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# Routine and non-routine problem solving

We can categorize problem solving into two basic types: routine and non-routine. The purposes and the strategies used for solving problems are different for each type.

**Routine problem solving
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From the curricular point of view, routine problem solving involves using at least one of the four arithmetic operations and/or ratio to solve problems that are practical in nature. Routine problem solving concerns to a large degree the kind of problem solving that serves a socially useful function that has immediate and future payoff. Children typically do routine problem solving as early as age 5 or 6. They combine and separate things such as toys in the course of their normal activities. Adults are regularly called upon to do simple and complex routine problem solving. Here is an example. A sales promotion in a store advertises a jacket regularly priced at $125.98 but now selling for 20% off the regular price. The store also waives the tax. You have $100 in your pocket (or $100 left in your charge account). Do you have enough money to buy the jacket? As adults, and as children, we normally want to solve certain kinds of problems (such as the one above) in a way that reflects an „Aha, I know what is going on here and this is what I need to do to figure out the answer.‟ reaction to the problem. We do not want to guess and check or think backwards or make use of similar strategies. Invariably, solving such problems involves using at least one of the four arithmetic operations (and/or ratio). Being good at doing arithmetic (e. g. adding two numbers: mentally, by pencil and paper, with manipulatives, by punching numbers in a calculator) does not guarantee success at solving routine problems. The critical matter is knowing what arithmetic to do in the first place. Actually doing the arithmetic is secondary to the matter. A mathematics researcher interviewed children about how they solve routine problems. One boy reported his method as follows: If there were two numbers and they were both big, he subtracted. If there was one large and one small number, he divided. If it did not come out even, he multiplied . The other interesting aspect of all of this is that the child had done quite well at solving routine problems throughout his school career. What does this say about teaching practice? What does this say about assessing what children understand? Is the case of the boy an isolated incident or is it the norm? Unfortunately, research tells us that it is likely the norm. Not enough students and adults are good at solving routine problems. Research also tells us that in order for students to be good at routine problem solving they need to learn the meanings of the arithmetic operations (and the concept of ratio) well and in ways that are based on real and familiar experiences. While there are only four arithmetic operations, there are more than four distinct meanings that can be attached to the operations. For example, division has only one meaning: splitting up into equal groups. Subtraction, on the other hand, has at least two meanings: taking away something away from one set or comparing two sets (refer to The meanings of the arithmetic operations.) Once students understand the meaning of an arithmetic operation they have a powerful conceptual tool to apply to solving routine problems. The primary strategy becomes deciding on what arithmetic operation to use. That decision cannot be made in the manner done by the boy of the research anecdote. The decision should be made on the basis of IDENTIFYING WHAT IS GOING ON IN THE PROBLEM. This approach requires understanding the meanings of the arithmetic operations. The research evidence suggests that good routine problem solvers have a repertoire of automatic symbol-based and context-based responses to problem situations. They do not rely on manipulating concrete materials, nor on using strategies such as 'guess and check' or „think backwards‟. Rather, they rely on representing what is going on in a problem by selecting from a limited set of mathematical templates or models. Refer to Using arithmetic operation meanings to solve routine problems for details.

The strategies suggested below are teachable to the extent that teachers can encourage and help students to identify. how to calculate the area of a triangle). we cannot find nice. and concepts (MAINTENANCE stage of teaching). non-routine problem solving cannot be approached in an automatized way as can routine problem solving. teachers can use non-routine problem solving to introduce ideas (EXPLORATORY stage of teaching). skills. Find as many pairs of 2-digit stubborn numbers as you can. That requires students to justify their reasoning in terms of the meanings of arithmetic operations and in terms of the relevance of the data they collected/estimated. to deepen and extend understandings of algorithms. There are many strategies that can be used for solving unfamiliar or unusual problems. non-routine problem solving concerns that only indirectly. From the point of view of planning classroom instruction. While routine problem solving concerns solving problems that are useful for daily living (in the present or in the future). From the point of view of students. Complexity can be achieved through multi-step problems (making use of more than one arithmetic operation) or through Fermi problems. That involves a search for heuristics (strategies seeking to discover). While the estimate may be considerably in error. in other words. From the point of view of students growing to adulthood. “I haven't got much of a clue how to do this.‟ reaction. Solving problems like the one above normally requires a search for a strategy that seeks to discover a solution (a heuristic).Solving routine problems should at some point involve solving complex problems. Non-routine problem solving Non-routine problem solving serves a different purpose than routine problem solving. Inevitably. Non-routine problem solving is mostly concerned with developing students‟ mathematical reasoning power and fostering the understanding tha t mathematics is a creative endeavour. g. Non-routine problem solving can be seen as evoking an „I tried this and I tried that. There are 6 pairs in all (not including 35 & 41).” . and to motivate and challenge students (EXPLORATORY and MAINTENANCE stages of teaching). There is no convenient model or solution path that is readily available to apply to solving a problem. and demanding world. Here is an example of a Fermi problem: About how many cars are there in Manitoba? Solving this Fermi problem about the cars would involve matters like obtaining/estimating data about the population of Manitoba that might own a c ar and making use of the „groups of‟ meaning of multiplication. Notice that all four digits of the two multipliers reappear in the product of 1435 (but they are rearranged). It is advisable to do both. the important matter is on describing how the estimate was obtained. let me see what I can try. non-routine problem solving can be challenging and interesting. and perhaps it is even unknowable. In general. and eureka. There are other uses as well. The following is an example of a problem that concerns non-routine problem solving. The result is 1435. that ability is becoming more important in today‟s technological. To say that another way. One could call numbers such as 35 and 41 as pairs of stubborn numbers because their digits reappear in the product when the two numbers are multiplied together. encourage the ability to think in more abstract ways. However. complex. Consider what happens when 35 is multiplied by 41. tidy methods of solution for all problems. That would depend on the degree of sophistication of insight into the problem. solving Fermi problems involves estimating where the exact value is often unknown. to understand. It could involve more matters. and to use them. we will be confronted with a situation that evokes the response. I finally figured it out. Having students do non-routine problem solving can encourage the move from specific to general thinking. They typically involve the application of the meaning of at least one arithmetic operation and sometimes something else (e. That is in sharp contrast to routine problem solving where there are readily identifiable models (the meanings of the arithmetic operations and the associated templates) to apply to problem situations. Fermi problems are special problems that are characterized by the need to estimate something and the need to obtain relevant data.

Act it out/make a model. Work backwards. Break up the problem into smaller ones and try to solve these first. How many cents do I have now? Problem 2 Place the numbers 1 to 9. Problem 1 My mom gave me 35 cents. Both are suitable for grade 3. Those kinds of strategies are not the essence of what it takes to be successful at non-routine problem solving. not to train students to make use of a particular strategy. or making a table. „draw a diagram‟. All students should participate in and be encouraged to succeed at non-routine problem solving. There are 9 circles and 9 numbers to place in the circles. First. My father gave me 45 cents. They are only preliminary steps that help in getting organized.The list below does not contain strategies like: „read the question carefully‟. . often more than one strategy can be applied to solving a problem. The hard part still remains . non-routine problem solving should not be reserved for special students such as those who finish the regular work early. the goal is for students to search for and apply useful strategies. reading the question carefully. Second. It is unwise to force students to use one particular strategy for two important reasons. Finally. consider the following two problems.to actually solve the problem and that takes more powerful strategies than drawing a diagram. All students can benefit from the kinds of thinking that is involved in non-routine problem solving. Each circle must have a different number in it. My grandmother gave me 85 cents. It is important that students share how they solved problems so that their classmates are exposed to a variety of strategies as well as the idea that there may be more than one way to reach a solution. one in each circle so that the sum of the four numbers along any of the three sides of the triangle is 20. The following list of strategies is appropriate for Early and Middle Years students in that the strategies involve ways of thinking that are likely to be comfortable for these students. or „make a table‟. Comparing routine and non-routine problem solving To make clearer the distinction between routine and non-routine problem solving. Look for a pattern Guess and check Make and solve a simpler problem.

1887 – September 7. in Hungarian Pólya György) was a Hungarian mathematician.Notice that addition is required for both problems. George Pólya From Wikipedia.2 Second principle: Devise a plan o 3. In problem 1. In problem 2. circa 1973 George Pólya (December 13. you need to figure out that you need to add.1 First principle: Understand the problem o 3. but the matter really concerns a search for strategies to apply to the problem.3 Third principle: Carry out the plan o 3. Understanding addition as modeling a „put together‟ action does not help you with solving problem 2.4 Fourth principle: Review/extend 4 See also 5 References 6 External links . Being good at arithmetic might help you a bit. search George Pólya. Guess and check is a useful strategy to begin with. the free encyclopedia Jump to: navigation. you are told to add by the word ‘sum’. 1985. Understanding addition as modeling a „put together‟ action helps you realize that. Contents [hide] 1 Life and works 2 Quotes 3 Pólya's four principles o 3.

Please help improve this section by adding citations to reliable sources. Pólya provides general heuristics for solving problems of all kinds. the lengths of the words are the digits. and Teaching Problem Solving. I mean. (Nobel laureate in 2000) praised it. he spent considerable effort on trying to characterize the methods that people use to solve problems. not only mathematical ones.[It] may be bad as too much salt is bad in the soup and even a little garlic is bad in the chocolate pudding. clearly perceived) that the role of inductive evidence in mathematical investigation is similar to its role in physical research." [edit] Quotes This section does not cite any references or sources. Russian physicist Zhores I. but it is good in itself and may be a great help in life and in problem solving. The book includes advice for teaching students of mathematics and a miniencyclopedia of heuristic terms. California. Hungary. In How to Solve It.[1] In his later days. and Mathematics and Plausible Reasoning Volume II: Patterns of Plausible Reasoning. number theory. (December 2008) To be a good mathematician. How I need a drink. after the heavy chapters involving quantum mechanics (This is a mnemonic for the first fifteen digits of π. Alfyorov. or good at anything. combinatorics. and probability. alcoholic of course. algebra. He wrote four books on the subject: How to Solve It... Mathematics and Plausible Reasoning Volume I: Induction and Analogy in Mathematics. Observe also (what modern writers almost forgot. but some older writers. It was translated into several languages and has sold over a million copies. He worked on a great variety of mathematical topics. Mathematical Discovery: On Understanding. He was the only student that ever scared me (in reference to John von Neumann) . The book is still referred to in mathematical education. saying he was very pleased with Pólya's famous book. such as Euler and Laplace. Douglas Lenat's Automated Mathematician and Eurisko artificial intelligence programs were inspired by Pólya's work. He was a professor of mathematics from 1914 to 1940 at ETH Zürich in Switzerland and from 1940 to 1953 at Stanford University carrying on as Stanford Professor Emeritus the rest of his life and career. In 1976 The Mathematical Association of America established the George Pólya award "for articles of expository excellence published in the College Mathematics Journal. Learning.[edit] Life and works He was born as Pólya György in Budapest. and died in Palo Alto. and to describe how problem-solving should be taught and learned. USA. geometry. or a good gambler. mathematical analysis. including series. then there is an easier problem you can solve: find it.) If you can't solve a problem. wishful thinking may be bad if there is too much of it or in the wrong place. you must be a good guesser. Unverifiable material may be challenged and removed. Wishful thinking is imagining good things you don't have.

Unlike physics or chemistry. Macalester College). [edit] Pólya's four principles [edit] First principle: Understand the problem This seems so obvious that it is often not even mentioned. you may experience the tension and enjoy the triumph of discovery (from "Faces of Mathematics".. (In reference to random walks in dimension 2 and 3). You will find choosing a strategy increasingly easy. it does not require any expensive equipment. A drunk man will eventually return home but a drunk bird will lose its way in space. A Great discovery solves a great problem but there is a grain of discovery in the solution of any problem. The skill at choosing an appropriate strategy is best learned by solving many problems. yet students are often stymied in their efforts to solve problems simply because they don't understand it fully. but if it brings into play your inventive faculties. Pólya taught teachers to ask students questions such as: Do you understand all the words used in stating the problem? What are you asked to find or show? Can you restate the problem in your own words? Can you think of a picture or a diagram that might help you understand the problem? Is there enough information to enable you to find a solution? Do you need to ask a question to get the answer? [edit] Second principle: Devise a plan Pólya mentions (1957) that there are many reasonable ways to solve problems. To conjecture and not to test is the mark of a savage. Mathematics is the cheapest science. A partial list of strategies is included: Guess and check Make an orderly list Eliminate possibilities Use symmetry Consider special cases Use direct reasoning Solve an equation Also suggested: Look for a pattern Draw a picture Solve a simpler problem Use a model . W. and if you solve it by your own means. page 3. Your problem may be modest. A. or even in part. Robert.

given that you have the necessary skills. The probability of a vector of counts x given the parameter vector α is obtained by integrating out the parameters p of the multinomial distribution: which results in the following explicit formula: where Γ is the gamma function. and nk is the number of times the outcome in x was k. for example. In general (1957). is a compound probability distribution. . In document classification. Don't be misled. this is how mathematics is done. what worked and what didn't. even by professionals. search The multivariate Pólya distribution. Work backward Use a formula Be creative Use your head/noggen [edit] Third principle: Carry out the plan This step is usually easier than devising the plan. the free encyclopedia Jump to: navigation. the distribution is used to represent probabilities over word counts for different document types. Doing this will enable you to predict what strategy to use to solve future problems. The compounding corresponds to a Polya urn scheme. if thes Multivariate Polya distribution From Wikipedia. If it continues not to work discard it and choose another. Persist with the plan that you have chosen. where a probability vector p is drawn from a Dirichlet distribution with parameter vector α. and a set of discrete samples x is drawn from the multinomial distribution with probability vector p. [edit] Fourth principle: Review/extend Pólya mentions (1957) that much can be gained by taking the time to reflect and look back at what you have done. also called the Dirichlet compound multinomial distribution. all you need is care and patience.

and quantitative marketing. . The multivariate Pólya distribution is used in automated document classification and clustering. economy. genetics.The two-dimensional version of the multivariate Pólya distribution is known as the Betabinomial model. combat modeling.