Problem Posing Fun in Fourth

Recently, I have been learning a lot about problem posing from my friend Jinfa Cai, in particular how to infuse these opportunities within the use of curriculum materials. Because, while there are rich problem solving experiences in a good curriculum, we do not often see explicit use of problem posing, especially in K–5. The Notice/Wonder routine is probably as close as it gets.

Since I am in classrooms this year, I get to try some problem posing around curriculum activities and follow up with Jinfa. As with all learning, the more things I try, the longer my list of questions for him grows! After last week’s lessons, I was left with two questions that I can’t wait to discuss:

  1. How do we honor all of the posed problems within the timing of a lesson?
  2. How do we infuse opportunities to reason about the problems that can and cannot be answered with the information in the situation?

The curriculum task

The lesson focused on addition of fractions with like denominators. As an adaptation to the curriculum materials, I only showed students the bolded part of the task and asked them to share things they noticed and wondered. Because their ideas were all falling into the ‘wonder’ column, I quickly pivoted to the problem posing work.

Problem-posing launch

In their journals, I asked students to take a couple of minutes to write mathematical problems they could pose about this situation. They shared their problems as a whole class and I recorded.

It was so interesting, yet not surprising, that they asked the exact same problem the curriculum task was posing! I had them work as a group to solve that problem and told them that if they finished before we came back together as a group, to re-read the other problems on the board to see if they could answer them as well.

Problem solutions

Students represented their solutions in many different ways as they leveraged their understanding of fractions, addition, and multiplication. It was particularly interesting that you could see in their work how they used one expression to derive subsequent ones. Here are a couple of examples:

Additional problems

As a whole group, we compared and connected student work like in the 2 examples above. Discussing questions such as:

  • Where are the ¼ cups in the expression? 
  • Where are the ¾ cups in the expression?
  • Where is one expression in the other?
  • How did knowing this expression help you with another?

At that point, our time for the lesson was over so I quickly went around and snapped pics of the problems they posed independently at the launch.

I saw so many interesting problems that didn’t get shared during the whole group time, which made me wonder how I could have done that better next time and led to my two wonderings:

  1. How do we honor all of the posed problems within the timing of a lesson?
  2. How do we infuse opportunities to reason about the problems that can and cannot be answered with the information in the situation?

Embedding problem-posing experiences in the curriculum and answering the teaching questions that arise is such powerful learning for both students and teachers.  When students have the opportunity to pose their own mathematical problems based on a situation, they must make sense of the constraints and conditions from the given information to build connections between their existing understanding and a new understanding of related mathematical ideas (Cai, 2022). And when teachers have the opportunity to listen to connections students make, understand the math students see in situations, and make teaching decisions on how to elicit, share, and move forward with student thinking, it shares the mathematical authority in the classroom and leads to deeper, more powerful learning for all.

The other exciting part, that I wish happened more often in general, is through these experiences, Jinfa and I continually learn how research can inform practice and how practice can inform future research.

1 thought on “Problem Posing Fun in Fourth

  1. Pingback: Seeing the World through One Kindergartner’s Eyes – Embrace the Challenge

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