylindrical drums of 2-foot diameter each. the central angle of the sector wrapped by the band is 60°. in feet.2. The total length is 6 ft.4 Innovation by contextualizing the problem Bobby has to secure three pencils of the same size with transparent tape. is there any left over? How much left over? . What is the total length of steel band that does not touch any of the drums? This is slightly different. The total curved 1 length over the three cylinders is.2. Is this enough if they are to be fastened in the form of a triangle? If not. The total length is (3 + π + 1) cm or approximately 7. 3 ( 2π ) = π . 3 ( 2π ⋅ 2 ) = 2π . 4. in feet. The solution is very similar to the original problem except that the diameter has been slightly changed to make the context more realistic. how much more does the company need? If yes. the total length of the band needed is.3 Innovation by modification Three cylindrical oil drums of 2-foot diameter are to be securely fastened in the form of a “triangle” by a steel band. the problem can be easily answered. How long a tape does he need if he wants an overlap of 1 cm of the tape? The problem gives a setting that students could relate to more.14 cm. The total 6 1 curved length over the three oil drums is.Using Innovation Techniques to Generate ‘New’ Problems 199 circumscribes the cylinders and oil drums measures 120°. 4. Therefore. in feet.2. 6 Therefore. 3π + 2 2 ≈ 12. Each pencil has a diameter of 1 cm.25. Using Figure 1.

Express the length of steel band needed in terms of n. It is a very good problem if the original problem had not been given yet. ‘Is the length enough?’ Because the answer to the original problem is 12.6 Innovation by reformulation Three cylindrical oil drums of n-foot diameter are to be securely fastened in the form of a “triangle” by a steel band.200 Mathematical Problem Solving This is an obvious turnaround of the problem. The straight length of the 2 band will therefore total 3n ft. The ability to reason and prove is an indication that one has reached a very deep and complex understanding of mathematics. Therefore. A fixed length for the steel band is given and using the same conditions as in the original problem. 2 3n + π n ≈ 6. 5 Cognitive Value of Innovation in Problem Solving I have cited that problem solving is a goal but the bigger picture of mathematics education indicates that problem solving is also a tool to deepen one’s understanding and knowledge of mathematics. the new problem becomes. 2π ⋅ n or πn. Indeed. This appears to be internationally accepted as it has been used in the TIMSS 2003 study (IEA. This is a generalization problem. Stylianides (2008) identified the following processes as comprising the activities of reasoning and proving: . 4. the curved lengths will be a total of. reasoning and proving are two of the highest level of skills in the hierarchy of mathematical skills.28 ft. Problem solving certainly aims to develop those skills among students.2.14n . 1 If the diameter is n-ft then the radius is n . in 1 feet. in feet. the length of steel band needed is.72 ft left over. then 15 ft is enough with 2. 2003). Figure 1 is once more useful here. In his proposed analytic framework that focuses on developing reasoning and proving skills.

he views the first two processes as “providing support to mathematical claims” and the last two as “making mathematical generalizations” (p. By innovating on existing problems. 9). 2008). classical problems can be given new forms. Arcavi and Resnick (2008) showed that not only could ‘new’ and complex problems come out of existing problems. One valuable contribution of problem innovation is that some of the techniques generate more complex problems for students. But other techniques. could generate more complex problems that are useful in developing among students sophisticated problem solving techniques. students are able to generate more sophisticated ideas and reach a deeper level of mathematical knowledge and understanding. even based on a favorite problem that they might have. Both are higher–order skills as both indicate sophisticated levels of understanding of mathematical concepts (Stylianides.g. the ‘new’ problems may simply provide a new exercise for students to work on. providing non-proof arguments. Further. geometric in addition to algebraic) to the original problem could also be produced even from a slight innovation of a problem and from the original solution itself. By continuously exploring a problem and its solution. when applied properly and carefully. making conjectures. 6 Benefits of Innovation on Existing Problems As pointed out in the earlier part of this paper. these old. ‘new’ and sophisticated solutions (e. The examples provided in this paper show that these complex problems are problems that require generalization and analysis of the structure of the problem. perhaps. could certainly support the development of reasoning and proving skills among students. Taking cue from Stylianides (2008). results of problem innovation.Using Innovation Techniques to Generate ‘New’ Problems 201 “identifying patterns. classical problems are just too good to ignore. For some techniques. teachers would be able to generate new problems. as shown from the two examples. 9). Using innovation. there does come a time when teachers run out of new problems to give to their class. Furthermore. Some old. and providing proofs” (p. .

Innovation by turning the problem around is clearly a challenge. 1996). we increase their confidence in this area of mathematics. Ateneo de Manila University. innovating on existing mathematical problems requires much thought and time. The key is to try. through problem exploration. The Philippines. complex problem. By giving mathematics teachers more tools and techniques to increase their skills in any aspect of problem solving. 8 Concluding Remarks Problem posing is a complex cognitive process (Silver et al. This is because not all problems can be turned around to come up with a good. There are times when problems generated with the use of the innovation techniques are meaningless or do not have solutions. In using this technique. Innovation by modification and reformulation is quite tricky. for her invaluable insights and comments on the chapter. The innovation techniques discussed here provide mathematics teachers with ways to generate new problems and consequently. . help them develop better problem solving skills. It is alright. and try again until better problems are generated. One could easily interchange the two techniques. It is a skill that requires tremendous amount of work and practice.202 Mathematical Problem Solving 7 Practical Aspects of Innovation in Generating Mathematical Problems Like any task of teaching. Innovation by replacement does not require much time or thought. Innovation by contextualizing could be a challenge because of the need to know what students could relate to in a particular period of time. Acknowledgement The author wishes to thank Floredeliza F. teachers need to make sure that the additional condition in the problem is sensible and reasonable. explore. Innovation by addition requires some thought but not much time. which is harmless. The next step is to allow them time and opportunity to try out these techniques themselves. What is important is to know that these two techniques are meant to generate two different problems. Francisco.

Learning to pose mathematical problems: Exploring changes in preservice teachers’ practices. B. I. Secondary mathematics syllabus. Reston. In S. & Rudnick. L. Reys (Eds. Problem solving in school mathematics (pp. In S. (1989).co. In S. Reys (Eds. V. Reston. Corbett. (1980). Krulik & R. 23-33). VA: National Council of Teacher of Mathematics. G. In S. The art of problem posing. Reston. Reston. Measuring problem solving ability. A. Branca. Garces. P. Singapore Ministry of Education. Principles and standards for school mathematics. IEA (2003). T. S. (2008). 243-270. J.uk/custom_content/newsletters/newsletter_jan07. Mathematics Teacher. (2008). Krulik & R. Reston.Using Innovation Techniques to Generate ‘New’ Problems 203 References Arcavi. J. S. Crespo. E. Posing problems properly.). Retrieved on January 23. Problem solving as a goal. MA: Allyn and Bacon. Krulik.asp#1 Crespo. S. N. Malone. Boston: IEA. VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Douglas. VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Problem solving in school mathematics (pp. A.. I. J.). Generating problems from problems and solutions from solutions. E. What makes a problem mathematically interesting? Inviting prospective teachers to pose better problems. N. Butts. Problem solving in school mathematics (pp. (1945). (1980). A. A new approach to the measurement of problemsolving skills. and basic skills. (2006b). (2007). (2000). (1980). A. S. How to solve it. (2008). Primary mathematics syllabus..: Princeton University Press. Schoen.). Krulik & R. Boston. VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Krulik & R. T. I. Z. Kissane. G. 2008 from http://www. Educational Studies in Mathematics. (2003). Reys (Eds. Princeton. 216-227). Spring (1) Term 3. Polya. M. process. R. S. (1983). 395-415. 10-14. A. MTAP Individual competition secondary level. English Teaching Online. & Walter. Singapore: Curriculum Planning and Development Division. Unpublished document. (1980). & Sinclair. & Resnick.). (2006b). E. Singapore Ministry of Education. & Oehmke.teachit. Reys (Eds. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). TIMSS assessment frameworks and specifications. Brown. Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education 11. N. 204-216). Problem solving in school mathematics (pp. 102 (1). VA: NCTM. 52 (3). 3-8). . Telling tales. NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Problem solving: A handbook for senior high school teachers. H. J. E. & Mortlock. Singapore: Curriculum Planning and Development Division.

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How many intersections are there if you use 8 nails on each axis? (Krulik and Rudnick. 1980. Connect the nail farthest from the origin on one axis to the nail closest to the origin on the other axis. What values are possible for the area of quadrilateral EKDL if ABCD and EFGH are squares of side 12 and E is the center of square ABCD? (Butts. 1980. 164) . 1980. A piece of “string art” is made by connecting nails that are evenly spaced on the vertical axis to nails that are evenly spaced on the horizontal axis.Using Innovation Techniques to Generate ‘New’ Problems 205 Appendix Use any of the innovation techniques to generate new problems out of the following: 1. 1989. 25) 2. How high is the flagpole to the nearest foot? (Krulik and Rudnick. The man stands 50 feet from the base of the flagpole. Continue in this manner until all nails are connected. How many different triangles with integer sides can be drawn having the longest side (or sides) of length 6? How many of the triangles are isosceles? (Butts. The same number of nails must be on each axis. using colored strings. 30) 3. p. p. 161) 4. A 6-foot tall man looks at the top of a flagpole making an angle of 40° with the horizontal. p. p.

206 Mathematical Problem Solving 5. 1996. Given 4 distinct colors. how many different ways are there to colour the figure so that no two regions with a common boundary receive the same colour? (Teo. she will be 70 years old. 20) 7. In 1992. 2000. A figure is divided into five regions as shown in the diagram below. Each pair is joined by a chord. 37) 8. To and Wong. p. How old is the mother now? (Wong. p. If the cost of food increased by 10%. their income increased by 10%. 30% on other items and saved the rest. When the son is as old as his mother is now. Find the number of ways of joining pairs such that no two of the chords intersect. A 6 x 7 rectangle is divided into 6 x 7 unit squares as shown. Eight points on a circle are grouped into disjoint pairs. a family spent 19% of their income on rent. p. by what percentage did the expenditure on other items increase? (Wong. 211) 9. p. 1n 1991. she was as old as he is now. p. savings decreased by 4% and rent remained the same. (Teo. What is the total number of squares of all sizes in the rectangle? (Wong. 2000. 21) 6. 1996. To and Wong. 1996. 360) . When a mother was 3 times as old as her son was. 26% on food.

Allowing no loss of time at the turns. 2008) . one at the rate of 3 feet per second. Two swimmers at opposite ends of a 90-foot pool. find the number of times they pass each other. (Garces. start to swim the length of the pool. the other at 2 feet per second.Using Innovation Techniques to Generate ‘New’ Problems 207 10. They swim back and forth for 12 minutes.

Each type of skill is highlighted with an example followed by a brief comment. drawing or constructing. we wish students to develop the following skills while solving problems: generalising and extending problems. we find that mathematical problems are inherent in the structure of the subject itself. and solving open-ended problems. formulating problems. Problems have a long history and have occupied a central place in the school mathematics curriculum since antiquity. carrying out simple investigations. using different representations to solve problems.Chapter 11 Mathematical Problems for the Secondary Classroom Jaguthsing DINDYAL Problems abound in mathematics education at all levels. making connections between different content areas. proving and explaining. This chapter focuses on some of the desirable skills that secondary level teachers can develop among students through the use of selected problems. A typical student learning mathematics at any level has to solve many mathematical problems. 1 Introduction A typical mathematics textbook for any level is full of so-called “mathematical problems”. using technology in significant ways. Amongst others. 1988). The typical mathematics teacher has to either write new problems or find relevant problems from reliable sources for the students to learn mathematics while doing these problems. although the same cannot be said about problem solving (Stanic & Kilpatrick. From the perspective of a teacher. Thus. two 208 .

Hence.Mathematical Problems for the Secondary Classroom 209 aspects of mathematical problems stand out: 1. One of such descriptions is by Lester (1983) who defined a problem as a task for which: 1. 1993). the individual or group must make an attempt to find a solution (p. there is not a readily accessible procedure that guarantees or completely determines the solution. A problem can be considered as a task which elicits some activity on the part of students and through which they learn mathematics during the problem solving activity. But what is a problem and what is problem solving? 2 Problem and Problem Solving If the answer to a “problem” is apparent then it is no longer a “problem”. I shall look partly into the second aspect. Any discussion about problems cannot be divorced from the problem solving process. and 2. Krulik and Rudnik (1980) defined a problem as a situation that requires resolution and for which the individual sees no apparent or obvious means or path to obtaining the solution. 2. the defining feature of a problem situation is that there must be some blockage on the part of the potential problem solver (Kroll & Miller. writing original problems. In this paper. using different problems effectively in class to develop desirable skills among mathematics students. I shall first comment on what constitutes a problem and then focus on some of the desirable skills that we can develop among students through the use of problems (the term skill will be used a little loosely in the context of this paper). and 3. Along similar lines. the individual or group confronting it wants or needs to find a solution. It is interesting to note that Lester’s definition accommodates not only the individual’s perception but also the group’s perception on what constitutes a problem. It should be reiterated that the solver or solvers should be motivated to reach the solution because what is a problem for one person . 231-232). modifying standard problems or sourcing for relevant problems.

it is a particular relationship between the individual and the task that makes the task a problem for that person (p. the publication of the Agenda for Action by the NCTM in the United States.210 Mathematical Problem Solving may not necessarily be a problem for another person. and they require some degree of creativity and originality from the solver. In 1980. problem solving is a complex process which Polya (1957) claimed proceeds through his much publicized four phases: understanding the problem. carrying out the plan. Problem solving has been used with multiple meanings that range from “working rote exercises” to “doing mathematics as a professional” (Schoenfeld. and looking back. One of the goals set by the NCTM (1989) for K-12 mathematics education was that students become mathematical problem solvers. 74). Accordingly. Polya added that it is only through the judicious use of nonroutine problems that students can develop problem solving ability. It is the process by which students experience the power and usefulness of mathematics in the world around them and it also a method of inquiry and application (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics [NCTM]. Polya (1957. Although Schoenfeld seems to focus on an individual’s relationship to the problem. it would be unfair to say that he excludes problems which require any collaborative work. Thus being a “problem” is not a property inherent in a mathematical task. 1966) differentiated between routine and non-routine problems. Thus. spurred new interest in problem solving. The statement that problem solving should become the focus of school mathematics was widely publicized. Rather. devising a plan. if they were to become productive citizens. problem solving is not just about solving a problem. non-routine problems are more challenging. While routine problems are mere exercises that can be solved by some rules or algorithms. The same task that calls for significant efforts from some students may well be routine exercises for others. and answering them may just be a matter of recall for a given mathematician. It was . 1992). Schoenfeld (1985) clearly pointed to the difficulty in describing what constitutes a problem: The difficulty with the word problem is that problem solving is relative. 1989).

the resources to be used during the solution process. requiring extended effort from the students. statistics. the expected time for a solution. Amongst others. It was also claimed that students had to make full use of available technology as problem-solving tools and that they had to learn to work cooperatively on selected problems. The NCTM (2000) standards further acknowledged the important role of problem solving in mathematics education at school level. the problem tasks that we choose must meet certain criteria. the exact wording of the problem. the NCTM (1989) standards stated that it should take advantage of the expanding mathematical capabilities of middle school students to include more complex problem situations involving topics such as probability. The standards also suggested that some of the problems had to be more demanding.Mathematical Problems for the Secondary Classroom 211 perceived as important that students solve problems not only alone. Since we wish to teach highly desirable mathematical concepts and skills. The problem solving standard states that instructional programs at school level should enable students to: build new mathematical knowledge through problem solving. apply and adapt a variety of appropriate strategies to solve problems. the types of numbers involved. the objectives to be tested. but also working cooperatively in small or large groups. Problems had to be varied. and rational numbers. streamlined. The NCTM (1991) claimed that good tasks are ones that do not separate mathematical thinking from mathematical concepts or skills. and the closedness or openness of the problem. the support and structure provided. or clarified. elaborated. Several factors can be identified that differentiate one problem from another. problems differ by: the content domain. Regarding the grades 5-8 curriculum. solve problems that arise in mathematics and in other contexts. The standards also mentioned that students had to reflect on their problem solving and consider how it might be modified. they capture . Problems in the school mathematics curriculum have changed significantly over time depending on what has been emphasised during those times. geometry. Problem solving is highlighted as one of the five process standards that cut across the curriculum at all grade levels. with some being open-ended and in more applied contexts. monitor and reflect on the process of problem solving. the context of the problem.

drawing or constructing. whether a problem task is originally written down by a teacher or is taken or modified from a secondary source. it is important to note that there are some distinctions associated with the tasks at various levels (Mason & Johnston-Wilder. we wish students to develop the following skills while solving problems: generalising and extending problems. There are bound to be mismatches between what the assigner wishes to achieve and what actually is achieved during the solving process. carrying out simple investigations. • the task as intended by the teacher. He added that this resulted in lifting the reasoning or communication to a level where the focus is no longer on the cases or situations themselves but rather on the patterns. which in turn become new. formulating problems. procedures. using technology in significant ways.212 Mathematical Problem Solving students’ curiosity. Some problems which can elicit the desirable knowledge and skills are described below. using different representations to solve problems. making connections between different content areas. and solving open-ended problems. higher- . and • the task as carried out by the learners. 2. problem tasks when used in the classroom have many such underlying nuances that need to be considered. Thus. • the task as construed by the learners. • the task as specified by the teacher-author instructions. However. 2006. Amongst others. and relations across and among them. structures. and they invite the students to speculate and to pursue their hunches. Accordingly.1 Using generalisation and extension Kaput (1999) claimed that generalization involves deliberately extending the range of reasoning or communication beyond the case or cases considered by explicitly identifying and exposing commonality across the case or the cases. p. 8): • the task as imagined by the task author. proving and explaining. it carries an implicit intent that the assigner of the task (in this case the teacher) wishes to achieve by assigning the problem task to the solver.

One of the heuristics to be used includes considering simpler cases. The students can develop various skills through the process of solving this problem. Although. the teacher may consider an extension of the problem to find the number of rectangles instead of the number of squares in an n × n grid. it is not required that students at this level know about ∑ r ² = 1 n(n + 1)(2n + 1) . Besides checking the solution. students may use a similar approach as for the number of squares. they . The students can try a 1 × 1 grid. It is expected that students will be able to write without much difficulty.Mathematical Problems for the Secondary Classroom 213 level objects of reasoning or communication. 6 the teacher may consider exploring this idea further. we cannot just stop at this point. Although. In this inductive approach the student can find the solution that for a regular 8 × 8 chess board. the answer as 1² + 2² + 3² + …. + n². In the problem solving process. Furthermore. a 2 × 2 grid and a 3 × 3 grid to generate a pattern. we have 1 + 4 + 9 + … + 64 = 204 squares. depending on the ability level of the students and the time that is available. Consider the following problem: How many squares are there on a regular chess board? The problem can be asked with or without the visual support showing the 8 × 8 grid. A simple generalisation of the problem would be to find the number of squares in an n × n grid. teachers can encourage students to generalise and extend the problem.

pictures or physical objects. On the other hand. Consider the following problem: The Nice car rental agency charges $70 a day and 40 cents per kilometre. mental representations are not observable and discussions about these representations can only be inferred. Thinking about mathematical ideas requires an internal representation that allows the mind to operate on them. taking the form of spoken language. numerical and graphical forms of representations but must also be able to move flexibly in between these forms of representations. students must have the exposure to different forms of representations while solving problems. or using a table of values or by using . we need to represent them in some way. 2. Hiebert and Carpenter also added that there is an ongoing debate whether mental representations mimic in some way the external object being represented or whether there is a common form used to represent all information. While some problems emphasise one particular form of representation. As such. others can be solved using various representations.2 Using different representations Hiebert and Carpenter (1992) claimed that to think about mathematical ideas and to communicate them. A further extension could be to find the number rectangles in an m × n grid. The Good car agency charges $60 a day and 50 cents a kilometre. This problem can be solved by using all three forms of representations: by using algebra. Connections between external representations of mathematical information can be constructed by the learner between different representational forms of the same mathematical idea or between related ideas of the same representational form.214 Mathematical Problem Solving may meet with some difficulties. They must not only understand the symbolic. communication requires that the representations be external. Which agency will you choose to rent a car for a day? Give reasons for your answer. However. written symbols. Students can learn much more mathematics by solving these extended problems.

for distances less than 100 km. However. (c) Using a graph C = 70 + 0.4x for Nice car rental agency C = 60 + 0. Nice rental agency is better.5x) When $(70 + 0.5x for Good car rental agency cost ($) 120 100 80 60 40 20 0 0 20 40 60 80 100 120 dist (km) . Good rental agency is better whereas for distances greater than 100 km.4x) Daily cost of a car from Good car rental agency = $(60 + 0. As such.5x). Daily cost of a car from Nice car rental agency = $(70 + 0. Good car rental agency is better. x = 100 km.Mathematical Problems for the Secondary Classroom 215 graphs.4x) = $(60 + 0. (b) Using a table of values Distance (km) Nice rental agency ($) Good rental agency ($) 20 78 70 40 86 80 60 94 90 80 102 100 100 110 110 120 118 120 140 126 130 The table clearly shows that for distances less than 100 km. (a) Using algebra Let x be the number of kilometres travelled in a day. Nice car rental agency is better. for distances greater than 100 km.

216 Mathematical Problem Solving The graph shows that when the distance travelled is less than 100 km then Good car rental agency is better whereas Nice car rental agency is better for distances of 100 km or more.3 Making connections Connections are problem solving tools and the teacher’s task is to promote the use of connections in problem solving (Hodgson. the teacher may ask for alternative ways of solving the problem. How can you use the above figure to prove Pythagoras Theorem? The interplay of algebra and geometry is obvious in this problem which requires the students to show that (a + b)² = 4 × 1 ab + c² and 2 . 2. Carefully chosen problems can help students to make connections. each having shorter sides of lengths a and b and hypotenuse of length c. The teacher can then highlight the fact that this problem can be solved using three different representations. When students can see the connections across content areas. they develop a view of mathematics as an integrated whole (NCTM. 2000). After which. Consider this problem: b c a a b Four right angled triangles. are joined together to form the figure as shown in the diagram above. Explain why the area enclosed by the four triangles is a square. Teachers can let the students struggle with the problem and choose a method that is more familiar to them. 1995).

Given that the angle sum of all pentagrams or five-cornered stars is constant. They also come to understand why some solutions are more elegant than others. who goes about using the signs of | x − 1| on the given interval.4 Finding multiple methods of solution Students must be exposed to problems which can be solved in various ways. may reach a solution. determine that angle sum. students should be encouraged to look for alternative solutions. 3 Consider this simple integration problem: ∫−1| x − 1|dx . the student who can make the connection between the definite integral and an area under the graph certainly demonstrates a deeper understanding of the mathematical concepts involved.Mathematical Problems for the Secondary Classroom 217 hence deduce Pythagoras Theorem. 2000). Teachers need to highlight this important connection between the two branches of mathematics. Use as many different methods as you can. Teachers can let students try their own methods and discuss if . which is an important step in the Polya’s model (see Polya. 1957). Even after solving a problem. The student. However. 2. Students learn by solving a problem in several ways. There are several ways in which this problem can be solved (see Lipp. Teachers can make good use of such problems to make connections between important ideas in mathematics.

students can use simulation to obtain an estimate of the probability: Out of any group of five people what do you think is the chance that at least two of them will have a birthday in the same month? On spreadsheet. Technology can not only be used to help students do routine procedures such as calculations but also to help them in modelling and simulation activities. .5 Using technology Using technological tools. The same can be done using a graphing calculator as well. if they use dynamic geometry software such as the Geometer’s Sketchpad (GSP) students will benefit from the exploration in arriving at a solution. Consider the following problem: Show that the midpoints of the sides of a quadrilateral form a parallelogram. Teachers should carefully select problems so that at least a few may require some use of technology in their solution. to solve the following problem. The simulation exercise can provide important insights into how to solve the actual problem itself. Other graphing software can help students with mathematical problems involving graphs. Students may not quite have an idea about how to work out the solution.218 Mathematical Problem Solving there are other possible methods of solution or a teacher may also ask students: “I want you to find at least two different ways of solving this problem.” This may create an interest in the multiple ways of solving the problem. students can reason about more-general issues and can model and solve complex problems that were heretofore inaccessible to them (NCTM. 2000). 2. However. students can generate random samples of 5 numbers from 1 to 12 to get an estimate of the probability. For example.

A student doing the construction will need to know how to manipulate the geometrical tools and how to draw triangles having the same area. it is quite demanding on the average student. rather.Mathematical Problems for the Secondary Classroom 219 2. the students need to demonstrate ample understanding of the conceptual underpinnings. How can she justify that this figure is really part of a circle? . students need to mobilise their geometrical knowledge in order to solve the problem below: Construct a triangle with the same area as the trapezium shown below. Consider this new problem: A student notices what appears to be an arc of a circle. Teachers can emphasise the use of the drawing instruments.6 Drawing or constructing Students must be given ample opportunities to draw or construct. it is important for students to know that points on a line parallel to the base of a triangle form other triangles with that base and have the same area as the given triangle. Although at first sight. For example. this problem seems easy. In this case. There are several ways in which the construction can be carried out. These constructions must not be routine ones.

c. Other proof problems may include: Prove the following properties related to circles: a. Prove the midpoint theorem: A straight line joining the mid- . 2. In this case. 2000). for example. Teachers may. Teachers need to carefully detail the elements of a proof and help students to write their statements supported by strong reasons.220 Mathematical Problem Solving A student who wishes to solve the problem will need to remember how to construct the centre of a circle given an arc of the circle. For example: If ABC is an isosceles triangle. it is important for the students to know that the perpendicular bisector of a chord of a circle passes through the centre of the circle. point to: What is given? What is to be proved? Do you need to draw a diagram? Many students do not feel the need to prove that the sum of the interior angles in a triangle is 180°. The perpendicular bisector of a chord passes through the centre. not all students are able to do proofs and proving does not come naturally to them. Tangents from an external point are equal in length. Equal chords are equidistant from the centre.7 Proving Proof is an important part of mathematics and in the classroom the key role of proof is the promotion of mathematical understanding (Hanna. prove that it has two congruent angles. The students need to be exposed a wide variety of problems which requires them to prove. The simplest results that often students take for granted may be the best starting points. Such construction problems require students to know about the underlying geometrical principles. Many students assume the congru