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Topic X Problem-

solving Processes

LEARNING OUTCOMES
By the end of this topic, you should be able to: 1. Describe four stages of heuristics in problem-solving; and 2. Identify strategies in problem-solving.

INTRODUCTION

Problem-solving is the means by which an individual uses previously acquired knowledge, skills and understanding to satisfy the demands of an unfamiliar situation (Krulik S., & Rudnick J. A., 1987). The process can be represented as a series of steps, referred to as heuristics. The four stages of heuristics are: understanding the problem, devising a plan, carrying out the plan and looking back. The second stage of heuristics is considered to be the most difficult of all. This stage involves the selection of a strategy to solve the problem. Some of the strategies used in problem-solving which will be discussed later are: looking for patterns, working backwards, using the before-after concept, making suppositions, restating the problem, simplifying the problem and using equations (see Table 9.1).
Table 9.1: Four Stages of Heuristics Four Stages of Heuristics Understanding the problem Devising a plan Carrying out the plan Looking back

TOPIC 9 PROBLEM-SOLVING PROCESSES

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9.1

HEURISTICS IN PROBLEM-SOLVING

When a scenario describes a problem to be solved, the next logical activity is to guide learners through the steps in problem-solving, known as heuristics. Heuristics direct ones path towards the solution of a problem. You are taught to follow these heuristics in every problematic situation you face. Although described differently by different mathematicians, it is generally accepted that there are stages which an individual passes through when solving problems. According to Polya, there are four stages of heuristics in problem-solving. The framework in Figure 9.1 illustrates the dynamic nature of the stages.

Figure 9.1: Four stages of heuristics Source: Polya, G. (1957). How to solve it. USA: Princeton University Press.

(a)

Understanding the problem (i) (ii) What are you required to find/solve? What facts do you have in hand?

(iii) Is there sufficient information provided to solve the problem? (iv) The problem is translated into the language of the reader. (b) Making a plan (i) (c) What strategies do you have?

Carrying out the plan (i) (ii) Use computational skills. Use algebraic skills.

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(d)

Looking back (i) (ii) Did you answer the question asked? Does your answer make sense?

(iii) How different is the answer compared to your estimation? (iv) Is there any other alternative solution? Although the steps mentioned provide a road map towards a solution to a problem, they do not guarantee success in solving the problem. That depends on individual skills. Try the following exercise to test your understanding.

SELF-CHECK 9.1
Briefly describe the stages involved in problem-solving.

9.2

STRATEGIES FOR PROBLEM-SOLVING

Basically, strategies focus on helping students become more competent in problemsolving. There are a number of common strategies used for solving problems, which will be discussed in the following topics.

9.2.1

Looking for a Pattern

Patterns appear in nature, drawing and design as well as in mathematics. Identifying patterns requires a careful observation of common characteristics, variations and repetitive properties and shapes. Example: Find the sum of all odd numbers less than 100. Answer: 1+3=4=22 1+3+5=9=33 1 + 3 + 5 + 7 = 16 = 4 x 4 1 + 3 + 5 + 7 +... + 99 = 50 50 = 2500

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9.2.2

Working Backwards

Working backwards is a strategy used when the outcome of a problem is known and the initial conditions are required. When using this strategy, the operations required by the original action will be replaced by inverse operations. Example: The fine schedule for overdue books at a universitys library is as follows: 20 sen per day for the first three consecutive days and 10 sen per day thereafter. If Chong paid a fine of RM1.30, how many days was his book overdue? The final outcome of RM1.30 was known. Chong paid 20 sen for each of the first three days or 60 sen, which leaves 70 sen. At 10 sen per day, this represents seven days. Therefore, his book was overdue for 10 days.

9.2.3

Using BeforeAfter Concept

This strategy is simple: Make sure you determine the order of operation in the problem. Example: Alice has 5kg of sugar. She used 1kg of the sugar to bake a cake. Then, she used half the remaining sugar to make cookies. Find out the amount of sugar she has left. Initially, Alice had 5kg of sugar. After baking a cake, she had 4kg of sugar (5kg1kg). Then, she used half the remaining sugar to make cookies, that is, 2kg. So, she has 2kg of sugar left.

9.2.4

Making Suppositions

As the first step, you need to think of an answer and then verify the answer with the information given in the problem. This process is repeated until you get the correct answer. Example: Farah bought 70 packets of chocolates and candies for her birthday party. She spent RM60 on chocolates and RM40 on candies. If each packet of chocolates cost twice as much as each packet of candies, how many packets of chocolates and how many packets of candies did she buy?

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Suppose there were 20 packets of chocolates and 50 packets of candies. Each packet of chocolates costs RM3 (60/20) and each packet of candies costs RM 0.80 (40/50).

This is inconsistent with the information that each packet of chocolates costs twice as much as a packet of candies. Answer 2: Suppose there were 30 packets of chocolates and 40 packets of candies. Each packet of chocolates costs RM2 (60/30) and each packet of candies costs RM1 (40/40).

This is consistent with the given information. Therefore, Farah had bought 30 packets of chocolates and 40 packets of candies.

9.2.5

Restating the Problem

The problem is rephrased according to the information given, leading to a better understanding of the solution. Example: Mrs Yap spent RM400 on two toys, three dolls and three teddy bears. Each teddy bear costs twice as much as one doll and four times as much as each toy. What was the cost of each toy, doll and teddy bear? Since, 1 teddy bear 1 teddy bear 3 teddy bears 2 dolls Therefore, 1 doll 3 dolls

= = = =

2 dolls 4 toys 12 toys 4 toys

= =

2 toys 6 toys

2 toys + 3 dolls + 3 teddy bears = RM400 This can be restated as, 2 toys + 6 toys + 12 toys = RM400 1 toy 1 doll 1 teddy bear = = = RM20 RM40 RM80

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9.2.6

Simplifying the Problem

This strategy is often used in conjunction with other strategies. Simpler cases of the same problem are solved first, leading to an understanding of the solution strategy to be used. The students focus on what to do and how to do it, and can then transfer this understanding to the original problem. Example: There are 120 pages in a Mathematics book. What is the first digit of the sum of all even page numbers? 2 + 4 + 6 + 8 +... + 114 + 116 + 118 + 120 There are 30 pairs of 120 and an extra 120. 30 120 + 120 = 3720 The first digit of the sum is 3.

9.2.7

Using Equations

In order to write an equation that represents the problem, you must have a good understanding of the problem. If you have knowledge of algebra, it helps you to overcome the problem you may face using this strategy. Example: A teacher is standing in the middle part of the stairs to the second floor. He moved up three steps and then moved down five steps. Finally, he went up 10 steps to the second floor. Find out how many steps there are from the first floor to the second floor. Let n = the number of steps Then, n/2 is the place where the teacher is standing n/2 + 3 5 + 10 = n n/2 + 8 = n n n/2 = 8 2n n = 16 n = 16

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SELF-CHECK 9.2
1. What are the differences between heuristics and strategies in problem-solving? List the strategies involved in problem-solving. Briefly explain each step in your own words.

2.

Problem-solving is the means by which an individual uses previously acquired knowledge, skills and understanding to satisfy the demands of an unfamiliar situation. The process can be represented as a series of steps called heuristics. The four stages of heuristics are: understanding the problem, devising a plan, carrying out the plan and looking back. Patterns appear in nature, drawing, design as well as in mathematics. Identifying patterns requires a careful observation of common characteristics, variations and repetitive properties and shapes.

Heuristics Patterns Problem-solving

Strategies Supposition

Krulik S., & Rudnick J.A. (1987). Problem solving: A handbook for teachers. Newton MA: Allyn & Bacon. Polya, G. (1957). How to solve it. USA: Princeton University Press.