Problem solving was a major focus of mathematics education research in the US from the mid-1970s though the late 1980s. By the mid-1990s research under the banner of “problem solving” was seen less frequently as the field’s attention turned to other areas. However, research in those areas did incorporate some ideas from the problem solving research, and that work continues to evolve in important ways. In curricular terms, the problem solving research of the 1970s and 1980s (see, e.g., Lester in J Res Math Educ, 25(6), 660–675, 1994, and Schoenfeld in Handbook for research on mathematics teaching and learning, MacMillan, New York, pp 334–370, 1992, for reviews) gave birth to the “reform” or “standards-based” curriculum movement. New curricula embodying ideas from the research were created in the 1990s and began to enter the marketplace. These curricula were controversial. Despite evidence that they tend to produce positive results, they may well fall victim to the “math wars” as the “back to basics” movement in the US is revitalized.
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As is often the case, such statements are over-simplifications. Many of the ideas from the post-Sputnik curricula (e.g., “hands-on science” and aspects of problem solving) took hold over succeeding decades, and a new generation of researchers in mathematics education came into being because of the reaction to Sputnik.
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I am grateful to Frank Lester, Günter Törner, and Bettina Rösken for their very thoughtful and helpful comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript.
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Schoenfeld, A.H. Problem solving in the United States, 1970–2008: research and theory, practice and politics. ZDM Mathematics Education 39, 537–551 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11858-007-0038-z
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