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Topic: Reverse word problems
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Zack Booth

Posts: 1
Registered: 12/3/04
Reverse word problems
Posted: Dec 3, 2001 7:29 PM
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As a math tutor, I've been using a little game recently I call
"reverse word problems" to help students obtain some shred of meaning
from the page-fulls of meaningless symbolic manipulation they are
asked to do by their books. I often find that the books
over-emphasize method and under-emphasize meaning. It's like
teaching someone to use a drill but never explaining why on earth you
would want a hole. I ask my students: "What is math about" and I
always get the same answer: "numbers". To this I reply: "that's like
saying literature is about letters! No, math like lit. is about life,
people, the world, the universe, and everything! If you only look at
the letters of a book and never read their meaning you haven't read
the book!"

Anyway, my game is: given an equation in the book, give me a word
problem that matches it. Bonus points for creativity and using
elephants. At first they don't get it. I say, OK: "1+1: I found an
elephant on my door step and started feeding it. Three months later
my elephant unexpectedly had a baby (what do I know about elephant
motherhood?) so how many elephants do I have to feed now?"

Ah, OK, they say. Then I give them 4+5 and they come up with
something. I do a couple of those and then I give them 2 * 3 and then
the x * 3 + 1, etc. I've been impressed with some (not all) student's
ability to play this game and have found for some it created a really
surprising sudden interest in what they had thought was totally
esoteric. When one girl ("I hate math, I don't see the point") played
it she came up with a problem concerning used-cars on 200*x + 100. I
asked her where she got that idea and found out that her father sells
cars. Hooray, I thought, now she get it!

I was interested to know if anyone else has used this technique and
what your results have been.


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