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Current Issues and Trends in Mathematics Problem Solving

Meta Analysis
Liyana Nazurah Jaffar1, Norhayati Samuri2,
Saidatul Akmal Awang Ali3, Syafi Atikah Yusof4
Faculty of Education
UniversitiTeknologi Malaysia, Johor

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
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
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

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

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
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

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

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
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

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).

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

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


Pre-service teacher
School teacher

Number of paper(s)

Undergraduate student

Primary school student


Secondary school student

Both (teacher and student)

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.
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.


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Liyana Nazurah Jafar1 ,Faculty of Education, UniversitiTeknologi Malaysia, Johor
Norhayati Samuri2 ,Faculty of Education, UniversitiTeknologi Malaysia, Johor
Saidatul Akmal Awang Ali3 ,Faculty of Education, UniversitiTeknologi Malaysia, Johor
Syafi Atikah Yusof 4 ,Faculty of Education, UniversitiTeknologi Malaysia, Johor