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2.

3 Problem-Solving Strategies
Goals:
To apply critical thinking skills to the
solutions of quantitative problems;
To enumerate and illustrate the
processes involved in problem solving.

2.3.1 Problem Solving is an art.


No fixed rules are prescribed
No set of tools will always work

May involve many different creative processes


Many different ways may be available to address
the same problem
Requires ingenuity, experience and a bag of
tools

Mathematics has practical uses.


Misconception about Mathematics
too abstract
irrelevant
has nothing to do with real issues

The dreaded word problems attempt to


introduce relevance into mathematics
courses.

2.3.2 Problem Solving through


Unit Analysis
Numbers in real problems almost always
represent a quantity of something, such as
length, distance, area, volume.
Terms that describe a quantity are called
units or dimensions.
We learned that the meaning of a number
depends on the units associated with it.

Working with units along with numbers is


essential in problem solving.
Keeping track of units in calculations is one
of the most powerful problem-solving tools.
Units can help you find a solution to the
problem.

2.3.3 The Process of Problem Solving


Be flexible in solving problems because no
particular strategy always works.
Be creative.
Be organized.

Be logical.

Find the sum of the first 100 integers.


(Carl Friedrich Gauss)
n

i 1

100

i 1

nn 1
i
2

100100 1
i
50101 5050
2

49

50

100

99

98

52

51
7

What is the last digit of 3 802?


The powers of 3 are

3, 9, 27, 81, 243, 729,


802 = 4 times 200 + 2
3 802 = 3 4(200)+2
=3 4(200) 32
Ans. 9
8

Suggested Steps in Problem


Solving
1. Understand the problem.

2. Devise a strategy for solving the


3. Carry out your strategy, and revise if
necessary.
4. Check, interpret and explain your
solution.

problem.

1. Understand the problem.


Think about the context of the problem.
Make a list or table of the specific information
given.
Draw a picture or diagram to help you make sense
of the problem.
Restate the problem in different words to clarify its
question.
Make a mental or written model of the solution.

2. Devise a strategy for solving the


problem.
Most difficult problems require creativity,
organization and experience.
Identify and obtain any information needed to solve the
problem that was not provided in the problem statement,
using recall, estimation or research.
Make a list of possible strategies and hints that will help you
select your overall strategy.
Map out your strategy with a flow chart or diagram.
Use your tools for constructing arguments to help formulate
the strategy.

3. Carry out your strategy, and


revise it if necessary.
Here you use analytical and computational
tools as you work through the mathematical
details of the problem.
Keep an organized, neat, and written record of
your work.
Double-check each step you take to avoid errors.
Constantly re-evaluate your strategy as you work.

4. Check, interpret and explain your


solution.
Be sure that your result makes sense. Does it
have the expected units? Is the value reasonable?
Check the specifics of your result.
Identify and understand potential sources of
uncertainty in your result.
Consider and discuss any pertinent implications
of your result.

2.3.4 Strategic Hints for Problem


Solving
To help you develop a mind set that is
conducive to enjoyable and successful problem
solving.
There may be more than one answer. Nonunique solutions may occur because not
enough information is available to distinguish
among a variety of possibilities.

There may be more than one method.


Use appropriate tools.
Consider simpler, similar problems.
Consider equivalent problems with simpler solutions.
Do not be reluctant to use approximations.

Try alternative patterns of work.


Do not spin your wheels.

Conclusion
Working with the units of a problem, as well as
with the numbers, is one of the best problemsolving techniques.

Problem solving is more of an art than a


science, and requires both creativity and
organization.
The only sure way to improve at problem
solving is by doing it.

Write a mathematical expression for each


of the following:

The sum of 2 numbers


Ans.

Let x and y be the numbers.

x+y
The reciprocal of a number
Ans.

Let x be the number.


1/x

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The sum of 3 consecutive natural numbers


Ans. Let n be the first natural number

n+ (n+1)+(n+2)
The reciprocal of the sum of 2 numbers
Ans. Let x and y be the numbers

1
x y
18

The sum of reciprocals of 2 numbers


Ans. Let x and y be the numbers

1 1

x y

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Detecting errors

1 sin2
Prove that
cos .
cos
Proof 1 :
Proof 2 :
2
1 sin
2
2
cos
1 sin cos
cos

cos
cos
cos

2
2
1 sin cos

20

Solve for x in x 3 x 0
2

solution 1 :
x 3x
2

solution 2 :
x 3x 0
2

x x 3 0
x 3

x 0 or x 3

21

Solve for x in x 3 x
2

solution 1 :

solution 2 :

x 3x
2

x 3x 0
2

x x 3 0
x3

Ans. (0,3)

+
+

+
-

3
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