What Is in the Daily News? Problem-Solving Opportunities!

By Silbey, Robyn | Teaching Children Mathematics, March 1999 | Go to article overview

What Is in the Daily News? Problem-Solving Opportunities!


Silbey, Robyn, Teaching Children Mathematics


Problem-Solving Opportunities!

In An Agenda for Action, the NCTM asserted that problem solving must be at the heart of school mathematics (1980). Almost ten years later, the NCTM's Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics (1989) stated that the development of each student's ability to solve problems is essential if he or she is to be a productive citizen. The Standards assumed that the mathematics curriculum would emphasize applications of mathematics. If mathematics is to be viewed as a practical, useful subject, students must understand that it can be applied to various real-world problems, since most mathematical ideas arise from the everyday world. Furthermore, the mathematics curriculum should include a broad range of content and an interrelation of that content.

Mathematics educators know that authentic contexts provide a rich, meaningful backdrop to mathematics - even for younger children. Finding subject matter with interdisciplinary connections to mathematics that is also accessible to a specific grade level can be challenging. This article illustrates how the newspaper can supply problem-solving opportunities with connections to the language arts, social studies, and science.

A "Blooming" Example

One Sunday, while I was reading the Washington Post, an article involving the annual blooming of the cherry blossoms caught my eye [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED]. That year's viewing would be particularly enjoyable, since the newspaper was furnishing Washingtonians with a guided tour of the magnificent trees.

A second, more critical, look at the article revealed that an enormous assortment of mathematics was embedded in the text. I created a list of "top ten tie-ins" to this cherry-blossom information (see fig. 2), which was mostly suited for intermediate and upper-elementary-grade students. The goal of the list was to formulate enough problems so that students with a wide range of ability levels and problem-solving-strategy preferences would be engaged and challenged. The tie-ins require students to use such problem-solving strategies as choosing the operation, making graphs and tables, working backward, analyzing data, and making decisions. Some activities required little more than careful reading and single-operation calculations. Others involved more cross-curricular connections, critical thinking, and a deeper conceptual understanding of mathematics.

I shared the article and "top ten tie-ins" with an accelerated fifth-grade class. I explained that we would reconvene at the end of the class period to discuss tie-in 1 as a class. Students chose one of the other tie-ins to explore and grouped themselves with others who expressed interest in addressing the same problem. Although all tie-ins were addressed, students expressed the most interest in tie-ins 6, 4, and 3. A discussion of students' problem-solving skills and strategies follows.

Tie-in 6: The Pictographs

Tie-in 6 in figure 2 allowed students to demonstrate how to extract data from text and make a graph. Making graphs is a problem-solving strategy that is especially helpful in visually organizing and analyzing data. Ashley's group decided to create a pictograph showing the number of each type of tree in West Potomac Park [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 3 OMITTED]. Ashley asked, "We know that each symbol should stand for more than one tree, but we don't know how to do this. What number should we use?" The group noticed that the smallest number of trees listed was 34; the greatest was 1405. Alisa and Patty noticed that most of the numbers were near 50 or multiples of 50. Ashley suggested that one picture could represent 50 trees. The group decided to replace each number with the nearest multiple of 50. "But what about the Weeping Higan trees? There are only 34 of them," Ashley said. Patty consulted with Monica, who was creating a pictograph on the computer using a commercial software package. …

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