Mary E. Baker

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching & Learning


Problem solving is now an integral part of the teaching of mathematics in elementary classrooms. Accordingly, preservice teacher education students need to be prepared to teach mathematics utilizing problem solving as both a pedagogical methodology and as a heuristic that should be actively taught to students. The purpose of this study was to examine the mathematical problem solving skills of preservice teacher education students.

Twenty-seven students enrolled in one of two sections of an elementary mathematics methods course in an upper midwestern university during the fall term of 2003 participated in the study. Variables examined in the study included problem solving, math anxiety, and approach to learning as defined by strategies associated with the three approaches: surface, strategic, and deep. The relationships between the variables were also studied.

Students related the extent to which they perceived that they experienced math anxiety and employed the strategies associated with problem solving and the three approaches to learning through their responses to pre- and postcourse administrations of the Mathematics Information Processing Scale survey. These students indicated that they employed problem solving strategies and that the strategies used increased by the end of the course. Students also indicated that they typically experienced math anxiety and this neither increased nor decreased significantly by the end of this course. Math anxiety was not correlated to problem solving on the pre-course survey, but it was on the post.

The most common approach to learning reported by these preservice students was the Strategic Study approach, both before and after the course. By the end of the course, the Deep-Associative Study approach supplanted the Surface-Disintegrated Study approach for second place. This indicated growth in these preservice teacher education students as mathematicians and problem solvers since the Surface approach to learning has negative connotations and the Deep approach is a much more positive and deeply intrinsic approach to learning. Positive correlations were found between both the Strategic Study and Deep-Associative study approaches to learning and problem solving. No correlation was found between the Surface-Disintegrated study approach and problem solving.