Situational Math problems

January 13, 2020 0 By sophie

What are Situational Math Problems?

Situational math problems are something that was highlighted to me at our monitoring meeting as being important within the Quebec math curriculum. This starts from Grade 1 in the Elementary Cycle and goes all the way through the school system. I believe some of the ministerial exams have pages and pages of working out a problem. Worryingly there aren’t any example exam papers that can be referred to in order to prepare. This is quite shocking to me – coming from the Irish educational system where there are no mandatory ministerial exams to start with and the exam process is very transparent.

Information on situational problems was quite sparse:

From the Quebec Progression of Learning Document:

During Cycle One, the students learn how to identify the relevant information in a situational problem. They see how the information given in the situational problem relates to the assigned task.They also learn how to model a situational problem, apply different strategies and rectify their solution in light of their results and discussions with their classmates.

By the end of this cycle, the students solve a situational problem based on complete information. They determine the task to be performed and find the relevant information by using different types of representations such as objects, drawings, tables, graphs, symbols or words. They work out a solution involving one or two steps and occasionally check the result. Using basic mathematical language, they explain their solution (procedure and final answer) orally or in writing.


I have struggled to relate this to the Grade 1 curriculums we have been looking at, but am starting to make more sense of it now. The essence of situational math problems seems to be that the questions are composed of words, and there are multiple possible ways to find an answer. You’re not just computing equations. This does make sense – I always found applied maths much more practical and easy to understand than theorems full of equations when I was in school. The downside is that if exam questions are set up so that you can only do part B if you’ve figured out part A etc etc then that can be very intimidating. I wanted to get concrete examples of these kinds of problems at our grade levels.


Researching Situational Math Problems

Here’s an example of a word-based problem instead of an equation-based problem.

Some background reading material I found online included:

To solve a situational problem – Elementary Cycle One – from April 2013

Problem-based Learning Using Situational Problems in Math from the Sir Wilfred Laurier Schoolboard

Grade 8 Math Test and Grade 9 Math test from this website by a Math teacher which has a number of blog posts with good practical teaching examples.

A situational problem for Quebec Grade 10 Math

Nelson Catalog for Quebec Secondary level


Math Problems versus Situational Problems

I had better luck searching for grade 1 ‘word problems’. This gave me plenty of examples to look at from other countries and curriculums. However there is a difference between word problems and situational problems. Word problems typically only have a couple of steps to get to the solution. A situational problem is longer (can take up to a couple of hours to solve), covers more than one concept, requires more thinking and problem solving… and can have multiple answers.

First Grade Math Word Problems

Grade 1 Problem Solving

Word problems for Kindergarten to Grade 5

Another search term to use is project based math problems.


Concrete examples of situational problems that I’ve come across are things like planning an event or going on a camping trip. This can include budgeting, arranging supplies, planning layouts or routes to take.


Note: I am in no way qualified when it comes to teaching, maths, or the Quebec curriculum. You should do your own research to make sure that you’re covering the material you need to in your own situation.