Math Problem Solving: Knowing Where to Begin

Teaching kids to how to solve math problems is a huge challenge, but often the biggest challenge is knowing where to begin instruction. Learn where to download this free set of problem solving assessments to use in your upper elementary classroom!
Teaching kids to how to solve math problems is a huge challenge, but often the biggest challenge is knowing where to begin instruction. Without administering some type of pretest, you risk boring your students with problems that are too easy or frustrating them with problems that may seem impossible.

Before you begin, you need to have some idea of their current problem solving skills. For example:
  • How do they attack different types of problems? 
  • What strategies do they use? 
  • Are they functioning below grade level, at grade level, or above?
  • If they struggle, is it due to poor computation skills, poor reading skills, or misconceptions about basic math concepts?  
The Problem with Problem Solving Pretests
Unfortunately, most math word problem pretests don't provide enough information to help us answer those questions, let alone know where to begin instruction. Many tests are so challenging that kids who've been out of school all summer are likely to give up after making a token effort to solve the first few problems. Also, most tests use a multiple choice format which makes them easy to grade, but not so easy to interpret. Students don't have a place next to each problem to show their work, so you're left guessing as to the reason they missed each incorrect answer.

Problem Solving Assessment Made Easy
Since I couldn't find a math problem solving pretest I liked, I decided to create my own. After a bit of planning, testing, and tweaking, I developed a set of leveled pretests and posttests. I designed it so that there are just 4 word problems per page leaving room for student work. Each test is 4 pages long, but most students will only need a few of the pages because they don't move to the next level unless they complete 3 of the 4 problems correctly.

The Problem Solving Assessment pack includes a pretest, a posttest, answer keys, a form for recording and analyzing your assessment results, and a scoring guide. The assessment is available in two versions, the American Version which uses customary measurement and the International Version which uses metric measurement. If you'd like to use these assessment with your students, click the link below, fill out the form, and I'll send them both to you!

Snapshots of Mathematical Thinking
The assessments aren't multiple choice, but they're super easy to score. The best part is the insight you'll gain by observing HOW your students are solving the problems! Sometimes kids will get the right answer, but when you examine their work, you'll see that they overlooked a method that would have been much simpler. Or perhaps they accidentally got the right answer but their work shows a lack of understanding of essential math concepts. As I examined each test, it almost felt as if I was peeking into the student's brain to see his or her thought processes at work!

Ultimately, the pretest data provided me with really useful snapshots of student thinking that helped me decide where to get started with my problem solving instruction. Looking at the test results as a whole also gave me an overall picture of my students' math abilities as a class. An added benefit for me was knowing where to start my students in my Daily Math Puzzlers problem solving program.

If you teach upper elementary students, I think you'll find these assessments to be informative. Give them a try and let me know how it goes! Good luck with math problem solving this year!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the math/problem solving freebie. This is an excellent tool to use during the summer months or for after-school practice.