Mathematics poses significant difficulties for elementary school children to understand. This is because the abstract nature of math makes it extremely challenging to explicate to young learners (Van De Walle, Karp, & Bay-Williams, 2010). There numerous teaching tools that can facilitate the teaching of elementary mathematics, these tools ensure that mathematical concepts appear concrete and help in enlightening the young learners how they can apply mathematics in their daily lives. Some of the elementary mathematics teaching strategies include contextual teaching and story problems. Contextual learning theory suggests that the teacher must have a primary goal of creating a sense of understanding of the core mathematics concepts. Contextual learning theory assumes that learning takes place only when learners process new information in a manner that makes sense to then using their own frames of reference including inner memories, experience and response (Van De Walle, Karp, & Bay-Williams, 2010). The fundamental argument is that this teaching strategy posits that the mind is constantly seeking meaning in context, which involves relating to the learners current environment and formulating useful relationships. The core strengths of contextual teaching strategy include relating, experiencing, applying, cooperating and transferring. On the other hand, simple story problems elaborate how the elementary learners can apply mathematical concepts learnt in class in real life situations. Elementary mathematics teacher can integrate story problems in the daily lessons in order to ensure that learners can use math concepts in their daily activities and apprehend the relevance of math. The strength of story problems is that learners perceive the usefulness of math concepts beyond the context of the classroom. This paper elaborates why a contextual problem might be more effective than simple story problem when teaching elementary mathematics.
Contextual problems are more effective than story problems because of numerous factors. First, it entails relating, which involves learning in the context of the learner’s life experiences and prior knowledge. Elementary math teachers can apply relating when a new math concept is familiar to the elementary learners; as a result, the learners connect the new concept with what they already know. Relating ensures that learners gain instant insight of the math concept because students’ learning depends on their existing ideas and they construct their own meaning irrespective of the clarity of the teacher (Van De Walle, Karp, & Bay-Williams, 2010). The second factor that makes contextual problems more effective than simple story problems is the aspect of experiencing, which serves to meet the needs of students who lack prior knowledge and relevant experience. Experience involves learning by doing, and takes place through exploration, invention and discovery. In elementary teaching, hands-on experience can involve the use of problem-solving activities and manipulatives. Manipulatives refer to simple objects that elementary learners can use to model the abstract math concepts.
The third factor that contributes towards the effectiveness of contextual problems is applying, where elementary learners learn via putting the math concepts to use. Applying is an effective contextual teaching strategy since it entails the assignment of relevant and realistic exercises. The implication of applying is that students will see significance of key math concepts in solving a realistic problem. The fourth factor that makes contextual problems more effective than simple problems is the aspect of cooperating. Realistic problem-solving exercises are usually complex, implying that individual efforts might not result in significant progress. In this scenario, elementary math teachers can enhance the effectiveness of teaching using sharing, responding and communication with other students. Cooperation helps learners to reevaluate their own understanding and value the opinion of other learners. The aspect of transferring also enhances the effectiveness of contextual teaching because it enables students to use math concepts in contexts that have not been learnt in class. This is not the case with using simple story problems when teaching elementary learners. It is vital to note that math skills are useless if learners cannot use them in real life scenarios.
In conclusion, contextual problems are more effective than simple problems because contextual teachings use five core aspects including relating, experiencing, applying, cooperating and transferring. These aspects are vital in ensuring learner’s motivation and positive academic achievements in mathematics. The gap between contextual teaching and use of simple problems is the application and relevance in real world problems.