Visual Problem Solving Tips To Help You Eat an Elephant
Originally posted in November 2017, we thought that we would bring back one of our most enjoyable approaches to tackling issues in the classroom and in real life.
How would you eat an elephant?
You may think this question doesn't have anything to do with math, problem solving, or vertical non-permanent surfaces (VNPS).
But hang in there and you'll see what I'm getting at.
First, let's talk about the relationship between how we solve complex math problems and in a similar vein, how we approach real-world issues.
Math, Problem Solving, and VNPS
You can draw lots of analogies between solving a word problem in a classroom and tackling a real-world issue.
NOTE: In either scenario, it's important to put your ideas in writing to resolve the issue step-by-step using a visual learning method. And while Post-its might seem like an attractive option, they can quickly get out of hand.
These problems are best resolved when you have a VNPS to handwrite your ideas on.
If you're a math student working on a word problem, you’ve been taught to dissect the question and tackle it by breaking it into BITE-SIZE chunks.
In fact, solving more complicated math conundrums is really just asking yourself the following questions:
Question 1: What am I looking for?
The first thing you need to do when you get a word problem is to read it over carefully. Look for buzzwords, and underline or highlight the few key phrases that indicate what you're looking for.
Next, it’s important to write those phrases down so you can to begin the visual learning process.
A little note here: You can't solve large equations in your head -- you need to work them out visually.
In fact, the human need to write questions down is key to making visual connections and recognizing patterns.
This is where a horizontal or vertical non-permanent surface comes in handy.
Question 2: What information do I have?
After deciding which information is important, create the core equation using the information in the word problem.
Question 3: What information do I need?
Determine which facts, figures, and variables are necessary.
Once again, highlight or underline that information in the word problem. And WRITE IT DOWN.
What you're doing is this, as you’re solving the problem, you’re answering these sub-questions instead of writing out and analyzing each detail provided.
These same steps work in real life
You can use this very same thought process to approach a real-world issue:
Step one: (What am I looking for?) Describe the issue that you are facing by writing it down, whether it be a relationship issue, financial dilemma, or career choice where you must choose between two jobs in two different cities.
Step two: (What information do I have?) Identify your key points and write them down. If it's a situation where you must decide between selecting one of two job offers, for instance, write down the information that has already been provided to you by each potential employer -- the location, the pay, the benefits, the cost of housing, etc.
Step three: (What information do I need?) Decide if the information already provided is enough. Erase any extraneous data that clouds the issue, and search for additional information online.
Then solve the problem.
And don't forget to use your favorite Wipebook Notebook or Flipchart to capture your thoughts in writing. As you work through your real-world problem on an erasable writing surface, more factors and variables may reveal themselves as you’re not concerned with writing down any idea that comes to mind.
That's when you start over and rework it.
In math, as in real life, you must break the problem into parts, and it helps if you’re using visible learning tactics like a VNPS. After that, you simply need to tackle it, piece by piece.
So, back to the very first question, this article posed: exactly how WOULD you eat an elephant?
“One bite at a time”, as General Creighton Abrams once said.