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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Primary children’s perceptions of mathematical problem solving Novakowski, Janice Heather


This study explores primary children's perceptions of mathematical problem-solving. A review of current literature in this area indicated a need to focus on children's thoughts and ideas. The children's perceptions of what a math problem is, their problem-solving process and their stated use and preference for problem-solving strategies were investigated. For this study, seven grade two students from the researcher's primary classroom were interviewed individually. A set of research questions provided a guide for the researcher during the interviews, but allowed flexibility so that both the subject and the researcher could add questions or information as required. A natural conversational flow was desired. The interviews were transcribed and analyzed. Individual student descriptions as well as comparisons between students in significant areas were prepared. It was found that the children had varied definitions for what a math problem is. Although some children had difficulty articulating a definition, they demonstrated an understanding through their examples. Most of the children stated that a math problem has words and some math and is like a story. A few children also indicated that a math problem could just involve numbers, depending on the level of difficulty. All of the children indicated that they had a problem-solving process in place. This process ranged from "try to figure out the answer and write it down" to a multi-step metacognitive process that involved thinking about the problem, trying different ways to solve it and checking your work. Five of the seven children stated that they included a "looking back" step as part of their problem solving process. This group of children could name several problem-solving strategies and indicated that they each used a variety of strategies for different purposes. The children indicated they preferred the strategies of mental calculations, using a calculator, working with number patterns and asking someone for help. When asked what strategies they use, all the children indicated they used drawings and mental math for some problems. When asked why they used particular strategy, the most common response was because, "they help me." Because the interviews proved viable for this age group and gave the interviewer a wealth of information about the students' thinking, it was suggested that this type of assessment could be applied to classroom use.

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