I really love doing Facebook LIVE presentations. I particularly enjoy it when I have the opportunity to talk about something that strikes a chord with homeschool parents. We did a Facebook LIVE video talking about working with students and mathematical word problems. It was like touching that third electrified rail in so far as how people feel about word problems! It would be fair to divide us into two groups:
1) Those who find word problems to be fascinating puzzles.
2) The rest of us, who really do not have an affection for word problems.
In the interest of true confession, I have never been a particular fan of mathematics. You can assign me the task of diagraming sentences all day long. In my opinion, word problems can be sometimes inscrutable.
Steve Demme (the author of Math-U-See) said to me once, “Well, Gretchen, you know when you solve math problems as an adult, they ARE word problems.” Point taken. While I would not say I love word problems to this day, I no longer have an adversarial relationship with them. One of the things I’ve always loved about Math-U-See is taking the sting out of word problems by making them a part of the daily lessons. What, however, do you do if you did not start your mathematical journey with Math-U-See?
We as parents have to be able to model for our children how to meet the challenge of word problems head on, and toward that end I want to share with you some of the tips that were shared in the Facebook LIVE video. I also have some things to say about math anxiety in adults.
You can also watch the video below, if you prefer.
Below you will find several tips to implement when working with word problems with your children. These tips are applicable, regardless of the age of your student, their mathematical experience, or even the level of Math-U-See in which they are working. As always, I am indebted to our tremendous customer service team. They are the contributors of much of my list here. You do know, of course, that being a member of the Demme Learning family means that you can call our team and ask for help if you are having a struggle. We want your success!
10 Ways to Make Word Problems Fun
1) Start With Fresh Eyes
If you are just completing a math lesson, and have already been at it for 15-20 minutes, take a break before you begin the word problems. Stand up and do some jumping jacks, have a snack, take a break. Then sit back down to the word problems.
2) Read the Word Problem All the Way Through First
Read the word problem all the way through first; don’t worry about the numbers in the word problem. Then ask yourself and your student, “do we understand what it’s all about”? Are there any new terms we are unsure of here? Are there words we don’t know?
3) Reread the Word Problem Again
Reread the word problem again; out loud is best. I know that reading out loud seems silly, but it is tremendously helpful.
4) Skip the Numbers
Sometimes in the reading out loud is it helpful to just skip the numbers altogether. Instead of reading the number, add some humor by saying “BEEP” instead of the number. Humor really DOES help learning! You can change the names of the people in the word problems to your children, their friends, or even their favorite super hero.
5) Circle Keywords
Are there keywords you can circle? “Sum”, “in all” and “all together” usually mean addition. “How many are left/remaining”, or “What is the difference” usually means subtraction. The word of is an important one as in “1/4 of 12” or “5/10 of a dollar” means you are being instructed to multiply. There are other key math words that may help you analyze a word problem – but be careful.
Depending on key words alone does not encourage students to think mathematically about a problem or use logic to reason toward a solution. Sometimes key words do not appear in problems, or additional operations may be required to find the final answer Encourage them to take the whole of the word problem in context. Make sure you both understand what the problem is asking before seeking out those individual words.
6) Rewrite the Word Problem
If word problems cause anxiety in your child, help them become the drafter of word problems. For example: 12-7= ? That is the computation. Have your student create a situation to accompany those numbers. Developing a proficiency in creating word problems really helps students develop confidence in analyzing them.
7) Word Problem Writers Are Sneaky
Remind your student that those who write word problems are a sneaky lot. They will put in information that is not necessary just to throw a student off track. If irrelevant information is a challenge for your student, try creating some word problems that contain unnecessary information. Help them become proficient in knowing what is not necessary – that is a life skill in and of itself!
8) Consult the Instruction Manual
If there is a lesson in the Math-U-See curriculum that is giving you a particular challenge, make very sure you have consulted the corresponding lesson pages in the instruction manual. We always provide instruction for the how as well as the why, and often, if a family is challenged with a lesson, we find that the answers they seek can be found in the lesson manual pages.
9) Review the Questions
Word problems need to be answered in words too. Make sure that you have answered the question in words. Further, does your answer make mathematical sense? Can you plug your answer back into the word problem and work it out to to see that it is indeed correct? Remember this step. This leads to frustration for a student who has worked hard, and perhaps not found the right answer.
Just like any skill, learning to negotiate word problems is something that happens over time. You are not going to be an overnight success (most of the time). But if you, as the parent, can stay affirmative and encouraging, you can make a tremendous difference for your student.
In conclusion, I realize that this blog post is long. The information will be helpful to you. If you still want more, we offer more help with word problems on our parent resource page:
Word Problem Tips [PDF]
We do need to have a conversation about what our math anxiety does to our children. Look for that blog post to come in the near future. We want you and your student to have success in all your mathematical endeavors!