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Using a Heuristic to Structure Problem Solving

tackleTackling word problems in mathematics requires students to process several types of information-- text, variables, numbers, and relationships-- often all at the same time. In these situations, it is helpful to have a heuristic to guide students as they work through the given information toward a solution.


PDROM Bar Video

Just what are Ms. Jacob's intentions? View this clip from an interview with Ms. Jacobs in which she talks about the planning of the Making Sense Out of Symbols lesson.

jacobs11Although Ms. Jacobs expresses surprise at the frequency with which students miss the CAHSEE problem given at the start of this module, Selden and Selden (1997) argue that generating an understanding of how and when to apply a heuristic to solving problems is not trivial: "Teaching heuristics is not easy-- one must introduce them quickly so students can appreciate their power, yet slowly enough so students learn to apply them over a wide range of problems."

In the following clip, watch how Ms. Jacobs reinforces the use of this previously-learned heuristic.

IdentityReady to review Ms. Jacob's Action Plan? 1 Identify 2 Substitute 3 Solve 4 Answer graphic

  • Step 1 Identify the formula and the variables.
  • Step 2 Substitute the known values into the formula.
  • Step 3 Solve for the unknown variable.
  • Step 4 Answer the question.

jacobs pptMs. Jacobs' use of PowerPoint allowed her to demonstrate an active process of reading a problem and highlighting key parts of the text as she followed each of the Action Plan steps. The use of this technology tool enabled her to model the actions she wanted to see from students.

The repetition and modeling of the use of the Action Plan heuristic has been shown to be an effective way to develop self-monitoring within students. After hearing and seeing these steps enacted several times, students will internalize them and become able to monitor their use mentally during problem solving.

Classroom Clip Reflection:

  • In what ways does the use of heuristics support Ms. Jacobs? students throughout this lesson?
  • What other strategies for support has she utilized?
  • What are the implications for you work with students?