Friday, June 29, 2012

How to help kids excel in problem solving

I came across George Polya & his work while attending the workshop on "How to help kids excel in problem solving" with Mdm Poh Yew few weeks ago.

One of his quotes;
It's foolish to answer a question that u do not understand....the student should not only understand it, he should also desire its solution.
It might sounds to u like stating the obvious. But it hit me hard. Like really haaarrdd. Apart from dyslexia, Emily is also suffering from dyscalculia. Technically, it is a specific learning disability involving innate difficulty in learning or comprehending arithmetic. In reality, it looks something like this.
I had no idea how severe is her dyscalculia. But it's enough to give me a headache. It's a struggle for both of us. I have written about our struggle with Maths here. Since then, she seems to be OK with simple Maths. Addition, subtraction and multiplication. But I noticed she cannot do words problem. She really struggle with words problem.

I spoke to Poh Yew about her issues, and heeding her advice, I tested Emily's capabilities level by level. I need to find out her actual level. Start from there and gradually go up. And I figured out her actual level is at Standard 1!!!! I was dumbfounded and relieved at the same time. Although I know she has problem, and is definitely a few years below her level, I never thought of going as low as Standard 1. Oh I know. At least we can start somewhere. That's a good news.

Poh Yew's taught us various tricks to make Maths interesting. Who says Maths cannot be fun?? Errr...actually I am more like asking myself...wakakaka ;-) But seriously, after learning so much from the workshop, I made a mental note to compile all these tricks and practise them with the kids. Not just Emily.

None of my kids love Maths. Primarily because we have been taught Maths the boring way. Maths=rote learning=drilling=calculationsssss. There's a huge difference between Mathematics and arithmetics.

Poh Yew doing the "See through the cup" trick.
The magical sorting. Punch some holes on the card and with a paper clip u will be able to sort out the card. 

Regardless of how u shuffled it.
Tadaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!! ;-)
U can make it descending or ascending in order. Depends on where u put your paper clip.
Curious to know how it happened? Check out the explanation here. And u will gain more understanding about binary system too.

Can a cone run up the hill? Apparently yes!! A good example of integrating Maths & Science.
I learn some great tips in teaching kids. Once in a while give a wrong question to your kids. Set question with no answer. Teach kids that it's possible for a question to have many answers. Or no answer. Encourage kids to make their own question. In solving the question, guide them. But never give them the answer. Train them to find fault and fix it. Not find fault and whine and complain and do nothing ;-)

We can start teaching Maths early. Young kids can start memorizing first. Then move to understanding the concept. Chinese academic system has proved that memorization will enhance later learning. Avoid testing young kids. Randomly pick some question but don't do all. Rote learning doesn't work with everybody. I know it doesn't work with Emily. It stressed her and she will start making more and more mistakes.
Learn to let nature take it's own course. Faster is not necessarily better. For example, we shouldn't force kids to write until they develop motor skill. Poh Yew also believed kids shouldn't jump grades.

Poh Yew shared with us different ways to develop creativity in problem solving.

1. Maths Magic.
It is a known fact that many magicians used Maths in their tricks.

2. Maths craft.
This will probably be my regular activity with Emily from now onward. She loves art & craft. It will be easier for me to occupy her with craft activities. It is a double yeayyy to me if she do craft and learn Maths too (without she realizing it) ;-)

An example of Maths craft. Intersecting triangles. U can find detailde instruction from here.
Math Craft Monday: Community Submissions (Plus How to Make a Modular Origami Intersecting Triangles Sculpture)
3. Games
Congkak, board games like Monopoly, snake & ladder, Yahtzee etc etc etc.
OK. Now you are probably wondering how does doing all these tricks & playing games lead to competency in Maths? Or improving creativity & problem solving skills?

The power to reason, developed mathematically, could transfer to any other field.
-Steedman Philip H

I stumbled upon this website and found out Alexander Graham Bell was obsessed with pyramids, building towers, buildings, boats, kites and eventually planes made entirely out of little tetrahedrons (triangular pyramids).

Cockpit of Bell's tetrahedral plane at his laboratory in Nova Scotia

Alexander Graham Bell's Tetrahedral Obsession

Although only one of Bell’s planes managed to fly under its own power, the tetrahedral frame structure was  a much used component of high tech architecture more than half a century later. Interesting huh??!!

Let's explore new ways to be great in Maths. Ehemm2....a noble excuse for ummi to buy more books...hahahaha. Found these books from the recent Times Book Sale. Dirt cheap.
So there u go kiddos. Maybe we will ditch the workbooks for a while. And have some fun!!! ;-)


  1. Chegebu: salam melly am interested to join online home schooling community, hw do I sign up?

  2. There's a closed HS group on FB.!/groups/MHsNetwork/
    U can ask them to add u on.