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Problem solving is a fixture in life.. Problems pop up everyday. Sometimes

they are small and sometimes they are large. Sometimes solving a problem is a

matter of life and death and other times it is merely a matter of keeping your

sanity. Regardless of why we need problem solving, we can not deny that we

need it. Sometimes we have to be creative because problems that come up can

sometimes be quite difficult to solve without a little creative thinking.

We run into problems everyday, from flat tires to saving a failing product

line. We are a problem solver and we probably do not even realize it. It is

common for people to take problem solving for granted. We do it so much that it

is not hard to believe that it becomes second nature. It is this familiarity with

problem solving that leads up to take it for granted and to not be creative with our

problem solving anymore. The problem with this, though, is that taking problem

solving for granted can make us a lazy problem solver. We may no longer spend

time trying to solve a problem but rather go to a tried and true solution. It may not

be the best solution but since we are a lay problem solver we do not take the

time to actual use our problem solving skills to try to come up with a better


Problem solving centres on thinking about goals and ideals. When a goal

is met, the problem should be concluded if the goal was an appropriate one for

solving the problem.

Problem solving can be an amazing process, but it is up to us to make it

that way instead of just something we do because we have to. We have the

ability to become a great problem solver, but we have to begin looking at it as an

art. Children learn best when they are confronted with a meaningful problem.

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 Problems

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. It uses at

least one of the four arithmetic operations. It concerns solving problems that are

useful for daily living (in the present or in the future). Routine problem solving is

challenging as it may be to some students in which mathematical skills and

concepts are pieces of a jigsaw puzzle - one whose solution is standard - even

on display - represents a first step in developing the critical thinking and problem

solving skills of students. Routine problem solving stresses the use of sets of

known or prescribed procedures (algorithms) to solve problems.

Non-Routine Problems

From the point of view of students, non-routine problem solving can be

challenging and interesting. Non-routine problem solving can be seen as evoking

an ‘I tried this and I tried that, and eureka, I finally figured it out.’ reaction. Non-

routine problem solving is mostly concerned with developing students’

mathematical reasoning power and fostering the understanding that mathematics

is a creative endeavour. It stresses the use of heuristics and often requires little

to no use of algorithms. Heuristics are procedures or strategies that do not

guarantee a solution to a problem but provide a more highly probable method of

discovering the solution to a problem.


There is no convenient model or solution path that is readily available to

apply to solve a problem. Routine problem solving has readily identifiable

models (the meanings of the arithmetic operations and the associated templates)

to apply to problem situations. Solving non-routine problems normally requires a

search for a strategy that seeks to discover a solution (a heuristic). In a routine

problem, the problem solver knows a solution method and only needs to carry it

out. For example, for most adults the problem "589 × 45 = ___" is a routine

problem if they know the procedure for multicolumn multiplication. In a non-

routine problem, the problem solver does not initially know a method for solving

the problem. For example, the following problem (reported by Robert Sternberg

and Janet Davidson) is nonroutine for most people: "Water lilies double in area

every twenty-four hours. At the beginning of the summer, there is one water lily

on the lake. It takes sixty days for the lake to be completely covered with water

lilies. On what day is the lake half covered?" In this problem, the problem solver

must invent a solution method based on working backwards from the last day.

Based on this method, the problem solver can ask what the lake would look like

on the day before the last day, and conclude that the lake is half covered on the

fifty-ninth day.


There are two examples of a non-routine problem. The first example is as

follows; ‘Eight children are standing in a circle. They play a game called 'DROP

OUT'. It involves counting the numbers 1 through 8 over and over again. They

count in clockwise order. The child who says the number 'eight' must drop out of

the circle, leaving one less child in it. The next child (clockwise order) begins the

counting cycle again, starting with 'one'. Children count to 8 again with the child

saying ‘eight‘dropping out of the circle. This cycle of counting to 8 and leaving the

circle when saying 'eight' continues until there is one child remaining. Suppose

George begins the counting. Where should you stand so that you are the

last one remaining in the circle?’

To solve this problem we should apply the four steps in Polya Model. The

first step is ‘Understanding the Problem’. The students should be able to find

what are the information given. For instance they should know that this game

involve 8 children and they should stand in a circle. Besides that, they must know

what the question asked to find. To have a clearer picture of the question, ask

the student to restate the question on their own words.

Secondly, we should apply the second step which is ‘Devise a Plan’.

There are two strategies to solve this problem; ‘draw a picture’ or ‘act it out’.

Proceed to the next step which is ‘Carry out the Plan’ by applying the first

strategy; ‘draw a picture’. Ask the students to draw 8 circles as the diagram


Explain to them that these circles represent students. Then, tell them to mark the

position where George stands as ‘G’ in the circle. Ask them to start to count clock

wisely from 1 to 8 and tell them to cross out (X) the circles that has been dropped

out. The last circle which is left out is the correct position to be stand. Lastly,

apply Polya’s final step which is ‘Look Back’. Check whether the steps carry out

is correct. If they is any mistake found, we should do correction.

By using the second strategy which is ‘act it out’ choose 8 students and

ask them to stand in a circle. Pick a student to be George and tell him to be the

one who starts the counting. Make sure that the counting should be in clockwise.

Pick a student to be student X and ask student X to stand randomly in the circle.

Tell to student X that he or she must always change the position until to be the

last one remaining in the circle. Tell to all the students involved to play the game

until student X is the last one to be left out. Through this they can predict where

to sit and then see what happens. Do not forget to look back whether they had

played the game according to the information given.

Finally, we have to select and justify the best strategy to be applied in

order to solve the problem. The comparison of the two strategy is as the table


Draw a picture Act it out

Takes a shorter time Takes a longer time
Not interesting Interesting because students involve in

the game
Difficult to understand because it might Students can understand better

confuse the student if they count because they play the game.


In our opinion, the second strategy which is ‘act it out’ is the best strategy

to solve the problem. This strategy is very interesting as it can get students

attention to solve this problem. Besides that, students also can understand better

because they involve in the game.

The second problem statement is as follows:

‘Place the numbers 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17, 19 in the grid, one number in

each square, so that the sum of the two numbers in each of the five columns is

always 20’.

In order to solve the problem, we should apply Polya Model’s first step

which is ‘Understanding the Problem’. Find what are the information given for


 A number is selected from the list

 A number from the list must be placed in a square

 The sum of the two numbers in each of the vertical columns must be 20

Besides that, make sure student understand what the question want them

to find. Ask them to restate the question so that they will understand better.

Secondly, apply the second step which is ‘Devise a Plan’. There are two

strategies involved which is ‘make a table’ and ‘guess and check’. The first

strategy which is ‘make a table’ is a shown as the table follows.

Numbers 11 13 15 17 19 Sum
1 1 + 19 = 20

3 3 + 17 =20

5 5 + 15 =20

7 7 + 13 =20

9 9 + 11 =20

The sum of the numbers from a row and a column which is not

highlighted equals to 20. When the numbers are transferred from the table into

the squares vertically, they give a sum of 20. Lastly, apply Polya’s final step

which is ‘Look Back’ by checking whether the steps are correct.

The next strategy is ‘guess and check’. Try adding two numbers at

random and see whether the sum would be 20 or not. Look back at the

calculation involved whether it is correct or not.

Finally, we have to compare the two strategies and choose the best

strategy. The comparisons of the two strategies are as the following table.

Make a table Guess and Check
Very systematic Very clumsy
Information not left out Information might lost

Saves time Time consuming

Arrive at the answer Take time to arrive at

easily the answer

In our opinion, the best strategy to tackle this problem is by using make a

table strategy because it involves several numbers. All the information must

be arranged systematically so that we can arrive at the answer quickly.

Furthermore, lower primary school students would not feel confused

whenever they look at numeral digits.


Before doing this assignment, we need to find out what is really meant by

Polya’s model. Besides that, we have to find out the number of different

strategies in solving problems. We also learnt to differentiate between routine

and non-routine problem. The positive thing that we learn by going this

assignment is we learn how to cooperate as it involves two people in a group.

In addition, we learn how to comment and how to tolerate. For instance, we

divide ourselves to do the editing, printing and photocopying. We also had given

sufficient time to search for non-routine problem. The difficulties that we find are

to search the non- routine problem as the topic on non-routine problem is very

wide. We also spent a lot of time finding the information regarding the topic.

We find out that the reason of the second strategy, which is ‘Devising a Plan’ is

important is because most textbooks typically display only the bottom part of the

solution which is carrying out the plan. This is the manipulative part of the

solution and according to the internet and based on our experiences, it could be

seen that students become more adapt at manipulation.

Omission of the ‘thinking part’ provides no opportunity for students to develop

thinking skills when they encounter mathematical problems as ‘devising the plan’

part depends on understanding concepts. As a conclusion, the omission of

concepts in problem solution impedes the understanding of concepts.