Teaching Values Through A Problem Solving Approach to Mathematics


For many reasons, the state of society has reached a stage where it is more critical than ever to educate people in the traditional values of their culture. In recent years there has been considerable discussion about whether it is the responsibility of schools to impart values education. There is growing pressure for all teachers to become teachers of values, through modelling, discussing and critiquing valuesrelated issues.  
There are many opportunities to teach the principles of values education through existing subjects and topics. The purpose of this article is to suggest one of the many ways in which values education can be incorporated into existing mathematics curricula and approaches to teaching mathematics. In particular, it will focus on ways in which values education can be enhanced by utilising a problemsolving approach to teaching mathematics. The articles include quotations, printed in italics, from the Sathya Sai Education in Human Values program, which originated in India and is now active in more than 40 countries around the world.  
These quotations are concerned with the following values:  


Why Can Values be Enhanced by Teaching Mathematics via Problem Solving?  
Increasing numbers of individuals need to be able to think for themselves in a constantly changing environment, particularly as technology is making larger quantities of information easier to access and to manipulate. They also need to be able to adapt to unfamiliar or unpredictable situations more easily than people needed to in the past. Teaching mathematics encompasses skills and functions which are a part of everyday life.  
Examples:  


Presenting a problem and developing the skills needed to solve that problem is more motivational than teaching the skills without a context. It allows the students to see a reason for learning the mathematics, and hence to become more deeply involved in learning it. Teaching through problem solving can enhance logical reasoning, helping people to be able to decide what rule, if any, a situation requires, or if necessary to develop their ownrules in a situation where an existing rule cannot be directly applied. Problem solving can also allow the whole person to develop by experiencing the full range of emotions associated with various stages of the solution process.  
Examples:  
Extracts from a student teacher’s journal after three separate problem solving sessions 

The student who wrote the extracts above, has illustrated how interest rooted in the problem encouragedsteady interest needed to master worthy knowledge. Experience with problem solving can develop curiosity, confidence and openmindedness.  
How To Teach Human Values By Incorporating Problem Solving Into The Mathematics Program.  
This section will describe the types of problem solving which can be used to enhance the values described above, and will give some suggestions of how it can be used in the mathematics program.  
There are three types of problems to which students should be exposed:
Each of these problem types will be described in more detail below. 

Problems which require the direct use of a mathematics rule or concept.  
By solving these types of problems, students are learning to discriminate what knowledge is required for certain situations, and developing their common sense. The following examples have been adapted from the HBJ Mathematics Series, Book 6, to show how values such as sharing, helping and conserving energy can be included in the wording of the problems. They increase in difficulty as they require more steps:  
Examples:  


Sometimes it is important to give problems which contain too much information, so the pupils need to select what is appropriate and relevant:  
Example:  
Last week I travelled on a train for a distance of 1093 kilometres. I left at 8 a.m. and averaged 86 km/hour for the first four hours of the journey. The train stopped at a station for 1 1/2 hours and then travelled for another three hours at an average speed of 78 km/hour before stopping at another station. How far had I travelled?  
To be able to solve these problems, the pupils cannot just use the bookish knowledge which they have been taught. They also need to apply general knowledge and common sense.  
Another type of problem, which will encourage pupils to be resourceful, is that which does not give enoughinformation. These problems are often called Fermi problems, named after the mathematician who made them popular. When people first see a Fermi problem they immediately think they need more information to solve it. Basically though, common sense and experience can allow for reasonable solutions. The solution of these problems relies totally on knowledge and experience which the students already have. They are problems which are nonthreatening, and can be solved in a cooperative environment. These problems can be related to social issues, for example:  
Examples:  




Sometimes pupils can be asked to make up their own problems, which can help to enhance their understanding. This can encourage them to be flexible, and to realise that there can be more than one way of looking at a problem. Further, the teacher can set a theme for the problems that the pupils make up, such as giving help toothers or concern for the environment, which can help them to focus on the underlying values as well as the mathematics.  
NonRoutine Problems  
Nonroutine problems can be used to encourage logical thinking, reinforce or extend pupils’ understanding of concepts, and to develop problemsolving strategies which can be applied to other situations. The following is an example of a nonroutine problem:  
What is my mystery number?  


Real Problem Solving  
Bohan, Irby and Vogel (1995) suggest a sevenstep model for doing research in the classroom, to enable students to become “producers of knowledge rather than merely consumers” (p.256).  


Mathematical Investigations  
Mathematical investigations can fit into any of the above three categories. These are problems, or questions, which often start in response to the pupils’ questions, or questions posed by the teacher such as, “Could we have done the same thing with 3 other numbers?”, or, “What would happen if….” (Bird, 1983). At the beginning of an investigation, the pupils do not know if there will be a suitable answer, or more than one answer. Furthermore, the teacher either does not know the outcome, or pretends not to know. Bird suggests that an investigation approach is suitable for many topics in the curriculum and encourages communication, confidence, motivation and understanding as well as mathematical thinking. The use of this approach makes it difficult for pupils to just carry out routine tasks without thinking about what they are doing.  
Bird believes that investigational problem solving can be enhanced if students are encouraged to ask their own questions. She suggested that the teacher can introduce a “starter” to the whole class, ask the students to work at it for a short time, ask them to jot down any questions which occurred to them while doing it, and pool ideas. Initially it will be necessary for the teacher to provide some examples of “pooled” questions, for example:  


The pupils can be invited to look at each other’s work and, especially if they have different answers, to discuss “who is right”.  
Conclusion  
This article has suggested some reasons why problem solving is an important vehicle for educating students for life by promoting interest, developing common sense and the power to discriminate. In particular, it is an approach which encourages flexibility, the ability to respond to unexpected situations or situations that do not have an immediate solution, and helps to develop perseverance in the face of failure. A problemsolving approach can provide a vehicle for students to construct their own ideas about mathematics and to take responsibility for their own learning. While these are all important mathematics skills, they are also important life skills and help to expose pupils to a values education that is essential to their holistic development. 
Advertisements