MED 383w: Learning and Teaching Problem Solving        

Fall, 2006                      


Call numbers:
2218     TR 9:25 - 10:40 BA 202 CEP Dec. 14, 7:40 am

2219     TR 1:40 - 2:55     BA 214A CEP Dec. 14, 1:40 pm


Instructor:                                         Office hours:

Jane R. Cushman                                 MW 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm 

Email:         or by appointment

Office phone: (716)878-6319                     Bishop Hall 343 

Course Description: An introduction to the basic techniques of problem solving, creative problem solving, the methods of Polya, Schoenfeld, and others, with applications to the areas of algebra, geometry, analysis, and recreational mathematics.  The course also considers strategies of teaching problem solving, as well as research in this area. 

Experiences in mathematical problem solving, learning through problem solving, and a consideration of diverse perspectives and problem solving approaches.  Strategies for teaching the use of a problem-based approach and the historical and current roles of problem solving in secondary mathematics are also emphasized.


Supplementary Text: Principles and Standards for School Mathematics, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 1989, 2000.  Copies should be available at local bookstores, or you can order online from, or access the text online at  We will be reading most of the sections on problem solving, reasoning, communication, representation, and connections.


Prerequisite mathematics: MAT 270 and at least junior standing.  Most of the problems assigned in this course involve only pre-calculus mathematical concepts. You will be given a list (What You May Assume) of these. If you think of using something not on this list in solving a problem, check with me first to see whether it is acceptable. In some cases, I will say yes and add it to the list. In other cases, I may say you can use it only if you include a proof of it in your solution.


If you are rusty on the prerequisite material, you will be responsible for doing any necessary review. You may find the handout "What You May Assume" to be adequate for review. If not, here are some suggestions on library sources: the Math Club library has several precalculus textbooks; the E.H. Butler Library is a good place to find geometry texts. Also bear in mind that you may gain a better understanding of concepts in the process of using them to solve problems.

Course objectives: This is a course in problem solving in mathematics, geared primarily toward prospective math teachers.  The goal of the course is to improve problem solving skills.  Of course, the only way to accomplish that goal is to solve lots of problems.  You will be solving problems in class and at home, in groups and individually.  However, our focus will not be so much on the solution of a given problem as on the process of solving it. You will be asked to reflect on your own approaches as well as those of your classmates. To accomplish this, you will be asked to keep a journal, and make substantial entries each week (More on this later).  You will also be presenting problems in oral and written form. You will get experience in giving and receiving feedback on your mathematical communications (both oral and written).  In addition, we will explore the place of problem solving in the mathematics curriculum. 


In order for you to get as much as you can from this class, it is essential that you attend class regularly.  In addition to being here, you must participate actively in class by presenting exercises, being attentive to solutions presented by other students, allowing others to speak freely, asking questions and offering constructive feedback to fellow students, accepting feedback and constructive criticism offered to you, and generally contributing to a healthy learning environment. 


You must give yourselves lots of time to work on the assigned problems.  You should start assignments early enough so that you have time to think about a problem, put it aside, come back to it, revise your approach, if necessary, and write up a well-thought out solution.  The problems will all use elementary tools, available to a high school pre-calculus student. This is not to say that the problems will be easy.  There are many "elementary" problems that have stumped mathematicians for centuries. There is no shame in being unable to solve all the problems.  You will be frustrated at times; if you are not then let me know and I will find some better problems for you.  If you are too frustrated, then come in to office hours and we will talk about it.  It is up to you to find a balance of challenge and support which will make this class optimal for you.  Above all else, do not be ashamed to ask questions; asking questions is the best way to learn.

Relationship to Teacher Education Program Conceptual Model: The preparation of reflective facilitators of learning at Buffalo State College is anchored in a foundation of professional knowledge: knowledge of the learner and their characteristics, knowledge of the content to be taught, and knowledge of pedagogy. The course objectives for MED 683 address all three components of the conceptual model.

Attendance Policy: Regular attendance is expected at all class meetings.  There will be a large amount of in-class work which will be done in the class and cannot be made up.  All absences must be discussed with me.  You can receive up to 5 points per day: 2 for on time attendance and 3 points for constructive participation. If you attend and participate every class day, you can earn extra credit. 


Policy on Collaboration: Since unauthorized collaboration is considered academic dishonesty, it is important that you know what kinds of collaboration are and are not authorized in this class.


1. The following activities are not only authorized but encouraged:


2. Unauthorized collaboration includes:


Clearly authorized collaboration provides a learning experience for both parties.  Unauthorized collaboration benefits no one and, in fact, is educationally detrimental.  Please do not put your classmates in a difficult position by asking to copy their work. See the Student Handbook and Calendar for the section on Academic Misconduct on page 25 in the 2006 - 2007 edition.


Exams: There will be two mid-semester exams (during regular class time) and a final exam.  The dates for the mid-semester exams are:

            Exam 1: Thursday, October 5

            Exam 2: Thursday, November 9

I will only give makeup exams with a valid excuse.


Grading: Course grades will be based on all relevant information I have about you: performance in class discussion and problem solving, homework turned in, exams, journal, and any other information I have pertaining to your work in this class and its effect outside this class. Homework, exams, journals, and quality of class participation will be weighted as follows:

Homework: 20%

Semester Exams: 15% each

Final: 20%

Class participation  20%

Journal: 10%


Journal: As part of your coursework for this class, you are required to keep a class-related journal. The journal will serve several purposes, including: encouraging you to reflect on your problem solving behavior and other topics related to mathematics and teaching, giving you practice writing about mathematics, providing feedback to me, and providing another means for me to give feedback to you.

You are expected to make journal entries at least twice a week, with each week's entries being at least one handwritten, standard sized page (or the equivalent word processed).  Please date each entry and keep them in chronological order.


Occasionally I may ask you (either the whole class or individually) to write on a specific topic, but usually the choice will be up to you. Possibilities include:


You should not use your journal to record what went on in class (except brief accounts to introduce your own reactions to this.) You are expected to write in your journal outside class. If you wish to take class notes, you should keep these in a separate notebook or folder.


I will collect, read, and make comments on your journal every two or three weeks. Your journal grade will not depend on the correctness of the mathematical content of your journal, but on the thoughtfulness that went into your writing.


Use a looseleaf notebook or folder for your journal, so you can write journal entries when I have collected journals to read. Please hand in sections I have already read along with new entries, so that I can see old comments.


Procedures regarding disruptive individuals: Disruptive behavior by students in my class will not be tolerated. Whenever I deem a student to be acting in a disruptive or threatening manner, I will exercise my right to ask that individual to leave the classroom. If refused, I will exercise my right to notify University Police. The responding officer will determine whether an arrest should be made or whether a referral to medical or counseling staff is appropriate. If a student is perceived as a danger to himself, herself, or others, the dean of students may propose an interim suspension until a hearing is held. Any student removed from class will have the right to a hearing.


Students with disabilities: Any student who requires accommodations to complete the requirements and expectations of this course because of a disability is invited to make his or her needs known to the instructor and to the director of the Disabilities Services Office, 120 South Wing, 878-4500.


Cell phone policy: Please leave your cell phones either off or on vibrate. Do not text message at anytime during class. If there is a call you must take, then step out of the classroom to answer it.