With today's emphasis on multi-step problem solving, it is more important than ever for students to be able to solve complex math problems. However, with the Common Core Standards placing an increased focus on problem solving, many students feel overwhelmed and anxious about math. One way to make this more engaging and reduce student overwhelm is to implement a Math Word Problem of the Day.
In this blog post, I'll explain how this simple step will take less than 10 minutes a day and can lead to big gains in your students' confidence and competence with word problems. I've even got some freebies to help you get started!
Why is Problem of the Day Important?
There are several reasons why Math Problem of the Day is such an important part of mathematics instruction. First, it provides a regular routine for solving word problems. This routine helps reduce student anxiety because they know what to expect each day.
Second, it allows students to get immediate feedback on strategies. If a student is struggling with a particular type of problem, you can quickly intervene and provide support.
Finally, Problem of the Day gives students regular practice with multi-step word problems. This is essential for success on standardized tests.
What are the Goals of Starting a Math Problem of the Day?
The main goals of doing a Math Problem of the Day are to:
- Increase student engagement and confidence with math problem solving
- Reduce student overwhelm, math anxiety, and fatigue
- Help students develop a greater understanding of the process of solving word problems.
What kinds of word problems should I use for Problem of the Day?
Personally, I feel that your Math Problem of the Day should be a time when you offer scaffolded support and guide students to develop academic risk-taking. It should also be a time to give students opportunities to experience productive struggle.
In other words, students don't grow unless they are challenged. Therefore, you pick should be something that students are capable of solving. Yet, most days they should not be easily solvable.
I like to create story problems that are approachable from a number of angles. This allows advanced learners to apply skills their skills while struggling learners still have a method that will lead them to a successful solution. For example, early in third grade, I incorporate many opportunities where multiplication COULD be used. However, students could also use addition strategies to solve. This leads to a rich conversation when we talk about strategies & allows both groups to stretch their math skills.
Tips for Effectively Implementing Problem of the Day in the Elementary Classroom
Now that you know why Math Problem of the Day is important, you might be wondering how to implement it in your classroom. Here are a few simple tips:
- Choose a time & format that works for you. Morning work, right before lunch, or at the end of the day are all great times to implement this system. You can use paper and pencil, whiteboards, or even have students solve problems on their devices. In other words, feel free to customize this process to fit the needs of your classroom!
- Make sure you have a good supply of word problems. I've shared some freebies, but there are many great sites that offer a selection of word problems that you can use. The most important thing is to be sure the problems are flexible enough that they'll engage and challenge your learners.
- Prior to starting it can be helpful to introduce a lesson or two on growth mindset. Initially, these problems are likely to feel challenging for most students, but with a little practice and perseverance, they will get easier.
- Focus on process over product. In other words, use this time to focus on the development of strategies for attacking story problems. The right answer isn't as important as having a method for approaching the problem that can lead to success. You don't even need to grade these problems. Instead, focus on guiding and supporting students in developing their problem-solving skills & confidence.
- Set a timer for 5-7 minutes and have students work on the problem. If you have extra time, you can give them up to ten minutes. Once the timer goes off, discuss the problem as a class. You can ask volunteers to share their solution strategy or use a whole-class discussion format. Look for commonalities in how students solved the problem, but also emphasize different methods that led to the same (correct) solution.
- Provide feedback to your students. If you notice any common mistakes, take a minute to point them out and explain why they are incorrect.
How Do You Get Started with Problem of the Day?
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) encourages us to keep problem-solving at the forefront of our lesson planning. That's where Problem of the Day can help to build routines around one important aspect – word problems.
Getting started with Math Problem of the Day is easy! Simply choose one problem for your students to solve each day. You can write the problem on a whiteboard or display it on your projector. Alternatively, you can use a printable that students keep in their math folder or glue into a math journal.
To make things even easier, I've got a free set of Math Problem of the Day resources that you can use to get started. Just click your grade level below to download.