Friday, October 23, 2009

What's the Problem? That's the Problem!

Oh, the age old problem...Word Problems!  Kids hate em.  They don't get em.  When you mention the two words the squirming in the seats begins.  The collective "Ugh!" ensues.  All of a sudden the teachers words sound like the teacher in Charlie Brown "Wha Wha Wha".  (If that didn't happen already.)

My goal this year in sixth grade is to break this vicious cycle of "Word Problem Phobia".  I want to get to the bottom of this.  I want to know exactly the reasons why each year there is a phobia, dislike, hatred for word problems.

I contend and tell the students that every single problem they will ever have to solve in their lives is a word problem.  That math they need to solve is connected to something, whether a trip to the grocery store, a home improvement project, or planning for a birthday party.  You never have to do a math problem just for fun, unless you want to.  (See last week's blog on Ken Ken's.)

So how will I get to the bottom of this?  How will this age old problem be fixed?  I'm not quite sure, but I will give it the "Old Intermediate School Try"!

Here's the plan:

~ Give them lots of word problems.
~ Not understanding what is being asked is the big problem.  Solving the wrong problem using the wrong numbers is the most common issue. So I will try to teach them specific reading strategies to help understand the problem.  We do this in reading, we will apply these same skills to math!
~ Teach them a system of how to organize the information and how to show the work for any problem.
~ The students will work together and help each other.  Isn't that how problems in real life are solved?
~ We will solve authentic problems that affect their daily lives.
~ We will use resources such as the wonderful book Comprehending Math by Arthur Hyde.
~ We will try to make it fun and exciting, not Charlie Brownish.
~ I will seek help from others.  Will you help me?  If you have any thoughts, ideas, suggestions, complaints, please let me know.  I am looking for input.

My next problem is to figure out how to get my kids to sleep. That's a serious word problem. (Ugh!)

Stay tuned. I will keep you posted.

1 comment:

  1. As I reach back into the distant past (retired 5 years already), I recall your dilemma as being my single biggest challenge. One of the things I learned quickly was to toss out the prepackaged problem solving stuff publishers love selling us. They had little or no relevance to the lives of the average 5/6 grade student. I learned quickly that kids often come up with their own meaningful and relevant problems. I remember taking one class per week, say Monday, and devoting it to team work whereby kids made up their own real-life word problems. Then we set about solving them as the week wore on. One example was a couple of kids whose parents said they could paint their rooms if they paid for it. Presto! A word problem. How many square feet of wall space were they painting? How many gallons of paint would be needed? How much was the paint and related equipment? They actually went to the Color Center in Newtown and did the research. I don't know if it helps but you're definitely on the right track to making math meaningful for kids. Great work. Sometimes I wish I were still at it-almost!