Fit the Mold of a Good ProblemSolver?
Too often we say someone is either good or bad in mathematics...but what does this mean? It is too vague.
The focus should be on the ability to use mathematical knowledge and skills to solve problems. So, the question now shifts...what are the characteristics of "good" problemsolvers in a mathematics context?
In her article in the 1980 NCTM Yearbook, Marilyn Suydam presented a list of characteristics that I have found quite useful (and true):
 Ability to understand mathematical concepts and terms
 Ability to note likenesses, differences, and analogies
 Ability to identify critical elements and to select correct procedures and data
 Ability to note irrelevant details
 Ability to estimate and analyze
 Ability to visualize and interpret quantitative or spatial facts and relationships
 Ability to generalize on the basis of a few examples
 Ability to switch methods easily
 Higher scores for selfesteem and confidence, with good relationships with others
 Lower scores for test anxiety
Again, a quality list, that gives us something to reflect on, shoot for, and perhaps even measure. But the list is missing some elements others have suggested as critical characteristics.
Thanks to Math Magician Bon Bishop and others, some additional characteristics are:
Enjoyment while solving problems
Reliance on their own judgment and decisionmaking abilities
Not afraid of being wrong or of making mistakes
Flexability and ability to see multiple solution paths for a problem
Ability to reflect on their thinking
Ability and willingness to work on enhancing their problem solving methods and tools
Ability to relate the underlying structure of a problem to other similar or previous problems
Willing to spend extended time thinking about the problem and possible solution routes
Selfmotivated to extend a solved problem by posing new and related problems
So, what characteristics of good problem solvers do you think have been left off this list? Send me your ideas, as I am willing to expand this list.
