Work Backwards Problem Solving Strategy

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Giving the students a trick about reading through all the directions is unintimidating and proves a point in an amusing way.

Do you remember the problem where you ask students to read all the directions before starting and then the last question says don’t do the work just sign your name at the top?

In mathematics we are also developing the idea of inverse operation, using the opposite operation than the one given. One night the King couldn’t sleep, so he went down into the Royal kitchen, where he found a bowl full of mangoes. Later that same night, the Queen was hungry and couldn’t sleep.

She, too, found the mangoes and took 1/5 of what the King had left.

Our first goal in any problem is to read the whole problem. Does the question have key words like equal to, amount left is, leaving ___?

Once you have established that there is an answer to the problem we need to start working backwards which also means using the inverse operation. Students see the operation given, but it is the reverse operation that will give them the correct answer in the shape. Don’t tell them what strategy to use, let them figure that out and discuss the different options.At the end of the problem, Dan had 4 pieces of candy left for himself, so this is where we'll start.Right before Dan had 4 pieces left, he gave James 5 pieces.After doing this, Dan has 4 pieces left for himself.Based on all the information, can you tell me how many pieces of candy Dan started out with?We start at the end of the problem and work through to the beginning.In other words, we do as the name of this solving process suggests - we work backwards!We want to know how many pieces of candy I started out with.Like we said, to work backwards to solve, we start at the end of the problem and undo it one step at a time.Each month I am tacking a different problem solving strategy this month it is working backwards.Working backwards is sometimes the best strategy and one of the most difficult for students to understand.

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