NDSU Distance & Continuing Education (DCE)

Bringing Education to You

K-12 Professionals

Building Problem Solving Skills in Grades K-4

EDUC 792 or 600




Instructor: Dr. Larry Napoleon

Grading: Letter

Spring, Summer & Fall (Ongoing)

Instruction Mode: Internet-Asynchronous (Online Class)

Academic Level: K-12 Professional Development

NDSU Credit Fee: $390

Partner Class Offered Through Learner's Edge

Course Description:

Students in grades K–4 are faced with new, unfamiliar problems in school each day—many of them in math lessons. How do these students use their existing knowledge to make sense of new problems, and what strategies do they use to solve them? In this course, participants will learn what it means to do “math problem solving” activities and consider the benefits of integrating these types of problems into their elementary math instruction. Specific problem solving techniques—from “guess and check” to “create a model”—will be discussed. In addition to stretching and considering their own problem solving skills, participants will also analyze examples of students’ work to learn about their mathematical thinking and the strategies they use when faced with unfamiliar math problems. Knowing how students are thinking about a problem is only one part of helping them to become better solvers of problems; learning to ask questions that challenge, clarify, and broaden their thinking is also essential. Participants will learn strategies for asking questions that promote problem solving skills and conduct a small group interview with students to practice these strategies. Participants will have the opportunity to apply what they have learned to their own classrooms, creating a lesson plan for integrating problem solving activities that they can use in their instruction.


As a result of participation in this course, students should:

  1. Identify what constitutes a “problem solving” approach to mathematics.
  2. Differentiate between problems that build problem solving skills and those that emphasize computation.
  3. Analyze the problem solving methods that students use when trying to solve unfamiliar math problems.
  4. Ask questions that promote a problem solving approach to instruction and help students become better problem solvers.
  5. Integrate tasks that promote problem solving into their daily instruction.

Required Reading:

Articles:  (referenced in the study guide and linked in your online course)

  • Burns, Marilyn (April, 2004). Instructor Magazine: 10 Big Math Ideas
  • Granofsky, Burt (2009).  Education Development Center, Inc.:  Thinking Flexibly About Problem Solving Activities.
  • Granofsky, Burt. Ed Tech Leaders:  Methods of Problem Solving.
  • New Zealands Math (2010). New Zealand Ministry of Education: Why Teach Problem Solving?
  • New Zealands Math (2010). New Zealand Ministry of Education: Organising the Teaching of Problem Solving.
  • Rose, Cheryl (2007).  Corwin Press: Uncovering Student Thinking in Mathematics.
  • Spicer, Judy. (March 2005).  The Ohio State University: Big vs. Little Problems: What is Problem Solving?


**Registration Instructions:

Course is not available print-based.

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