Specific characteristics of a problem-solving approach include: My early problem-solving courses focused on problems amenable to solutions by Polya-type heuristics: draw a diagram, examine special cases or analogies, specialize, generalize, and so on.
Over the years the courses evolved to the point where they focused less on heuristics per se and more on introducing students to fundamental ideas: the importance of mathematical reasoning and proof..., for example, and of sustained mathematical investigations (where my problems served as starting points for serious explorations, rather than tasks to be completed).
As the emphasis has shifted from teaching problem solving to teaching via problem solving (Lester, Masingila, Mau, Lambdin, dos Santon and Raymond, 1994), many writers have attempted to clarify what is meant by a problem-solving approach to teaching mathematics.
The focus is on teaching mathematical topics through problem-solving contexts and enquiry-oriented environments which are characterised by the teacher 'helping students construct a deep understanding of mathematical ideas and processes by engaging them in doing mathematics: creating, conjecturing, exploring, testing, and verifying' (Lester et al., 1994, p.154).
As she says, most people have developed 'rules of thumb' for calculating, for example, quantities, discounts or the amount of change they should give, and these rarely involve standard algorithms.
Solving A Math Problem
Training in problem-solving techniques equips people more readily with the ability to adapt to such situations.
Mathematicians who successfully solve problems say that the experience of having done so contributes to an appreciation for the 'power and beauty of mathematics' (NCTM, 1989, p.77), the "joy of banging your head against a mathematical wall, and then discovering that there might be ways of either going around or over that wall" (Olkin and Schoenfeld, 1994, p.43). 'Constructing meaningful understanding of mathematics content', in Aichele, D. (Eds.) Professional Development for Teachers of Mathematics , pp.
They also speak of the willingness or even desire to engage with a task for a length of time which causes the task to cease being a 'puzzle' and allows it to become a problem.
Let us consider how problem solving is a useful medium for each of these.
It has already been pointed out that mathematics is an essential discipline because of its practical role to the individual and society.