Problem Solving Standard



Facility in math is recognized by educators as being key to later success in life. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) has set ten content standards for the teaching and learning of mathematics from prekindergarten through twelfth grade.

            The standards in this series refer to the entire range of grades. Examples, however, are for prekindergarten to second grade, which includes the grade I teach.

            The NCTM publication Principles and Standards for School Mathematics has complete explanations of these. For more information, you may visit NCTM at

            Bullet points are quotations from the publication. Underneath them are my suggestions for parents.

Math principles and standards, part 6

Problem Solving Standard

            The instructional programs should enable all students to:

  • Build new mathematical knowledge through problem solving;
  • Solve problems that arise in mathematics and in other contexts;
  • Apply and adapt a variety of appropriate strategies to solve problems;
  • Monitor and reflect on the process of mathematical problem solving.

            The ability to solve problems mathematically will depend largely upon each child’s fluency with math terminology and situations. Ask a child how many coins he will have all together if he starts with four and then gets two more from his visiting grandfather. The words “all together” should tip him off that there is going to be adding.

            Similarly, when we ask how much taller one person is than another, we demonstrate that one way we arrive at the answer is by subtracting the shorter amount from the larger one.

            In preparing children to understand multiplying, we have to impress upon them that each object has to be standard in a certain way. In using the number two for example, we can use legs, arms, eyes, and ears, since this is standard. How many eyes are in our family? Two times the number of people. But we have to get across the idea that not everything is standard. To find out how many pockets are in the clothing being worn by the people in our family, we realize that not everyone has the same number of pockets, so we can’t use multiplication to find out the answer for this.

            If the family has supported this type of activity with discussion and the appropriate vocabulary, it will be much easier for children to solve  problems such as these in school.

            I have noticed that younger children in the family benefit tremendously from the mathematical discussions that their older siblings and parents have in the household.

            We recognize that problem-solving is not taught as a separate skill but is part of an everyday approach to working with each other.


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