Sometimes I cringe to think about the way I used to have the kids solve word problems. In our standard problem solving model, where the first "box" requires the kids to write down important information from the problems, I would have them start at the beginning of the story and write all of the numbers with their corresponding units. But this can lead to a really packed, overbogged-down first box...
Last week, I gave the kids this problem:
Mr. Teacher has 37 hats, 28 baseballs, 19 gloves, and $640.00. He bought 3 cookies for 50 cents each. How many more hats does he have than gloves?
With my OLD technique for problem solving, most of my kids probably would have bogged down on all of the extra information. But with the NEW way, nearly everyone in the class got the question correct.
Now, instead of starting at the beginning, I have the kids start at the end. They always write the QUESTION first, and then focus in on the unit that the question is asking them to count. In this case, it's only hats and gloves. The kids were able to ignore the baseballs, the dollars, and the cookies.
The few kids who DIDN'T get the question correct are the ones who still think "how many more" is a prompt to add instead of subtract.
I have a low group of kids this year, and they have trouble retaining concepts. But they are definitely getting better at problem solving, especially when the target the question and the important units first.