Why are Word Problems so important and so challenging.

Math word problems are an important aspect of mathematics and that is why they appear in every stage of learning math. They involve a lot more than just solving equations and applying algorithms.  They require good reading comprehension skills, critical thinking, and creativity. They help children realize the connection between math and real-life and they are an important assessment tool for teachers and parents.

Comprehension

When solving a word problem students need to understand the “story” that the problem tells and identify the useful information. Often in word-problems, there are keywords that guide the students. Therefore, the reading comprehension skills of a student play a big role when solving word problems.

Make a plan/ select a strategy

After reading and a word problem the students are required to form a plan that will lead them to the solution. First, they need to be clear of “what they are looking for” and understand the question. Then they identify the important/useful information, the details that will help them solve the problem. (They can underline it). Next, they select a strategy or a combination of strategies that will help them visualize and solve the problem.

Some strategies are:

  • Draw a picture or a diagram
  • Find a pattern
  • Make a table or a list
  • Work backward
  • Act it out/role play
  • Write a number sentence

Problem-solving strategies can be taught and practiced. After practicing specific strategies with the appropriate problems students will be able to select the correct strategy on their own. Of course, the same problem may be solved with more than one strategy and students have a choice. Strategies practiced with simple problems can be applied in more advanced ones.  (find more about problem-solving strategies here

Explaining/ using math language

Explaining how they solved a problem and why, and retracing their own steps gives students the opportunity to use mathematical language, and communicate their understanding. That makes their understanding stronger and boosts their confidence.

Critical thinking prepares students for real-world problems

When they identify the important information and work on a plan to solve the problem the students are learning rules and logic that prepares them for real-world situations when they face a challenge. They practice accepting challenges and showing perseverance. They are reminded to use their common sense and logic to tackle a problem. Coming up with your own way of solving a problem shows deep understanding, critical thinking, and creativity.

Math’s connection to real life

Word problems often are taken from everyday life situations and they describe a problem that a child or a grown-up will have to solve. For example,

Helen invited 20 friends to her birthday party. Every friend will get two slices of pizza, two cookies, and a juice box. If the pizzas come in 8 pieces,  how many pizzas should Helen order?

This is a real-life problem that students can relate to, a problem that needs to be solved with math. This reminds students that math is everywhere, is connected to life and it is very useful.

Assessment

Solving math word problems requires a deep understanding of concepts and strategies and good reasoning skills. It is, therefore, a great assessment tool for teachers and parents, as it helps them ascertain which skills have been mastered by the students and which areas need more work. Students are required to show their way of thinking, (to show their work ) which allows the teacher/parent to clearly understand where a student needs help.

Some students love to solve word problems and enjoy the challenge. However, for some students solving word problems are a dreaded activity. Math word problems can be interesting and exciting and bring life into math. Teachers and parents can encourage students to have a positive attitude toward word -problems by using real objects to visualize word problems, by teaching and practicing problem-solving strategies,  and by presenting word-problems in an attractive and exciting way, in the form of games or quests.

Without a doubt, word problems are a valuable part of mathematics,  that teaches students how to become independent creative thinkers and equips them with skills and principles to solve real-life problems. Word problems connect reality and mathematics and provide teachers and parents with a great assessment tool.

Solve word problems:

  • Read the problem carefully ( even out loud to yourself)
  • Think “What do I need to find?”
  • List the given information.
  • Find the keywords
  • Select a strategy (or strategies)
  • Solve
  • Check your work

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