, 41:605 | Cite as

Exploring strategy use and strategy flexibility in non-routine problem solving by primary school high achievers in mathematics

  • Iliada EliaEmail author
  • Marja van den Heuvel-Panhuizen
  • Angeliki Kolovou
Original Article


Many researchers have investigated flexibility of strategies in various mathematical domains. This study investigates strategy use and strategy flexibility, as well as their relations with performance in non-routine problem solving. In this context, we propose and investigate two types of strategy flexibility, namely inter-task flexibility (changing strategies across problems) and intra-task flexibility (changing strategies within problems). Data were collected on three non-routine problems from 152 Dutch students in grade 4 (age 9–10) with high mathematics scores. Findings showed that students rarely applied heuristic strategies in solving the problems. Among these strategies, the trial-and-error strategy was found to have a general potential to lead to success. The two types of flexibility were not displayed to a large extent in students’ strategic behavior. However, on the one hand, students who showed inter-task strategy flexibility were more successful than students who persevered with the same strategy. On the other hand, contrary to our expectations, intra-task strategy flexibility did not support the students in reaching the correct answer. This stemmed from the construction of an incomplete mental representation of the problems by the students. Findings are discussed and suggestions for further research are made.


Inter-task strategy flexibility Intra-task strategy flexibility Strategy use Non-routine problem solving 


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Copyright information

© FIZ Karlsruhe 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Iliada Elia
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Marja van den Heuvel-Panhuizen
    • 2
    • 3
  • Angeliki Kolovou
    • 2
  1. 1.Centre for Educational Research and EvaluationCyprus Pedagogical InstituteNicosiaCyprus
  2. 2.Freudenthal Institute for Science and Mathematics EducationUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands
  3. 3.IQBHumboldt University BerlinBerlinGermany

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