There are many ways to teach problem solving to elementary students. Most students are successful with a well structured problem solving plan.  However, we all have at least a few students who just don’t “get it” with regular classroom lessons. Working one on one or in small groups and applying well planned interventions helps these students find success.  Last week I shared my first three top tips and today I am sharing the next three tips:

Some students understand the questions just fine, but have trouble seeing the big picture, the story or the scenario. These students need extra help laying out the details. Most students will benefit from instruction in drawing pictures or making diagrams, and struggling students will especially need to practice with this.  I like to teach my students how to make part-part-whole and whole-part-part models.

We will discuss each clue and label it as a part or the whole and then work from there.  Strip diagrams and unit bars work well too.  I also like to encourage students to make actual pictures of the clues. I am no artist and the kids like to laugh at my drawings with me!

This is so important for students who have trouble visualizing the actions in the problem. An example could be using this problem below with Martina and her purse.  I will get play money out and we will actually act out the story with the play money. Another example could be to use colored counters with the apple story below.  Now there are some big numbers so you could use smaller numbers to practice acting it out and then transfer the actions to your paper with the larger numbers.

Sometimes students get caught up by the big numbers and can’t focus on the actions in the problem. For these students you can cross out the big numbers, substitute with smaller numbers and have them solve. Then apply the actions to the bigger numbers. If needed, use manipulatives to help build understanding.

Missed Part 1 from last week?  Find it here:

# Interventions for Problem Solving in Math

There are many ways to teach problem solving to elementary students. Most students are successful with a well structured problem solving plan.  However, we all have at least a few students who just don’t “get it” with regular classroom lessons. Working one on one or in small groups and applying well planned interventions helps these students find success.

My favorite “Go To” intervention strategies are:

Often students read the problem and pick a method to solve without really addressing the question asked.  I like to point out to my students which part of a problem is the question and which part is the “story” or “clues”. This helps students to see what part of the problem is telling and which part is asking.  I like to use this analogy with my students: “I asked Shelley what color the sky is. She told me the grass is green. Did she lie? No, but did she answer my question? NO” and then relate this to word problems. If you use the clues, but you don’t answer the question, you haven’t solved the problem. One way to make this successful is to give your students a problem without the question, then have the students brainstorm as many different questions they can think of for clues.

Another way to help with this is to give your students 3 problems that share the same clues, but have different questions. This is a good way to show students that they need to analyze the question before they make up their mind about what steps to take. (Click the photo above for a FREE set of analyzing the question word problems).

This helps some students to understand the question better.  Look at the example below. After reading the story problem, ask the students to rewrite the question as a sentence with a blank for the answer. Do this before discussing and strategies for solving the problem.  The process of rewriting the question as a statement helps students to focus on what is being asked. After solving the problem, have your students place their answer in the blank and read the statement with the number in the blank. Teach them to ask themselves if their answer makes sense in the statement.

Most word problems follow a standard format with clues first and question last. Some students have trouble filtering the question out of the story. Students that have this problem can benefit from working from the bottom up. Teach them to read the question first (usually at the end) and then read the whole problem to gather clues.  I usually save this strategy for students who really need that extra something after trying other interventions. It does not work for everyone, but for some it is the “magic trick” to help them organize the problem. Also, they usually need to do this until they get better at other strategies.

## Want more ideas for interventions?

or Visit my Pinterest Board for Problem Solving:

# Geometry Center Activities

### 1.  Tangrams:

I love to give my students tangrams and let them explore spatial relationships while building patterns and recreating patterns from books like “Grandfather Tang” and “Tangramables”. If you are lucky enough to have plastic sets of tangrams you can set them up in a center with the books and let your children explore with the shapes. If you need to make your own tangrams, you can download a free pattern here. Print on card stock and cut out. You can also find some cute cards for using tangrams here.

### 2.  Make 3D Shapes:

Head over to Teaching Ideas For Those Who Love Teaching to See step by step how to make these awesome 3D Shapes with Marshmallows and Toothpicks! Yum!

Or … If you prefer paper shapes, Math Geek Mama has Free Printables to make your own shapes!

### 3.  Geometry Scavenger Hunt:

Kids need to get out of their seat and move around! One of your best centers can be the scavenger hunt. Place questions around the room and give your students a record sheet to use while they work.  For directions to make your own, see this post:    Or to use premade, print and go resources click here: Scavenger Hunt 1, or here  Scavenger Hunt 2.

These task cards are great for starting higher level discussions with your students.  Students work together to answer questions identifying, comparing and analyzing critical attributes of 2 and 3 d shapes.

### 5. Technology:

Hopefully you have a few computers in your classroom you can use for a station. Here are two good websites for Geometry:

# 5 Top Tips for Test Prep

Seriously, how did it go so fast? Here we are almost to the end of the year, enjoying the Spring weather and looking forward to lazy days of Summer … BUT … we have to get through end of year testing first!

Here are a few tips to make test prep successful:

Tip 1:  Prioritize areas of need – I don’t know where you are, but here in Texas we have SO MUCH to teach in a school year! When it comes time to review and get ready for testing it can be overwhelming trying to review it all! So take some time to sit down and reflect on what skills your students need to review the most. It is often different every year with each group of students.  Spend extra time on the skills your students need the most.

Tip 2:  Use student strengths to build confidence. So after you reflect on which key objectives and skills you need to review the most, spend some time reflecting on what your students are really good at! Review these skills (less than priority skills, but still review) to keep them fresh in your student’s minds and also to build confidence! If the students can see what they are good at, they will not be as stressed about what they still need to practice. I like to encourage my students by pointing out skills they found difficult at the beginning of the year and have now mastered! I say things like “Wow! Remember how hard ___ was at the beginning of the year and look how great you are with it now!” or “You have learned so much! You are so ready to ACE this on your test!.”

Tip 3: Make it fun!  Realistically you can’t make every second of every day fun, but do what you can when you can. When students are having fun they are more engaged in learning! Play games, set up scavenger hunts, play music or decorate your classroom like the circus! Anything to keep your class from feeling so bogged down by the stress of “The Test”.

Tip 4: Smile!  This might not sound like a test taking tip, but trust me on this one! When your students see you all super stressed out, they feel it! Smiling will help everyone relax!  Maybe some yoga? Or a funny cat video on YouTube?

Tip 5:  Add movement!  Take some breaks to move around! If kids are in their seats too long they get sleepy and bored! Play multiplication games with a beach ball, take a walk around your hallway, do jumping jacks … have a 3 minute “dance party” as a break between lessons.  You could even use a Math Song to dance to! I love this Eight Times Tables Song!

# Awesome Math & Science Easter Activities

It is that time of year again! Time for jelly beans, eggs, bunnies and baskets! There are so many ways to use Easter excitement to keep your students engaged in classroom lessons.  Here are some of my favorites from around the web:

## Math:

One of my favorite activities this time of year is a Math Egg Hunt!  Buy a bunch of plastic eggs and stick problems inside the eggs. Hide the eggs around the room. Give your students a record sheet or a piece of notebook paper and let them hunt and solve math problems.  Print your own problems or get mine FREE here.

# Why & How to Use Task Cards in The Classroom

Why?

Task Cards Save Paper: Using task cards can cut down on the number of copies and paper used because you don’t need to make a set for each student and if laminated or kept in protective sleeves, they can be used for years without printing new copies.

Task Cards Increase Engagement: They add to student engagement because they add novelty. Paper and pencil practice is certainly useful, but can become dull and routine.  Using dry erase markers on a task card can mix things up a bit.  Also, task cards can be printed with fun colors and clip art to add interest for the students.

# How?

Centers and or Work Stations – Print cards and keep in small containers or baggies.  Have students work in pairs or groups solving problems on task cards and recording on a record sheet.  I like using record sheets for two reasons. One, the students are more likely to stay on task if they know they will have to turn something in at the end of the center. And, the other reason, I like to look over the record sheets to see if students need re-teaching or extra help with the skill/concept worked on in the center.  If you do not have a lot of copy paper you can always have students use notebook paper to create a record sheet.  Have them write the name of the center on the paper and then number or letter their answers.

Whole Class Cooperative Groups – My suggestions for whole class would be the same as for work stations & centers except you would need one set of task cards for each table group.  After learning or reviewing a concept with whole class, the students could work on the cards with their table groups.   After the group work you could have a class discussion about the task cards as a way to wrap up. Another whole class activity which would require only one set of task cards is a “Scoot” or circuit.  To set up a Scoot you have a different task card on each desk and have the students work in pairs rotating around the set of task cards in numerical or alphabetical offer.  Some teachers will set a timer for scoot and others will let students move as they finish.  For a FREE  “Scoot Record Sheet” that can be used with any set of task cards, click here.

# Understanding Multiplication and Division in Word Problems

So, the fun and games of learning how to make arrays, skip counting on number lines and using models to solve multiplication problems has lead to the equally exciting task of solving division problems. Everyone seems to be making great progress and making meaning of multiplication and division in real world problems, UNTIL … wait for it … wait for it … We mix the two together!

And here the real “fun” begins … A few students usually have an intuition about the structure of the problems and just “get it” with out much help, but the majority of students need direct, systematic instruction paired with hands on or pictorial examples to really, truly, deeply, understand the difference between multiplication and division in word problems.  But where can we start? Continue reading

# Top 5 Tips for Decomposing Fractions

As I have mentioned in previous posts about fractions, starting with hands on and pictorial activities is vital for helping primary intermediate level students understand fractions. Today I would like to share my top 5 tips for decomposing fractions. These are mainly focused on 3rd – 5th grade, but may be helpful for some older and younger students as well.

1.)  I love using my pizza game for hands on fractions!  If you don’t have a pizza game, you can use plastic fraction circles or make pizza fractions from paper plates. Show your students a fraction of a pizza such as 5/6. After guided them to name the fraction, show them one way to decompose it by giving 2/6 to one student and 3/6 to another student. Point out that 2/6 + 3/6 is a way to decompose 5/6 and ask if they can name any other ways.  Act out other representations such as 2/6 + 1/6 + 2/6 by giving those slices to other students.  Try this with several different students.

2.)  Give students color tiles or unifix cubes. Give specific directions such as make a rectangle with 3 red, 2 blue and 7 yellow.  What fraction of your tiles are not yellow? (5/12)  Move the red and blue apart a little to show how 5/12 can also be represented as 3/12 + 2/12.  Do this with a few other fractions as well.

3.) Give students pictures of fractions and have them cut them up to show ways to decompose the fraction.

4.) Coloring Practice – Give students pictures of fractions with nothing shaded.  Give them directions on what color to color different parts.  Then guide them to write number sentences to decompose the fractions.

5.) Play Games!  Make your own games to practice decomposing fractions or try one of the games I have available on my TpT page.