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OPTIMIZING PROBLEM SOLVING ACTIVITY FOR TEACHING

MATHEMATICAL THINKING
Abdur Rahman As’ari
Abstract: Experiencing problem solving activity is a very important activity in
mathematics learning. Even, problem solving should be in the heart of every
mathematics learning. However, the focus of this problem solving activity
should not be limited to mastery of the mathematical content. Through problem
solving activities, students should develop their thinking skills too. Teacher
needs to optimize every problem solving activity to develop students’
mathematical thinking ability. In this paper, the author emphasizes the
importance of appropriate problem representation for teaching thinking skills.
The author recommends every mathematics teacher to encourage their
students to explore as many problem representations as possible, followed by
comparing and contrasting these representations to determine the most
appropriate representation.
Keywords: comparing and contrasting, mathematics, optimizing, problem
solving, representation, teaching thinking.

Introduction
Consider the folowing simple combinatoric problem: “How many rectangles are there in
the following figure?”

Figure 1. The original figure
Traditionally, teaching and learning processes for solving this problem may take a form
of an instructional conversation such the following.
Teacher (T) : Is a square also a rectangle?
Students (S) : Yes.
T

: So, how should we answer this problem?

S

: Count the number of Squares and also the number of rectangles the are
not squares.

1|Page

. Figure 2: Student’ first reaction T : Good. but do not happy with it. there are many others of 2 x 2 squares Look at the following figure 2|Page . that are the number of smallest squares. do you see many other larger squares? For example 2 x 2 squares? S : Oh ... yes. There are 4 of 2 x 2 squares? T : Which squares do you notice? Can you show me? S : (Drawing a following picture on the whiteboard). T : Good. How many squares are there? S : 16 T : Yes... But. But what about this square (while pointing his/her finger to the Red-colored square in following figure)..T : Great.... Figure 3: Teacher’s scaffolding S : Oh yes.. I forgot to consider it as one of the 2 x 2 squares.

is the most important focus of education. 2007). teaching mathematical thinking is also important. science. to think by oneself. but more importantly is to develop students’ ability to determine for themselves independently what to do. to think creatively and flexibly. OK? S : OK. This is in line with Gough (1991) who viewed thinking skills as crucial for educated person to cope with a rapidly changing world. to learn by oneself. Teaching and Learning Research Programme (2006) stated that solely learning a content-based curriculum will not ensure children be able to give reasons for their conclusions. and to execute one’ own independent-preferable actions. Katagiri (2004) mentioned that students’ ability to come up with one’s own ideas. Once you have finished all of this investigation. the next step you have to explore the rectangles that are not squares. T : Good luck Expected Teaching and Learning Activities Being able to count quckly and come up with the solution of this problem is fine. He. teaching thinking is much more important than teaching the content. So. to make judgments and to act independently is important to enable students be able to challenge and solve problems more skillfully. 3|Page . Therefore.Figure 4: Another Teacher’s Scaffolding You can see that there are 9 of 2 x 2 squares that we can see in it. you should investigate the number of 3 x 3 and 4 x 4 squares too. and why should do that way. economic life.. how to do. and even development in economy (Stacey. claimed that the ability to find issues for oneself. regardless of how society might change in the future. based on Katagiri’s opinion above. furthermore. no matter how small. Teaching mathematical thinking will support the development of technology. But. to solve problems and make good decisions.

4 x 3. the thinking processes consists of several kind of thinking. the students should be encouraged to assess their ideas. 2 x 4. 1 x 4. What kind of rectangles should be considered in figure 1? 2... (3) Assessing the reasonableness of the ideas. 4 x 1. since the problem asked the students to count the number of rectangles. once they finish their work. rather than classifying rectangles into squares and non-square rectangles. For example. 2007). they are also expected to see that there are also several types of non-square rectangles.. These students should experience different ways of sorting and classifying the figures. Having done these two types of thinking.. when the students are faced with Picture 4. and 3 x 4 rectangles. Teachers need to help their students to raise several questions for themselves: 1. the author would like to propose the following. To help students to generate their ideas. 2 x 3. these can be done by encouraging students to find and realize by themselves that there are two types of rectangles in the figure 1. the students are expected to have a clearer and better understanding about the types of rectangle to be counted. students may proceed to apply their thoughts and apply it to the problem. we can encourage our students to sort and classify the rectangles based solely on the size of the rectangles. such as: 1 x 1 squares. clearer ideas on steps required to count the number of rectangles. According to Swartz (McGregor. For example. 1 x 4. namely: 1 x 2.In order to teach and help the students to think. (2) clarifying ideas. and 4 x 4. They may processes such a way mentioned above. and 4 x 4 square... and (2) non-square rectangles. 4|Page . However. we can provide another way to process the problem. 3 x 3 squares.. and (4) complex thinking (decision making and problem solving). namely: (1) squares. namely: (1) generating ideas. 4 x 2. we need to know the thinking processes that are happening inside the head of every student. Once these ideas are identified. However. 1 x 3. We can ask them to identify various types of squares in figure 1. We need to consider all of those types of thinkings. and confidently determine their decision and solve the problem. 1 x 2. They are also expected to have better understanding. We need to help students be able and fluent in generating ideas. precisely clarify their own ideas.. But. students should be expected also to identify other ways to determine the number of rectangles. 2 x 1. . we should encourage the students to criticize this method and find a better method to count. 1 x 3. For example. Back to the above Problem. objectively assess the generated ideas. 2 x 2 squares. and ask the students to compare their method to the following one. Possible classification of rectangles in the figure 1 are then: 1 x 1. How to determine the number of the rectangles in it? In the teaching and learning processes.

(5) encode. the students are expected to always assess their ideas and come up with better ideas. following is an example of the implementation of teaching mathematical thinking using this problem. Katagiri (2004) suggested that. Left Corner Counting Method Note: We just put the sign to the left corner of a 2 x 2 square (if it is possible to make a 2 x 2 square from that point). and make a more simple generalization. Comparing this method. According to Katagiri (2004). namely: (1) clarify the meaning of the problem. dan (9) Generalize. will provide a clearer picture for us to process the ideas. they are expected to express the number of squares as a formula. to teach thinking using this problem. (4) come up with a method for clearly expressing how the objects are sorted. they are expected to come up with a more accurate and convenient counting method. using this method.Figure 5. the most important think is that these students were given a chance to assess their thinking. (3) sort and count. the students should be given a chance to solve the entire problems independently. (6) replace to Easy-to-Count Things in a Relationship of Functional Equivalence. (8) Read the Formula. teaher should realize that their students need to experience the following things. Finally. Clarifying the Meaning of the Problem Teacher (T) : what kind of shapes should we count in the figure 1? Students (S) : rectangles T : how many types of rectangles do we need to figure out? S : two types: squares and rectangles Generating Ideas for Sorting and Counting 5|Page . (2) come up with a convenient counting method. But. An Implementation Idea Having discussed the expected teaching and learning processes. (7) express the Counting Method as a Formula. Even. Through this experience.

T : what strategy will you use to solve the problem. 3 x 3. 2 x 3. I just want some of you to explore another way to answer it. you are going to use that method. 1 x 3. What if we differentiate these figures into the the following figures? 1 x 1. 1 x 4 rectangles 2 x 1. S : I think we can use our experience on determining the number of squares of this grid. 2 x 2.. 4 x 3.. 4 x 4 rectangles Assessing Ideas through Comparing and Contrasting T : What is the total rectangles (asking to all students) S : (Students with first method come up with a specific number and students with the second method may come up with a different number) T : Well. T : O Ok. would you tell how did you do it? (consecutively asking each group to share their ideas) S : (each group of students share their ideas) T : what would be the differences between the methods used by both Groups? Which method is simpler? More efficient? One example of comparing and contrasting the methods used to count the number of rectangles could be like this.. 3 x 4 rectangles 4 x 1. 1 x 2. 6|Page . 2 x 4 rectangles 3 x 1. 3 x 2.. But. 4 x 2. Supposed that the two methods used to represent 1 x 2 rectangles by some students are the following.

1 x 3. The number of 1 x 1 rectangles are 4x4 The number of 1 x 2 rectangles are 4x3 The number of 1 x 3 rectangles are 4x2 The number of 1 x 4 rectangles are 4x1 So the total of 1 x 1. develop relationship. and 1 x 4 rectangles is 4 x (4 + 3 + 2 + 1) The number of 2 x 1 rectangles are 3x4 The number of 2 x 2 rectangles are 3x3 The number of 2 x 3 rectangles are 3x2 The number of 2 x 4 rectangles are 3x1 So. and 2 x 4 rectangles is 3 x (4 + 3 + 2 + 1) 7|Page . the total of 2 x 1 2 x 2. the Method 2 show a very simple graphic and provide a better idea on how to extend their thinking.Method 1 Method 2 Figure 6. 2 x 3. The Method 1 that was done by tracing every square display a very complicated icture and do not provide an idea on how to encode. having shown these two counting methods. 1 x 2. and generalize. we can ask our students to compare and see the usefulness of Method 2 in finding the number of 1 x 2 rectangles in the grid. On the other hand. Teacher may ask the students to develop the following tables and identify the pattern. Comparison of Method 1 and Method 2 So.

the focus should not be given on students ability to answer the problem quickly and accurately. further clarify their ideas. 2003. So. & Fonzi. whenever possible. students will be able to develop a relationship between the grid and the number of rectangles contained in the grid. Porter. one thing for sure that we can learn from the idea presented above is how to represent the problem. we should optimize every moment in problem solving activity to improve students’ mathematical thinking. teacher needs to help students to see and review possible 8|Page . Furthermore. They may develop a skill to develop a mathematical formula that for an n x n grids. Teacher should questions the students to help them generate additional ideas. Blatto-Vallee. 2004. & English. Therefore. there will be a total of ¼n2(n+1)2 rectangles. solving the formula. the author recommends every mathematics teacher to focus and prioritize of finding problem representations as many as possible. Through these questioning strategies. Diezmann. Kelly. which is 100. Gil_Garcia.Observing these tables. students are expected to see the pattern. Teacher should emphasize the cultivation of mathematical thinking since the ability to think is much more important to prepare students to successfully face the never-ending changing worlds. Seeger. The students will finally be expected to come up with a conclusion that the total number of squares that can be seen from Picture 1 is (4 + 3 + 2 + 1) x (4 + 3 + 2 + 1). express the problem as a formula. Therefore. Gagatsis. and also their products. by comparing and contrasting the both processes. The teacher could facilitate these accomplishment by asking right questions. Muller. W. Baadte. Closure Teaching problem solving is important in mathematics learning. students can be expected to experience additional mathematical thinking abilities such as: encode into mathematical symbols. and to assess their own ideas. using the Method 2 above. This is in line with many studies and expert opinions related to the importance of representation in mathematics learning (Grossman. 2001. 2007. Rather than hurrying up to proceed to the conclusion. However. Better representation of a problem will provide better chance for developing thinking. 2010. & Deliyianni.. Hence. 1998). & Rasch. Gaustad. Thinking is much more important than content. which is drawn from (n + … + 3 + 2 + 1) (n + … + 3 + 2 + 1). and be ready to generalize and transfer their understanding into a more complicated problem. teacher will help the students to have higher self confident and become more independent in decision making and problem solving. 2010. Schnotz. students are made possible to use an inductive reasoning to draw a generalization which can be apply to other similar problems. Without underestimating the role of other aspects of thinking activities. & Villegas.

Spyrou (Eds. C. 2003. and the teacher should make it possible. France. L. Kelly. pp. R. Research Roundup. 1997. experiencing compare and contrast activity will also develop students’ thinking ability and understanding. A. Furthermore. Katagiri. Students need to use the most appropriate representation for developing their thinking. June 29 – July 2. Reston. Thinking about Thinking.. University of Tsukuba. and Pollock (2001).1. Gagatsis. VA: ASCD 9|Page .M & English. Enhancing Comprehension and Constructing Knowledge Through Visual Representation. Visual-Spatial Representation in Mathematical Problem Solving by Deaf and Hearing Students. Tesis untuk Master of Middle School Mathematics Leadership. Mathematical Thinking and How to Teach it. Pickering. CRICED. 2010. Cuoco. when several posiible representations are already available. Pictures. According to Marzano and Pickering (1997). In A. 2004. J. Dimensions of Learning: Teacher’s Manual 2nd Edition. Gil_Garcia. pp.. & Pickering. G. June 4.J.J. E. & Villegas. Elia & P. According to Marzano. The Roles of Representations in School Mathematics: 2001 Yearbook. (in Greek). Diezmann. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education Advance Access. models and functions (Vol. J. R. VA: NCTM Gagatsis. students are encouraged to identify similarities and differences.D. A. D. D.. M. 2001. Using Multiple Representations to Build Stronger Student Collaboration and Understanding in Mathematics. (2004). Lefkosia: Inercollege Press.G. C. & Fonzi. 1991. & Deliyianni. (eds). Makalah disajikan dalam Conference on Word Association for Case Method Research and Application (Bordeaux.R.133-165). 2007. A. Number 2. The University of ArizonaGough. Evangelidou. 1 – 4. Alexandria. dalam Albert A. Volume 7. Through comparing and constrasting activities. Representations and learning in mathematics: Problem solving. 2003). S. Porter.representations of the problem.. ED 480 131 Grossman.. Gaustad.). Marzano. Promoting the Use of Diagrams as Tools for Thinking . Identifying Similarities and Differences is the most effective strategy among other instructional strategies for classroom instruction. J. References Blatto-Vallee.. teacher should encourage students to compare and contrast all of those representations and find the most appropriate one for thinking development. I. number line and solution of problems of the four number facts: A comparative study.

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