Saturday, January 18, 2014

Word Problem Strategies for Struggling Students

Here's a homework tip from Stowell Learning for students struggling with math word problems. You can sign-up through Stowell to receive more tips. 
Do you and your child dread math word problems?  Many parents report that even if their child can do the rest of the math homework, the word problems often pose a huge "hurdle" that neither parent nor student want to "leap over."

There are two main causes for this fear:

  1. The child has a reading problem and word problems require reading,


  2. The child (and parent) is trying to solve the problem by picking out the numbers or key words without really understanding what the problem is about.

Word problems are the application of math; the part that makes math something real and relevant.

They used to be called story problems and that's how we have to think of them - as a story. You don't just pick out the pieces you want from a story. If you do that, the story won't make sense. 

Word Problem Strategy
  • Read and visualize the story. (Do one sentence at a time if necessary).

  • Have your child talk about what he/she pictured. Who was in it? What were they doing? What were they trying to find out?

  • Use the chart below to think through the information. Have your child say what he's thinking as he goes. This helps him reason through the information and develop the language that he eventually internalizes and uses on his own whenever doing word problems.

(What do I know?)
(What do I need to know?)

(Solve the problem)
Here, write the relevant information in a few words as possible.
Write the question you have to solve for.
Do the math. Be sure to label the answer.

Here is a simple problem as an example, but this strategy works with word problems of almost any level and helps students understand what they doing.

Problem: Sara and Kaitlyn were on the same swim team. On Friday morning, Sara swam 19 laps and Kaitlyn swam 23 laps. How many more laps did Kaitlin swim than Sara?

Visualize and verbalize (make a mental movie of) the story:
"I picture two girls in a swimming pool swimming laps. They both swam a lot of laps, but Sara got out after 19 laps and Kaitlin kept going until she completed 23 laps. I have to figure out how many laps Kaitlin did after Sara got out of the pool.

(To solve this, you might have to guide your child in recognizing that until Sara got out of the pool, the two girls swam the same number of laps. The difference is the number of laps Kaitlin swam once Sara got out. Whenever you are finding the difference, you will subtract the smaller number from the larger number).

WHAT do I Know?
What Do I NEED
To Know
Now Solve The Problem
S: 19 laps
K: 23 laps
How many more laps did Kaitlin swim than Sara
          4 laps
Have your child verbalize or write the full answer to the problem:
"Kaitlin swam 4 more laps than Sara."

*As with many of our tips, this takes some time at first, but the more you do it, the more independent and confident your child will get with word problems.

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