Picture Perfect Problem Solvers

Maker Art: Inventing a Time Machine at the Lycee by Fabrice Florin
Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (no adaptations were made to this photograph)
License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fabola/31451848774/

Many students need to draw a picture or have a visual in order to solve a problem. I was always this type of student, and I still am to this day. As a Mathematics teacher, I am finding that using images in the development of critical thinking skills is crucial. Our reading for this week, Using Images to Teach Critical Thinking Skills: Visual Literacy and Digital Photography by Diane M. Cordell clearly outlined this idea and its connection to visual literacy.

“The printed word is a human artifact.” (Cordell, p. 4) What an interesting statement. How could it be that something used for so long is now an artifact? Well, let us think about the transformation of classrooms in general. Students have iPads, Chrome Books, phones, etc. that can all be used in class. Students have access to applications that provide visual learning opportunities. My immediate reaction as a teacher is to hesitate when using technology because it is not something I am used to in the classroom. However, these new visual aids have proved to be beneficial and advance student learning.

Furthermore, my students always seem to be more motivated when there is a visual learning opportunity. I even often hear myself saying, “If you do not understand a problem, draw a picture first.” This is a constant line that comes out of the mouths of teachers. We immediately go to the visual when the information does not seem to make sense. Isn’t that what critical thinking is all about? Students should be able to think about solving problems in a new way. There may only be one answer. However, there are infinitely many ways to solve one problem.

Let’s think of one example of this. What if this question was posed:

Mr. Clark is buying soda for a birthday party. There are 39 guests coming, and each case of soda holds 7 cans. How many cases of soda does Mr. Clark need to buy so that each person gets one soda?

As a mathematician, my mind immediately goes to times tables.

7 cans x 6 cases = 42 cans. So, there will be 3 left over.

However, most students that are answering this question are in elementary school. Times tables are not always the first thing that come to mind. That’s where visual literacy and critical thinking come into play. Take a look at a similar problem below solved with visuals:

Thus, critical thinking and visual literacy link together in order to create these picture perfect problem solvers.

One thought on “Picture Perfect Problem Solvers

  1. Hi Emily, I like the way you practiced what you preach (so to speak) in this post by using not only words but relevant images to engage your readers!

    I was intrigued by this blog post about Using Visual Representations in Mathematics on a site that shares stratgies for teaching differently abled students. Of course the principles of Universal Design for Learning would suggest (as you have) that thses ideas would be interesting ways to enhance instruction for all learners.



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