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Saturday, February 19, 2011


As I posted about a few weeks ago, I've been trying a new method with word problems with my kids. One that has them focus more on the question first and only on the aspects of the problem that they really need. I've been pretty encouraged by how it's gone. Clearly, some of the kids are still a little tied to the old system, which makes me think that if I start the new method from day 1 next year, it will be even better.

Still, the kids this year are coming along pretty well. On Wednesday, I had a problem solving day. I gave each pair of kids a word problem that had extra information or some other trick in it, and had them work together to solve it on a big piece of paper. I found that the kids weren't quite as far along the slope as I had thought they were. Some of them weren't paying attention to the units or dividing when they should be multiplying, or making their tables all wrong. A lot of the extra information was being included in the "See" box, when it should be ignored. But we talked about things, and I think got a lot set right.

Then on Thursday, I presented them with "The Big One." I made up the biggest, longest, most complicated problem that I've given them all year. Here's what it said:

Billy and his 3 friends caught 18 worms on Saturday. Then they went to a restaurant and bought 5 hamburgers for a total of $10.50. Each boy ate 12 french fries. Each boy got 3 napkins. Then they saw 6 of their friends. How many french fries did Billy and his friends eat in all?

I set them loose on this bad boy, and I was very pleased to see most of them get it right. For the most part, the kids did not circle or include the extra information in the "see" box. Nobody got fooled by the napkin sentence. Even the kids who got it wrong, were close. They only counted 3 boys and forgot Billy, or they added the 6 friends who were seen at the end.

This gives me hope that maybe my kids ARE becoming better "math detectives" after all!

Now if I could just get them to learn their times tables!!!


elysabeth said...

I remember seeing your explanation of what to do to solve the problems - lol but for the life of me I couldn't picture the diagram when reading thsi problem. Now I consider myself a pretty decent math person and had you not mentioned the fact that some forgot Billy - I wouldn't have solved the problem immediately. Simple multiplication - 4 boys x 12 fries each = 48 - tada -lol. (I hope that if they included the 6 friends - that they at least came up with the answer 120 fries total)

Maybe like you said starting this method at the very beginning will mean your students next year will get it by the time you throw out such wordy word problems.

This is kind of what happened with the teacher I work with doing virtual class visits during his writing time - we started out by using a friend's book - Teaching the Story - and found that writing wasn't going like it really should so we went back to the way he was teaching before so because we kind of started over, we don't feel we have accomplished as much as we should in the class time. So he decided to not start with the book but to use it as a supplement to the way he was teaching the information.

Good luck with your new math adventure - E :)

Elysabeth Eldering
Author of the Junior Geography Dectective Squad, 50-state, mystery, trivia series

Where will the adventure take you next?

Melissa B. said...

Oh, word problems always made my head hurt when I was that age! Probably something to do with my numbers dyslexia...

Mister Teacher said...

Elysabeth, like I said, the kids did really well with this. By starting with the question -- How many FRIES did they eat? -- they were able to bypass all of the extra information.

elysabeth said...

I'm glad they are getting the word problems with this new method. So here's one for you about my books - An author has 50 books to write. Her first book was published in 2008. By the end of 2010, she had five books in the series published. If she is publishing five books a year, when will the 50th book be published? - Go for it - E :)

Just an FYI - my teacher's guides do kind of go cross curriculum and book #3 - State of Reservations - has a map/math skills activity in the teacher's guide - if interested in the book/study guide - let me know - maybe you can use some of the info in your word problems -

Elysabeth Eldering
Author of the Junior Geography, Detective Squad, 50-state, mystery, trivia series.

Where will the adventure take you next?