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'What Works' Guide Offers Insights on Math Problem-Solving

Teachers struggling to help improve students' mathematical problem-solving skills have a new resource from the federal What Works Clearinghouse.

After poring over a wide range of studies, a panel of experts in math and education research compiled five core recommendations for math instruction in grades 4-8, along with suggested steps for implementation and tips to overcome potential roadblocks.

The core recommendations are:

• Prepare problems and use them in whole-class instruction;

• Assist students in monitoring and reflecting on the problem-solving process;

• Teach students how to use visual representations;

• Expose students to multiple problem-solving strategies;

• Help students recognize and articulate mathematical concepts and notation.

The report was issued this week by the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences. Seven experts served on the expert panel, including John Woodward, the dean of the school of education at the University of Puget Sound, who was the chairman.

"With the push for higher education standards in recent years, the emphasis in the curriculum has largely been on improving content," Woodward said in a press release. "But the world we live in today is all about problem solving and this aspect of learning has to have greater attention."

The report notes that students who develop proficiency solving math problems early are better prepared for advanced math and other complex problem-solving tasks.

"Unfortunately, when compared with students in other countries, students in the U.S. are less prepared to solve mathematical problems," the report says. It adds that textbooks often fail to provide students with "rich experiences" in problem-solving.

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