Problem solving is the heart of mathematics. All mathematics stems from our understanding of our universe and learning to decode the mysteries linking humans to the natural and technological world. This is done through understanding our world in context and making sense of our place in the universe. The pursuit of knowledge is driven by problem solving and our capacity to wrestle with mathematical and scientific questions.

Our Year 11 Mathematical Methods students are endeavouring to become better problem solvers. Students are presented with problem solving tasks on a weekly basis and they are encouraged to “represent” a problem individually by using pictures, diagrams, drawings, graphs, algorithms and numbers. Through their working students are encouraged to explain and justify their solutions through their working procedures. This provides a window into the cognitive processes of each student and allows their teachers to determine if a correct understanding of the curriculum content has taken place.

Problem solving and decoding problems from a worded context is often seen by students as a daunting and difficult process. Many students struggle with anxiety related to knowing where to start. This can manifest in negative neurological and cognitive responses. Confusion adds to the negative experience and this can result in disengagement from learning. Consequently, our teachers are providing multiple opportunities for problem solving in the Year 11 Methods course content. The teachers are enhancing the students' critical and creative thinking capabilities by giving them a structure for solving problems and representing their solutions. Students are empowered to take on the challenge, make sense of the context, synthesise a solution and justify their working. The success that students experience as a result of problem solving helps develop personal attributes such as building their self-esteem, love of learning, resilience and confidence to take on future learning opportunities.

Multiple opportunities are being provided by the Mathematics Learning Area for students across all year levels to develop their problem-solving skills. These include the MEXI program in Year 7, the APSMO program in Year 8 and the Brainstretching program in Year 9. Students are also able to compete in the Computational and Algorithmic Competition, Mathematics Challenge and Australian Mathematics Competition which takes place during the year. Furthermore, students are being challenged in the classroom by their teachers through the ‘Smash Maths Program’. It is exciting and gratifying to see our students engage with their mathematics at ever-increasing levels. Congratulations to the girls and their teachers for working cooperatively to enhance the most important skill in Mathematics – Problem Solving.

Mark Vorster
Mathematics Learning Leader