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Problem-Solving Starts with Math

Apple and education books in class

Department of Mathematics Education professor Amy Tanner works to push her students out of their comfort zone to become independent problem-solvers.

“There are so many things that go into teaching,” Tanner said. “The biggest thing I think about when I’m teaching is . . . how can I get [my students] to do most of the thinking and make most of the connections themselves?”

Tanner has been able to achieve this by involving her students in class. Tanner has worked at BYU for five years, and in that time she has learned much about how to make her classroom an effective environment for learning and growing.

One way Tanner stretches her students is by helping them think of new ways to solve mathematical problems.

“Something that every student has learned is how to cross multiply. . . . I give them proportion problems and then tell them they’re not allowed to cross multiply,” Tanner said. “It forces them to approach the problem in a way that’s unfamiliar to them. . . . It forces them to really think about what’s actually going on in the problem.”

With Tanner’s encouragement, students are able to come up with four or five different ways to solve the problem, as opposed to relying on the same method each time. They are able to dig deep into mathematical concepts and discover new ways to solve problems on their own.

“They see other people’s ways of thinking about [the problem],” Tanner said, “and I have done nothing except say, ‘don’t use this particular method.’”

Doing work outside of the classroom is another method that has helped students grow in their studies.

“The advantage of being out of the classroom is that students are separated from their peers and from their teacher, so they can see what they actually do know on their own.”

Tanner works toward her students solving methods and problems independently. She does not leave her students in the dark, but leads them to be able to problem-solve and understand how the concept works.