Steps of Cooperative Problem Solving
- Teacher Presents the Problem: Display a math problem on the board, hand out a worksheet, or ask students to turn to a problem in the math book. Read the problem aloud or ask them to read it silently. You’ll find free Daily Math Puzzler worksheets on my Problem Solving page that would work well for this activity. Have students begin with the first problem on the worksheet.
- Students Work Alone: Ask students to work the problem alone, preferably on dry erase boards so they can easily erase their work and try different strategies. They turn their boards face down when they have a preliminary answer or you tell them that time is up.
- Students Work Together: Students compare and discuss answers with a partner or with a team. I generally prefer partner work in math, but if the problem is really challenging, then I allow the entire team to talk it over and work it out together. If students realize that their answer was wrong, they may change it, but they must show the work to go with their new solution. They don’t all have to agree, but each person should be prepared to explain his or her answer.
- Class Discusses Solutions: Reveal the answer to the class and call on students to share how they solved the problem. Instead of focusing on a single “right” way, challenge your class to come up with as many ways to solve it as possible. Allow different students to hold up their dry erase boards or place them under a document camera as they explain their solutions. If students are required to record an answer in a journal or on a worksheet, allow time to do this now, without talking to anyone.
- Repeat steps 1-4: If time allows, complete the entire sequence with another math word problem.
Laura Candler is the creator of the Teaching Resources website. She’s written over a dozen print books and ebooks for educators, including Mastering Math Facts, Math Stations for Middle Grades, and the Daily Math Puzzler series.