Developing collaboration in problem solving in primary mathematics

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Brookfield Lesson Study Group,
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Educational Level
ISCED Level 1 Primary education
Curriculum Area
Geographical Setting
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Background: Our identified issue across the school, which has a diverse population, was the lack of confidence many of our children showed when faced with mathematical problems. In assessments, open-ended questions would often be skipped or attempted half-heartedly.

Aims: We wanted to explore how we could best structure opportunities for the children to collaborate in problem solving and develop the confidence to use of different methods to tackle new problems.

Methods: Mixed-ability pairs of Year 4 children were presented with open-ended problems on which they collaborated to create posters. They then shared their strategies with the class and answered questions about their approach. The teacher was the collector of ideas, rather than the source. The process was refined over three research lessons with progressively more complex problems being presented.

Findings: We found that providing a clear structure and encouraging collaboration improved children's confidence and willingness to tackle new mathematical problems. The study highlighted the need for an effective problem-solving lesson structure and showed positive impacts on pupil learning and progress, including increased collaboration and sharing of ideas. The emotional side of this group work was significant: children were easily discouraged and a culture of celebration of all their work was essential, rather than rewarding correct or best answers.

Implications: The study found that providing a clear structure for problem-solving lessons and encouraging collaboration improved children's confidence and willingness to tackle new problems. Mixing up children and promoting sharing of ideas also had a positive impact on their learning and progress, leading to a greater willingness to try out new approaches and learn from each other. Lesson study provided an effective model for gaining insight and developing practice.
Keywords (free text)
primary education , lesson study , mathematics
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