Updated: Aug 7, 2020
Introducing maths problem solving to early years students can seem like a bit of an undertaking but it's actually much easier than you think.
One of the key concepts of problem-solving is to break the task down into parts. The easiest way to do this is with the See, Plan, Do and Check system.
See the problem. What are the keywords in the text that are telling you what to do?
This is where you need to teach the vocabulary of maths. What does 'altogether' mean? What does 'more' mean? or what does 'shared equally between them' mean?
This is where I use my Maths Vocabulary Posters to help guide students with keywords for maths problem-solving.
During the 'see' stage, encourage students to look for those words and numbers that are telling us what to do. I always get my students to circle the numbers in the word problem so there is no confusion.
The plan stage encourages students to think about which maths problem strategy they need to use. Will it be a number line, part part whole, MaD T (multiplication and division triangle) or another strategy. However, at this early stage, I stick to part part whole as it's the simplest and easiest for young children to understand.
In this example below, you can see the part part whole strategy. This strategy teaches children to consider the parts of the whole. Maths problem-solving tasks can involve any missing part of the whole for students to consider. This strategy helps to build number sense.
Do the problem. Simple. This stage lets students actually perform the maths. It's important to make sure students do not rush to this 'do' stage too early. They must 'see' the problem first! Often I find students rush ahead to the 'do' stage because they think they have understood the problem. If the student completes the task incorrectly, get them to go back over the 'see' stage to see what the problem was actually asking them to do.
When completing the 'do' stage students can use maths manipulatives or other hands-on methods such as drawing the number or cut and paste to complete the problem.
Here you can see how we've used some different blocks to represent the problem in the part part whole table.
You can also use cut and paste methods as we've done here (note that the keywords and numbers have been highlighted).
The final stage is the 'check' stage and this is where students must check their answer. I always encourage students to write the answer out in full as this helps them contextualise the answer. If the question says 'how many chicks did Mother Hen have left?' I make students write their sentence 'The Mother Hen had.... chicks left'. They must use the question to compose their answer. This is one of every teacher's pet hates when marking exams... the student must answer the question! Get students into this habit early.
You can find some downloadable part part whole maths problem-solving activities below..
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