Teachers use a variety of methods, including math problems, to test students' problem-solving skills. Test questions often require students to perform a series of well-structured, chronological steps. Teachers want students to learn how to reason out problems and answer complicated questions using their knowledge and intuition. Even though memorization is an important part of learning, educators also want students to think through solutions on their own.
Word and Story Problems in Math
Word problems and story problems test students' ability to organize and isolate important details in mathematics. Students must break word problems apart, often solving a part of the problem before solving the entire problem. They must translate words into equations and solve for unknown variables. Problem-solving questions might ask, "Lynn has 12 headbands and four times as many hair clips. How many hair clips does she have?" or "The total fare for three adults and four children on the subway is $20. If a child's fare is one half of an adult's fare, what is the adult fare?"
Critical Thinking Questions in Science
Creative thinking problems test students' ability to think of possible answers to questions that don't necessarily have defined, concrete answers. Natural and physical science questions often require students to use critical-thinking, problem-solving capabilities to create and test hypotheses or alternatives. For example, questions for elementary or middle school students might ask, "What are the possible uses for a wagon?" or "In what types of liquid might an ice cube sink?" High school students can respond to questions such as "What types of pulleys are most effective?" or "What can be done to help protect animal habitats?"
Analytical Questions in Social Studies and Language Arts
Teachers can test students' ability to draw conclusions and make inferences by asking problem-solving questions that relate to language arts and social studies. These types of questions ask students to examine literature, historical events and social situations and analyze points of view. Students can interpret ideas and evaluate or draw their own conclusions. Examples of these types of problem-solving questions include "In 'The Scarlett Letter' by Nathaniel Hawthorne, what could Hester have done to combat the cruel criticism she received?" or "What could have been done to ease the plight of the immigrant worker during the Industrial Revolution?" or "How can individuals help eradicate illiteracy in the United States?"
Theoretical and Philosophical Discussion Questions
Classroom discussions on theoretical and philosophical topics encourage students to use problem-solving skills to answer tough questions. Open discourse helps students come up with their own solutions to support or challenge ideas. Discussion questions that test problem-solving skills might include "How would you punish or penalize a student for cheating on a test?" or "What can communities do to discourage motorists from texting while driving?" or "Why should students be forced to pass physical education courses to graduate from high school?"
- National Council of Teachers of Mathematics: Why Is Teaching With Problem Solving Important to Student Learning? Brief
- Minneapolis Public Schools: Summary of the Skills and Content Needed to Prepare for the 2014 GED Test
- Common Core State Standards Initiative: Standards for Mathematical Practice
- University of Connecticut: Mathematics -- Problem Solving -- Elementary
- University of Hawaii System: K3-4 Through K-12 Problems -- Concept-based Problem Solving -- Learning Through Problem Solving
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