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Q&A #18332


Help with word problems needed!

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From: Claire (for Teacher2Teacher Service)
Date: Mar 14, 2007 at 21:00:30
Subject: Re: Help with word problems needed!

Hi, Allison --

Thanks for writing to T2T. Word problems trip up so many kids. I'm glad
you're working on them. It's really critical that they learn math in the
context of problems. It gives them a basis for judging whether their answer
makes sense, and helps them understand there is a purpose behind all the
procedures they're asked to learn.

It's difficult, without knowing more about the child, to know whether her
problem lies in understanding the written language per se, or in
"translating" it into math. Understanding what the problem means is different
than knowing what to do about it! Here are some things you might try:

1. After she reads the problem, ask her to restate it in her own words.

2. Ask her to list all the things she knows from the story, and what she
needs to find out.

3. If you sense that her problem is more generally in processing written
language, try to skeletonize the problems. Remove extraneous words while you
are focusing on the math ideas, almost like a telegram.

4. Ask her to estimate what she thinks the answer should be (about). Should
it be a higher or lower number? What are the units attached to the answer?

5. Ask her to draw a picture/diagram to represent the problem, or use
objects/counters to act it out.

6. Give her practice in making up her own problems. "The answer is 5. Make up
the problem." Or show her a picture with countable objects and ask her to
make up a problem. You learn a lot about children's understanding when they
make up the problems.

7. If you have access to Everyday Math materials, maybe at your college, have
a look at some of the diagrams they use in early grades. "Parts-and-total,"
"change to more/less", and "comparison" boxes help children conceptualize and
model problem situations. Also have her use number lines and number grids
when solving problems to stress the order and pattern in our number system.

I encourage people not to focus on "key words." They can be very misleading
and we really want kids to spend their energy visualizing and understanding
the problem, rather than memorizing/recalling rules.

Look in your college library or bookstore for a book by Marilyn Burns: About
Teaching Mathematics: A K-8 Resource. It's a gold mine for anyone teaching
elementary math.

I hope this is helpful. I'd be interested in hearing how any of these work.
Please write again if you have any questions. Good luck in your career!

 -Claire, for the T2T service

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