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Meta Analysis

Liyana Nazurah Jaffar1, Norhayati Samuri2,

Saidatul Akmal Awang Ali3, Syafi Atikah Yusof4

Faculty of Education

UniversitiTeknologi Malaysia, Johor

Abstract

Problem solving plays major role in mathematics education. It may

differ from the past ten years to the recent. Several researchers and

educators have focused on various perspectives. The purpose of this

study is to analyze current trends and issues on problem solving in

mathematics based on the research studies chosen. Meta-analysis was

administered as a method to find the results. The results revealed

similarity on the focused of the research regarding the focus

area,methods used and level of the subjects. Among the aspects that

worth being observed from the 30 papers that was chosen are

technology, behaviour and words problem in problem solving.

Keywords: Problem solving in mathematics education, current trends and issues

Introduction

Nowadays, problem solving becomes one of the major parts in our educational system. Every

subject starts to integrate problem solving into the main content of knowledge because it

gives lots of benefit to the students. According to Greiff et al. (2013), problem solving can be

define as a process that had been taken when we want to get the desired goal from given

situation. Problem solving is really relates to the thinking process because Carson (2007),

said problem solving is only one type of thinking skills that we use to think in any situation.

In the general statement, problem solving can be classified as a method that we use to find the

best solution when we had any hesitation or problem.

Concept of problem solving is wider and multidimensional because its definition can

change according to our own perspective. There are three components in the problem solving

that always be highlighted by researcher which are problem solving as a process, instructional

goal and instructional approach (Xenofontos, 2010; Hino, 2007). These three perspectives

have their own reasons to belief problem solving is a main part that need to be master by

students. Most of the researchers agree problem solving is a big issue that we must give an

attention in educational system. Although the problem solving is really close to mathematics

subject, it also had been used in another direction like engineering, financial, business, and

science.

Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is one of the international

assessments that emphasize problem solving. In PISA 2003, domain-specific and analytical

problem solving had been included and for PISA 2012 it more focus on interactive problem

solving (Greiff et al., 2013). Besides, the upcoming PISA on 2015 will be emphasizing about

collaborative problem solving. It shows problem solving is not about working individually

but also measures how we interact and communication with the others on solve any problems

that unfamiliar with us. Cai and Lester (2010), also said the learning environment of teaching

F_S/M_StrandNo_Initial_PaperIDinCMT

problem solving must be on the natural setting and give freedom for students to present

various solutions to their groups or class and learning through social interactions, meaning

negotiation, and reaching shared understanding.

Greiff et al. (2013), said all life is problem solving which it is mean that problem

solving is occur everywhere in our life. The hidden meaning that we can extract from this

phrase actually problem solving has lots of advantages and importance in our daily life. One

of the major goals emphasize problem solving in educational system is to encourage our

students to be good problem solver. Problem solving also teach students to think out of box

and always prepared to find the best solution although in unfamiliar situation. It shows the

problem solving is really importance, but we also need to identify issues and challenges in

understand and apply problem solving method in our life.

Mathematics known as a subject that related with problem solving. Although the

problem solving is one of the important component in mathematics education, many students

and teachers still do not know clearly about problem solving. So, lots of researchers take this

opportunity to make a research or investigation about influence of mathematics problem

solving into mathematics education. Major perspectives that always had been focused in

mathematics problem solving are the research trends (Hino, 2007; Xenofontos, 2010),

students and teachers beliefs, competences and practice (Pearce, 2013; Kuzle, 2013;

Xenofontos, 2010; Hino, 2007), curricular importance and assessment. Through all of these

researches, hopefully students and teachers can take the benefits and try to change their

perception about problem solving in mathematics.

As we mentioned before, problem solving is really familiar in mathematics and lots of

research had been done about it. However, the curriculum always change according to our

modernization and needs in our daily life. As a general, most of the subtopics that had been

highlighted before this is more focus on framework and models problem solving, strategies in

problem solving, pedagogy in problem solving, assessment in problem solving, creative

problem solving, collaborative problem solving, cooperative problem solving, problem based

learning, visualization in problem solving and ICT in problem solving. However, we still did

not know either all of these focus or subtopics are current trends and issues or not in

mathematics problem solving. Hence, through this meta-analysis we will discuss and find the

current trends and issues about mathematics problem solving in educational system.

Background of study

According to Schoenfeld (1992), problem solving in mathematics education is the process

wherein students encounter a problem that is a question that they have no immediately clear

resolution, nor an algorithm that they can directly apply to get an answer. Polya (1981), stated

that problem solving is a process that starts from the minute students is faced with a problem

until the end when the problem was solved. Problem solving identified as important skills in

life that involves various processes including analysing, interpreting, reasoning, predicting,

evaluating, and described (Anderson, 2009). Kolovou et al. (2009), interpret problem solving

by referring to the higher cognitive abilities which direct solution is not necessary and mostly

it require analysis and modelling of problem situations.

Problem solving in mathematics education

Problem solving is an important component of mathematics education because it is a vehicle

for teaching and reinforcing mathematical knowledge and helping to meet everyday

challenges also a skill which can enhance logical reasoning (Taplin, 2006). National Council

of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) has identified problem solving as one of the five basic

F_S/M_StrandNo_Initial_PaperIDinCMT

standard mathematical processes. According to the NCTM, with problem solving in

mathematics, students will acquire ways of thinking, habits of persistence and curiosity, and

confidence in unfamiliar situations which can be exploited by them outside of mathematics

classroom. In everyday life and in the workplace, good problem solver can lead to great

advantage (NCTM, 2000).

In the context of problem solving in mathematics education, there are two categories

which are routine and non-routine problem. Solving routine problem emphasize the use of set

of known or determined (algorithms) procedures to solve problem while solving non routine

problem emphasizing the use of heuristics and require little to no algorithm (Gilfeather &

Scop, 1999). According to Yazgan (2013), routine problem can be solved by using a common

method for students to replicate the methods learned in the past in the form of step-by-step,

while non-routine problems are problems that cannot be predicted and no specified approach.

Therefore, non-routine problems are considered more complicated and difficult than routine

problems.

Current trends and issues

In literature of mathematics education, numerous studies have been conducted in exploring

the problem solving in mathematics curriculum until today. Most of the research is the study

of attitudes or beliefs of students on solving problems (De Corte & Greer, 2000; Nicolaidou

& Philippou, 2003; Sangcap, 2010), student learning styles in problem solving (Sirin, 2005;

Carmo, 2006), skills and concepts in problem solving (Giganti, 2007; Bayat, 2010; Perveen

et al., 2010), the process of problem solving (Polya, 1981; Schoenfeld, 1992; Tarzimah &

Thamby Subahan, 2010) and the relationship between metacognition and problem solving

(Muir & Beswick, 2005; Desoete, 2006; Eric, 2011). In addition, there are also some studies

to find a more specific aspect in solving mathematical problems such as the problem posing

(Kar et al.; 2010, Roslinda, 2013) and strategies used in problem solving (Anderson , 2009;

Sulak, 2010).

Various models associated with mathematical problem solving process have been

proposed in several previous studies. According to Schoenfeld (1992), a successful problem

solver must combine various heuristic approaches when solving problems. The most heuristic

plan supported by researchers is Polya model that composed of four levels which are

understand the problem, devise a plan, carry out the plan and looking back (Muir & Beswick,

2005). By contrast, Garofalo and Lester (1985) have proposed metacognitive model for

problem solving which consists of orientation, organization, implementation and verification

as Polya model does not include metacognitive aspects.

Other than model, several studies also examined the important components in problem

solving. There are also studies that explored the attitudes of students toward solving

mathematical problems which, according to Fan et al. (2005), attitude is one of five core

components, besides the concepts, skills, and metacognition process which will be

emphasized in the students for them to be a good problem solver. The findings from the

quantitative analysis and open response in the study of Eric (2011) showed that students

grade six were generally positive in problem solving, and found that students enjoyed the

F_S/M_StrandNo_Initial_PaperIDinCMT

experience of solving mathematical problems because these activities create interest, involve

cooperation, and provide a sense of challenge for themselves.

One of the most important goals in the learning of mathematics is to enhance the

knowledge of mathematics including mathematical concepts and skills in problem solving

(Bayat, 2010). Giganti (2007) states that if students know their mathematics skills and

concepts well, but do not know how to put both together in a certain situation, then the

student cannot do mathematics well. There are few studies that have been conducted to assess

the importance of skills and mathematical concepts in problem solving. Among them is the

study of Johari and Chung (2010) that related to the ability of form five students in solving

problem and they found that the student ability of choice school is better than students in

regular school as well as the ability of science students is better than art students. In

experiments Perveen et al. (2010) found that students are not clear with the basic concepts of

mathematics in which students lack of the ability and skills that can lead them into trouble in

the next class.

Metacognitive aspect in solving mathematical problems also have a great interest for

educators to conduct a relevant studies because they realize that the mathematical analysis of

cognitive performance only is not enough to study the problem solving (Yin, 2005). Sek

(2014) was aimed at identifying metacognitive behavior in problem solving among students

grade five. Results showed that students use metacognitive behavior skills in solving

mathematical problems at minimum level only, and found that the majority of students have

trouble understanding the concept and understanding of the question. In the report of Zatur

Junaida (2004), the use of metacognitive training can enhance students' ability to solve

mathematical problems in elementary schools where the results showed that students in the

experimental group achieved higher scores than students in the control group.

In literature, there are several studies where researchers focus on problem solving

strategy (Muir & Beswick, 2005; Anderson, 2009). In order to apply problem solving steps,

the strategies should be used during problem solving. According to Mabilangan (2012),

problem solving strategy consists of the use of appropriate basic thinking skills and higher

order thinking skills to solve the problem. Altun et al. (2004) found that the most prominent

strategies used by students to solve mathematics problem is heuristic strategy consists of look

for a pattern, make a systematic list, work backward, guess and check, draw a diagram,

simplify the problem, make a table, eliminate the possibilities, reasoning and estimation.

Research also found other strategies which is cognitive and metacognitive strategies.

According to Montague and Applegate (2003), cognitive strategies and processes (i.e.,

specific problem-solving strategies) are read, paraphrase, visualize, hypothesize, estimate,

compute, and check while metacognitive strategies and processes that develop awareness and

regulation of the cognitive strategies include self-instruction, self-questioning, and selfmonitoring.

Other than strategy, pedagogy is another one focus of mathematics education research

and of professional learning. Research of Carpenter et al. (1988) shows that teacher is

reflective and thoughtful individual while teaching is complex, cognitively demanding

process involving problem solving and decision making. Teacher help students become

problem solvers if they choose suitable problems, set up their use, and evaluate student

F_S/M_StrandNo_Initial_PaperIDinCMT

understanding and use of strategies (Othman, 2003). Interaction between teacher and student

can be seen in the role of teacher in guiding student mathematical development by involving

them in problems, facilitating the sharing of their solutions, observing and listening carefully

to their ideas and explanations, and making wise and explicit mathematical ideas presented in

the solutions (Suurtamm & Vzina, 2010).

From the point view of evaluation or assessment in mathematics problem solving, this

can be seen in the TIMSS and PISA, where both are an international assessment studies to

assessed worldwide students achievement especially in mathematics where problem solving

is one of the key competences assessed in this assessment (Dossey et al., 2006). According to

Szetala and Nicol (1992), effective assessment of mathematics problem solving require more

than a look at the students answers, in other words, teacher need to look and analyse their

processes and get students to communicate their thinking. They also stated that the difficulty

of assessing complex processes required to solve problems is exacerbated by the failure of

students to communicate clearly what they are doing or what they are thinking. Rather than

scoring the solutions only, teachers analyse the response to the problems on the four basis

categories which are answers, answer statements, strategy selection, and strategy

implementation.

Another research done in mathematics problem solving is about the use of technology

to solve mathematical problems. According to Mora and Rodrguez (2013), the use of

technological tools offers new opportunities for students to discuss mathematical tasks from

perspectives where visual and empirical approaches are widely enhanced and students can

gain a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts. Li et al. (2009) state that by using

computer software especially for Algebra topic like Mathematica, Maple and Derive, student

can spend less time on doing algebraic manipulation, routine problem solving and sketching

useless graphs and spend more time on understanding concepts, and applying them to solve

more realistic and challenging problems. Meanwhile, Kuzle (2011) who conduct a research in

dynamic geometry environment said that the use of dynamic geometry technology helps

students engaging in meaningful mathematical activities and promotes deeper understanding

of concepts.

To conclude this review on problem solving in mathematics education in sum, we can

say that there are many issues that affect problem solving in mathematics teaching and

learning process. However, these issues are still not known whether it was the current issues

and trends or not in mathematics problem solving. Hence, through this meta-analysis, we

attempted to find the current issues and trends in mathematic problem solving.

Method and procedure

In this meta-analysis, we only focus to describe the research studies in mathematics

problem solving which have been conducted from 2005 until present. There were 60 papers

gathered at first, however, we only choose 30 papers to study deeply since another 30 papers

did not fulfil our focus in conduct this meta-analysis. All of the papers that had been selected

actually have their own focus on aspect of current trend and issues in mathematics problem

solving which are technology in mathematics problem solving, behaviour of the samples

either they are teacher or students and lastly about word problem in mathematics problem

F_S/M_StrandNo_Initial_PaperIDinCMT

solving that tells about the difficulties and strategy that had been use to implement problem

solving in mathematics. Those papers were searched in commonly used electronic databases

including Sage, Taylor and Francis, Jstor, ScienceDirect, SpringerLink, Scopus and Google

Scholar via the following keywords like problem solving in mathematics, current trends and

issues in mathematics problem solving, issues in problem solving and trends of problem

solving in mathematics.

Results and discussion

In the synthesis and analysis, all the papers studies are summarized from the

international journal that had been selected. Most studies that have been conducted around

2005 to 2014 were qualitative research methods. From 60 papers that had been analysed, 28

papers from this journal were conducted in qualitative research which contains for

interviewing, observations, document analysis while 21 papers were conducted in

quantitative research that contains questionnaire, one group experiment, two groups

experiment and ex-post facto. However, there also have papers that conducted in mixed

method which are 11 papers.

According to the analysis all of papers, there are numerous studies on current issues

and trends in mathematics problem solving which has been documented in a special journal

published for mathematics education. There are nine issues that issuable from all the analysis

which are patterns (1.7%), algebra and algebraic thinking (5%), theories of learning (10%),

theories of strategies (10%), teacher education and professional development (11.7%), about

affect, emotion, belief, ethics and attitudes (11.7%), technology (13.3%), behaviour (15%)

and word problem (21.7%).

Only one paper discussed about patterns, three papers about algebra and algebraic

thinking consist of pre algebraic problem solving strategies (Osta & Labban, 2007), assessing

algebraic solving ability (Lim, 2006) and developing algebraic thinking (George & Will,

2010). Besides, six papers about theories of learning that contain papers of using

manipulative (Catherine, 2006), dual processing theories of thinking (Ron, 2011), problem

solving theory (Alan, 2013), inquiry-based teaching (Miller et al., 2014), building

mathematical fluency (Hinton et al., 2014) and problem-based learning (Arzu & Yasemin,

2014). On the other hand, theories of strategies discussed papers of cognitive process (Yeo &

Yeap, 2010), alternative solutions (Shin, 2011), the action map (Murad, 2008), conditional

probability (Pedro, 2009), students problem solving strategies (Pimpaka et al., 2014), and

effect of problem solving strategies (Sera, 2010).

Seven papers each tell issue about teacher education and professional development

and affect, emotion, belief, ethics, and attitudes. Teacher education and development are

consist of quadrilaterals as an ongoing task (Kerri et al., 2010), mathematical and didactical

enrichment (Manon, 2011), developing problem solving experiences (Francois, 2013),

problem solving instruction (Frank, 2013), beliefs about mathematical problem solving of the

mathematics, science and elementary school pre-service teachers (Memnun et al., 2012),

mathematical thinking in problem solving (Caneida et al., 2013) and transforming

pedagogical practice (Suurtamm & Vezina, 2010). Affect, emotion, belief, ethics, and

attitudes discussed papers of mathematical self-efficacy (Arizpe et al., 2009), problem

solving in the primary school (Richard et al., 2013), problem solving and its element proof

(Joanna & Martin, 2013), proof and problem solving at university level (Annie & John,

2013), affect in mathematics problem solving (Lorenzo et al., 2013), recognizing the ethical

dimension of problem solving (Elizabeth, 2008) and attitudes of elementary school students

towards solving mathematics problem (Cigderm et al., 2014).

F_S/M_StrandNo_Initial_PaperIDinCMT

Technology issue consist of eight papers which are technological features while

solving a mathematics problem (Lee et al., 2006), effect of web-based professional

development (Alattin & Ahmed, 2012), primary school students strategies in early algebra

problem solving supported by an online game (Marja et al., 2013), the use of video analysis

and the knowledge quartet in mathematics teacher education programmes (Miriam, 2013),

problem solving and problem posing in a dynamic geometry environment (Christou et al.,

2005), interactive visualisation and affect in mathematical problem solving (Ines, 2013),

solving mathematical problems within technological environment (Mora & Rodriguez, 2013)

and the use of computational technology in problem solving (Trigo & Machin, 2013).

Nine papers come out with behaviour issues which are the role of teachers experience

in solving the problem (Roza & Sally, 2005), an exploration of students problem solving

behaviour (Muir et al., 2008), investigation of pre service teachers use of guess and check

(Mary et al., 2012), effects of contemporary mathematics instruction for low performers on

problem solving behaviour (Rudolf et al., 2007), approach to mathematical problem solving

(Maria & Antoni, 2009), mathematical enculturation from the students perspective (Jacob &

Ruurd, 2008), relationship of some psychological variables in predicting problem solving

ability (Akinsola, 2008), conditions for promoting reasoning in problem solving (John &

Carolyn, 2005), and patterns of meta cognitive behaviour during mathematics problem

solving (Ana, 2013).

Thirteen papers from the whole analyse was studied about word problem. From the

analysis, we found that issues about word problem were studied from both perspective which

are students and teachers. All the papers consist of studied about role of visual representation

type spatial ability and reading comprehension in word problem solving (Anton et al., 2014),

effect of schema based instruction (Yan, 2008), visual representation in mathematical word

problem solving (Azizah et al., 2010), problem representation and mathematical problem

solving (Jennifer, 2012), comparison of two mathematics problem solving strategies (Yan et

al., 2011), curriculum based measurement and standards based mathematics (Asha et al.,

2014), mathematical reasoning in service courses (Kris & Allen, 2010), cooperative learning,

mathematical problem solving and Latinos (Carlan et al., 2005), strategies for problem

solving about speed (Chunlian et al., 2014), learning to solve addition and subtraction word

problems in English (Debbie & Joanne, 2013), examining personalisation and achievement in

mathematics word problems (Adeneye, 2014), effects of teaching precurrent behaviours on

childrens solution of multiplication and division word problems (Heather et al., 2009) and

student difficulties solving mathematical word problems (Daniel et al., 2013).

All the papers that had been analysed consist of lots of issues and different

perspective. Issues that had mentioned in all papers was analysed to identify either there are

current trend and issues or not in mathematics education field. From the discussion and

analysis, we had found that some of issues are really current trend and issues in problem

solving mathematics. Based on all the issues, the most three numbers of issues are

technology, behaviour and word problem. This issues are still be the current trends and issues

based on the years the paper was published.

Besides the issues, objects and phenomena of study also had been realized from this

meta-analysis study. We had analysed all level education from elementary student that

includes primary and secondary school to undergraduate university student and teachers from

pre-service teacher to senior teacher was involved in the study that relate to problem solving

in mathematics. In table 1, most of papers use primary school students as their subject for

example students from 2nd grades until 6th grades. Secondary school students 6 papers and just

one paper using undergraduate students as their subject. The object of teachers just include of

two part which are pre-service teacher, 4 papers and 5 papers using school teacher as their

object and it is not matter of primary school teacher or secondary school teacher. Various

F_S/M_StrandNo_Initial_PaperIDinCMT

issues have been studied by researchers including problem solving of word problems (by

Carlan et al.. 2005; Awofala, 2014; Pearce et al., 2013), problem solving of topic or sub topic

in mathematics (Lim et al., 2006; Iman et al., 2007; Miller et al., 2014) and technology in

problem solving (Christou et al., 2005; Chacn, 2013; Mora & Rodrguez, 2013; Trigo et al.,

2013). Table 1 consist 30 papers from the three most numbers of papers which are study

about technology, behaviour and word problem issues.

Table 1 Number of research papers about technology, behaviour and word problems

Level

Teacher

Student

Pre-service teacher

School teacher

Number of paper(s)

4

5

Undergraduate student

12

As a result, all the three focus issues mentioned above can be specialised in numerous

ways to particular topics, such as algebra, geometry, calculus, statistic, and so forth, as well

as to specific educational levels and different types of research. Although the field of

mathematics education has certainly moved, the issues posed today are still of the same kinds

as the ones considered a decade ago.

Conclusion

The results of this meta-analysis show that word problem in mathematical problem solving

which is one of the main issues and trends that had been focused from the past ten years. The

difficulties faced by the students in solving word problem solving make the researcher

focused more on the different strategies and skills. Besides, the issues also focused on

behaviour towards mathematics problem solving. Mostly, the behaviours focused are on both

parties which are the teacher and the students. Teachers experience in solving mathematical

problem and students perspective also consisted. The changes and improvements by

integrating technology into the education system make the researcher focused more into the

usage of technology in mathematics problem solving. Therefore, technology become the issue

occurred in the paper that has been analysed. It can be a continuous trend based on the needs

of the educational system.

Furthermore, there are also some issues identified in this analysis like patterns,

algebra and algebraic thinking, theories of learning and strategies, teacher education and

professional development and affect, emotion, belief, ethics and attitudes. The subjects for

the research come from the teacher and the students. The students used at most as the subject

matter because based on the finding, the studies directly focus on students participation,

developing students experiences and the use of various techniques.

In future, there will be repetition on the issues occurred and deep focused. The

situation maybe change if there are potential on new issues identified by educationalist.

Moreover, since the exposedness given to the students is wide in range, there will be extra

difficulties to the teacher to come out with new issues. That is why the same issues discussed

in a decade.

F_S/M_StrandNo_Initial_PaperIDinCMT

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Author(s):

Liyana Nazurah Jafar1 ,Faculty of Education, UniversitiTeknologi Malaysia, Johor

Email: lnazurah2@live.utm.my

Norhayati Samuri2 ,Faculty of Education, UniversitiTeknologi Malaysia, Johor

Email: norhayati86@live.utm.my

Saidatul Akmal Awang Ali3 ,Faculty of Education, UniversitiTeknologi Malaysia, Johor

Email: sakmal8@live.utm.my

Syafi Atikah Yusof 4 ,Faculty of Education, UniversitiTeknologi Malaysia, Johor

Email: satikah22@live.utm.my

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