Problem Solving Strategies & Activities for Middle School Math

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

As a middle school math teacher, you want to give your students plenty of opportunities to solve problems, as well as strategies for doing so. This lesson offers a series of strategies and activities you can use!

Problem Solving at the Middle School Level

If you're a math teacher who works with middle school students, you know that these are the years when math becomes increasingly complex and your students are expected to think and work on more abstract levels. Further, you probably need to help your students see the relevance of math to daily life, as a way of keeping them engaged.

Much of math at the middle school level therefore takes place in the context of problem solving. As you move closer to algebra, geometry, and even trigonometry, your students will need to work with complex logic and multi-step problems. This means giving them strategies that work and activities to practice these strategies with!

The activities and strategies in this lesson are well suited to students at the middle school age.

Problem Solving Strategies

This section offers a series of strategies that can be applied to a wide variety of mathematical problems and situations.

Read It, See It, Draw It

Visualization can be a really important problem-solving strategy, especially as problems get ever more abstract and complex.

Teach your students that after they read a problem, or even a single step of a problem, they should close their eyes and envision the scenario. Then, they should draw or sketch an image that represents the scenario. Finally, have them try using their sketch to help them approach the problem sensibly.

Finding Key Words and Numbers

Middle school students should learn that in most problems, there are some extraneous words and some words that really make up the meat of the problem.

Give your students a set of problems to work with and ask them to highlight or underline the words, phrases, and numbers that are necessary for solving the problem. Then, have them use a different color to highlight or underline the superfluous information. Talk to them about how this kind of coding might be useful when solving authentic problems.

Chunking Problems

Explain to students that multistep problems are only overwhelming if you look at them as totals. They are much simpler when broken down into individual chunks. Give students some examples of how they can break down a problem into separate sections, even cutting and pasting to spread the problem out over the page and make it less overwhelming.

Problem-Solving Activities

In this section, you will find some activities that appeal to different learning styles while giving students a chance to apply and practice their problem solving skills.

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