RADAR: A problem solving technique for students

RADAR is a problem solving technique for students to use in any subject area.  This gives students a plan of action no matter what unknowns they are given.  It is perfect for developing critical thinking skills, a growth mindset, and fostering student confidence and autonomy.

"I don't even know where to begin."

"I don't know what the question is asking."


"I don't know what I am even looking for."

There is nothing more frustrating for a student (and a teacher) than looking at a question or problem and having no idea what to do (I distinctly remember this feeling on my AP U.S. History exam in high school...)  Especially in a subject like math or science, you can't even fluff your way through an answer just to put something on paper.  You have to have a STRATEGY for tackling problems that may seem overwhelming at first.

My department came up with a technique called R.A.D.A.R. about four years ago, and we fell so in love with it that we were able to convince our entire school to use it.  Now students in ALL subject areas have a strategy for facing any problem on an assessment.  Of course this fleshes out a bit differently in the math/science disciplines vs. the ELA/history/languages disciplines, but the general thought process and steps are the same.  Below I detail what R.A.D.A.R. stands for and how each step applies to solving a problem. 

R - READ
Read the problem.  What is the question asking you to find?  WRITE THIS DOWN. This could be writing something like "m=?" if the question asks for you to find the mass of an object.  It could even be as simple as re-writing the last part of the question.  The key is to highlight/pull out what the end goal is from the beginning. 

A - ANALYZE
What information is given to you?  Is there anything you may need to know that isn't given to you?  LABEL ALL KNOWNS AND UNKNOWNS.  

D - DIAGNOSE
What is the best plan of action from here?  What can you do with the information given?  What equation utilizes the variables provided and what we are looking for?  CLEARLY WRITE OUT EQUATION(S) TO BE USED.

A - ASSESS
Carry out the plan you put into place.  Show step by step so you can track later if something goes wrong.  SOLVE.

R - REFLECT
Look back at what you initially labeled that you were looking for.  Did you find THIS answer?  Is your answer reasonable and logical?  If not, review all steps.  If so, you are done!!  REVIEW YOUR WORK.

I know this strategy is a lot to take in at first.  But the more students get used to always using this strategy, the more comfortable they feel with it and the more they realize they can always approach a problem with confidence because they can write SOMETHING down.  No question should EVER be left blank!! 

Benefits for students

  • Builds confidence
  • Eliminates an attitude of defeatism
  • Gives them a plan of attack
  • Fosters critical thinking skills
  • Provides them with tools to use when approaching any type of new content

Benefits for teachers

  • Allows us to hold students accountable - no more excuses for blank homework
  • Provides an opportunity to assess students on effort, progress, and process in an effective way that still pushes them to the end goal
  • Improves our understanding of what our kids really know and where their understanding is lacking
  • Makes our lives easier in the long run when delivering new content to students

3 Tips for Effective Implementation:

1.  Consistently model this strategy for students.
Any time we do ANY sort of problem solving during lecture or when reviewing homework I walk through each of these steps with students.  I say the name of the step (Okay y'all let's READ the problem) and I ask the questions above as we walk through each step (So we just read - what are we asked to find? How can we write this down in a simple way?) If you always model this strategy, it will eventually become second nature for you AND your students and over time the grumbling will be diminish, I promise.

2.  Reward points for the process. 
For homework (which I check for completion during my Prime Times and we go over as a class immediately after - aka I don't accept late work) I ONLY give students credit if they did RADAR and have evidence of all their work.  No points even if they have the correct answer for every problem.  Full points given even if they don't have ANY answers to the problems - as long as they walked through as much of the RADAR process as they could.  For some students, that is just doing RA, and that is okay.  The more they practice the better they will get with it.  This is especially helpful for students with accommodations to provide some differentiation in expectation for them, as needed.

For tests, all of my word problems are worth 4-5 points each.  Only 1 of those points is for the correct answer.  I give points for them working through each step of RADAR.  They can earn a point just for labeling what we are looking for; another point for labeling the information given; a third point for selecting the correct equation, etc.  See an example below of four different student answers to one of my test questions.  I can clearly see how students A-C attempted to walk through the RADAR strategy and where they got hung up.  The question was worth four points and every student that used RADAR at least got some points.  Only student B who didn't use RADAR missed all four points.  Even if this student had the right answer, they would have received 0 points without the work to back it up.
RADAR is a problem solving technique for students to use in any subject area.  This gives students a plan of action no matter what unknowns they are given.  It is perfect for developing critical thinking skills, a growth mindset, and fostering student confidence and autonomy.

By doing this students are not only motivated to show all their work going through RADAR, but it also makes it REALLY easy for both students and myself to go back through their work and see where they went wrong. 

3.  Get your department team or even your entire faculty on board!
This may be tricky, but makes the strategy SO MUCH MORE EFFECTIVE.  If everyone in the science department, or even everyone in the whole SCHOOL, is using this strategy students will catch on SO much quicker and won't fight you as much on it.  It will be an expectation of all teachers.  One way to motivate your fellow teachers (and to remind students of the steps) is to make signs for each teacher to hang on their white board at the front of the room.  You can edit the supplemental questions to better coordinate with your subject area.  If you are on my email list, you already received an editable download of my signs.  If not, you can join in to get them for free by clicking HERE.


I just printed mine on 5 landscape 8.5x11 sheets of paper in black and white, then cut them out and glued them to Astrobright paper before laminating.  

If you are heading back to school or just simply looking for a new way to motivate your students, I hope this problem solving technique is one that you would consider implementing.  It has been a game changer for my students and their progress!

Do you have a problem solving technique you already implement?  I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!


RADAR is a problem solving technique for students to use in any subject area.  This gives students a plan of action no matter what unknowns they are given.  It is perfect for developing critical thinking skills, a growth mindset, and fostering student confidence and autonomy.

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