Students’ problem solving behaviours

Tracey Muir, Kim Beswick and John Williamson have written an article that was recently published in the Journal of Mathematical Behavior. The article is entitled “I’m not very good at solving problems”: An exploration of students’ problem solving behaviours.


This paper reports one aspect of a larger study which looked at the strategies used by a selection of grade 6 students to solve six non-routine mathematical problems. The data revealed that the students exhibited many of the behaviours identified in the literature as being associated with novice and expert problem solvers. However, the categories of ‘novice’ and ‘expert’ were not fully adequate to describe the range of behaviours observed and instead three categories that were characteristic of behaviours associated with ‘naïve’, ‘routine’ and ‘sophisticated’ approaches to solving problems were identified. Furthermore, examination of individual cases revealed that each student’s problem solving performance was consistent across a range of problems, indicating a particular orientation towards naïve, routine or sophisticated problem solving behaviours. This paper describes common problem solving behaviours and details three individual cases involving naïve, routine and sophisticated problem solvers.

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