Teaching and Learning Early Years Mathematics Extract 4

Here is the fourth and final extract from our new title Teaching and Learning Early Years Mathematics: Pedagogy and Subject Knowledge by Mary Briggs. This extract comes from Chapter 5; What will happen if…?

How to choose appropriate problem-solving activities for children

Goffin and Tull ( 1985 ) identified four key questions to assist adults in selecting appropriate problem-solving activities for young children:

  1. Is the problem going to be meaningful and interesting to the children?
  2. Can the problem be solved at a variety of levels?
  3. Is there a rationale for the solution and why it needs to be found?
  4. Can the actions taken to solve the problem be evaluated?

In addition to these key questions, there are general questions that can be used to judge what makes a good activity. The following are two lists of such questions (Briggs, 2009 ). They can be used generally to make decisions in choosing tasks for children to work on, whether these are problem-solving tasks or not.

Does the intended task allow:

  • access for all;
  • possibility for extension;
  • possibility for narrowing or simplifying;
  • enjoyment?

Does it offer/present:

  • a practical starting point;
  • stimuli and opportunities for mathematical discussion;
  • opportunities and reasons for children to work and talk together;
  • reasons for children to record their ideas;
  • clarity of underlying mathematics;
  • opportunities for repetition without becoming meaningless – both for teachers and for children?

Critical question

» Find three or four problem-solving activities and check them against the two lists above. Do these activities meet all the requirements? If not, where do they fail to match the expectations? Would they still be suitable activities in another situation, and when would it be appropriate to use them? 

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