September 7, 2011

Problem Solving Pencils - Inspired by 'Oh Boy Fourth Grade

With the new STAAR test in Texas, we are really working on problem solving this year.  After all, 75% of the math questions will test math skills in context of word problems. (Objective 6 has taken over the test!)  We are really having to beef up our problem solving skills and increase our R-I-G-O-R in math lessons and assessments! I don't know about other schools or districts, but rigor is definitely the #1 buzz word being thrown around school these days.

So, this weekend I stumbled on the most perfect post at Oh' Boy Fourth Grade to help my students remember all the important steps of problem solving.  I love that the students use color to mark up their problems.  After reading the problem twice, students will put a red check mark next to the problem. They will underline the question in orange, and circle important information in yellow.  They will cross out any trash  or useless information with a pencil.  They will work out the problem in pencil but may go over it in green and blue marker if we plan on displaying the final product (Farley's idea there... brilliant!). Finally, they will answer the question in a complete sentence in purple. What colorful fun! The pencil strategy bookmark serves as a great reminder whenever we are doing exemplars or other meaty problems.  I can have students pull out their problem solving pencils and walk themselves through the steps. 

Everyone should go read Farley's amazing post on Pencil Strategies to find out more.  She is completely my inspiration for the pencils I made and you can buy them from her Teacher's Notebook store for a very reasonable price. The only reason I made my own was because I wanted to change some of the wording to match what I use in my classroom.  She's the genius.

I also made a big pencil poster for the wall. 

Thank you Farley for sharing your wonderful ideas.  You have improved my teaching and helped make problem solving a rainbow of fun in my classroom!


  1. thanks for the shout out and you made me blush with your sweet comments!!! :)

  2. RIGOR is our buzz word this year too. Alabama Reading and Math Test (ARMT) was a doozie!

  3. This is perfect for easing my 4th graders into word problems. Love the step by step action. Did the students use the color coding all year?


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