According to Resnick (1987) a problem-solving approach contributes to the practical use of mathematics by helping people to develop the facility to be adaptable when, for instance, technology breaks down. (Eds.) Professional Development for Teachers of Mathematics , pp. An Agenda for Action: Recommendations for School Mathematics of the 1980s, Reston, Virginia: NCTM.
It can thus also help people to transfer into new work environments at this time when most are likely to be faced with several career changes during a working lifetime (NCTM, 1989). National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) (1989).
A further reason why a problem-solving approach is valuable is as an aesthetic form.
Problem solving allows the student to experience a range of emotions associated with various stages in the solution process.
'If education fails to contribute to the development of the intelligence, it is obviously incomplete.
Yet intelligence is essentially the ability to solve problems: everyday problems, personal problems ... Modern definitions of intelligence (Gardner, 1985) talk about practical intelligence which enables 'the individual to resolve genuine problems or difficulties that he or she encounters' (p.60) and also encourages the individual to find or create problems 'thereby laying the groundwork for the acquisition of new knowledge' (p.85).
As the emphasis has shifted from teaching problem solving to teaching via problem solving (Lester, Masingila, Mau, Lambdin, dos Santon and Raymond, 1994), many writers have attempted to clarify what is meant by a problem-solving approach to teaching mathematics.
The focus is on teaching mathematical topics through problem-solving contexts and enquiry-oriented environments which are characterised by the teacher 'helping students construct a deep understanding of mathematical ideas and processes by engaging them in doing mathematics: creating, conjecturing, exploring, testing, and verifying' (Lester et al., 1994, p.154).
As was pointed out earlier, standard mathematics, with the emphasis on the acquisition of knowledge, does not necessarily cater for these needs.
Resnick (1987) described the discrepancies which exist between the algorithmic approaches taught in schools and the 'invented' strategies which most people use in the workforce in order to solve practical problems which do not always fit neatly into a taught algorithm.