Problem-Solving Instruction in the Context of and Problem Understanding

Osman Cankoy
Associate Prof. Dr., Ataturk Teacher Training Academy, Nicosia

Problem Statement: De-contextualized teaching and learning in schools usually leads students to memorize definitions of concepts without having the opportunity to apply those concepts in real-world settings. NCTM’s Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics proposes the use of meaningful problem-solving contexts for children. This document states that when mathematics evolves naturally from problem situations that have meaning to children and are regularly related to their environments, it becomes relevant and helps children link their knowledge to a variety of situations. The challenge for teachers, usually, is to find problem-solving activities that are authentic and important to learners. In this respect, children’s literature can be used to provide real-world opportunities for children to explore mathematics by offering problem-solving contexts with which children are familiar. Although problem solving has been investigated for over 50 years, there is a lack of findings on problem understanding.
Purpose of Study: The purpose of the study is to explore the impact of contextual problem-solving instruction in the context of children’s literature on students’ problem understanding.
Methods: A two-way repeated measures experimental-control groups pretest-to posttest-to-delayed posttest design was used. Twenty-eight and 25 third grade students from an urban elementary school formed the experimental and control groups, respectively. To explore mathematical problem understanding, a test consisting of 12 open-ended problems was used.
Findings and Results: According to the findings, students who received contextual problem-solving instruction performed better on visualization and qualitative reasoning, when it came to understanding mathematical problems, than did students who received traditional problem-solving instruction. The findings showed that the differences between the two groups were greater in qualitative reasoning.
Conclusions and Recommendations: The findings revealed that contextual problem-solving instruction is helpful, especially in improving the qualitative thought processes used in problem-understanding and problem-solving procedures, which are essential to expert problem solvers. The findings also revealed that contextual problem-solving instruction had long-term effects. Contextually-oriented materials and instructional programs are recommended in all educational settings, to foster the development of expert problem-solving attributes.
Keywords: Contextual problem-solving instruction, children literature, problem understanding, problem-solving.