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Problem-solving Strategies

Date: 11/01/2001 at 20:53:01
From: Denise
Subject: Problem solving strategies for word problems

I have a child in my seventh grade math class who is very bright, but 
has difficulty with word problems. I have asked her to answer such 
questions as: what do I need to solve, what information do I know, 
and what mathematical operation will help me answer the question?
Up to this point I have not been very successful with teaching her 
strategies to solve word problems.

My question is, is there any other suggestion you can make that might 
be helpful to this young lady?

Date: 11/02/2001 at 20:26:10
From: Doctor Mitteldorf
Subject: Re: Problem solving strategies for word problems

Dear Denise,

Being able to relate the world in mathematical terms is the end result 
of everything that we do as math teachers. Good word problems are 
exactly what the student needs to bridge the gap between reality and 
abstract mathematics. It takes practice for all of us, and it takes 
more practice for some.

So I have three suggestions:

1. Be patient. This is a big, important thing you're teaching her.  
   Scale back your other goals for her if necessary so she has plenty 
   of time and plenty of practice.

2. Work with problems that she already can do, then move to problems 
   that are on the edge of her ability. If the problems she's facing 
   are too hard, she's not getting anything out of them. If you tell 
   her the solution, that doesn't change the fact that she's not 
   learning from the problems. Back off to problems that, with 
   concentration and effort, she can do herself.

3. Teach her computer programming. Learning to translate verbal 
   descriptions into algorithms is the essence of modeling the world 
   in mathematics. This is a fresh approach, and everything she learns 
   in programming will help her to be more adept with word problems.

 - Doctor Mitteldorf, The Math Forum   
Associated Topics:
Middle School Word Problems

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