Children's experiences with word problems are often unsuccessful and the cause of great stress among fourth graders. In the past, students may have been assigned a page of word problems that appear in a text book that follow a lesson in a particular operation and simply require applying that operation. If, however, the problems on the page require a mix of operations, of if they require several steps and operations in one problem, many students are at a loss.
Students ask questions like, "Do I need to multiply or divide?" They arrive at answers that don't make sense when considered in the context of the situation. When approaching word problems, students often wonder what they need to DO to get the answer, rather than HOW they can make sense out of the situation.
Assigning students word problems to solve does little more than test their ability to solve word problems. They provide reinforcement and practice for students who already know how to solve the problems. They are frustrating for students who don't know and adds to their level of negativity towards math.
In this lesson, my focus is to direct students attention on how to get an answer by focusing on what can be asked from a typical word-problem situation. This activity is only ONE of MANY that can help students in problem solving.
I begin this lesson by organizing the students in small groups of 3 to 4. I want groups to be able to maximize their opportunity to collaborate in their thinking and benefit from others' ideas. Once students are settled in their group I display the word problem information sheet.
Then I explain what students will do in the lesson. First, students will (by themselves) write a question that can be answered from the information on the board about Four Georgians students and Husky Hut. Then, for the second part, students will read their questions aloud in their groups. After each question is read, students discuss as a group whether the question can be answered from the information given. After that, students will, as a group, think of as many questions as they can that can be answered from the same information. Students will record the questions on a sheet of paper. I ask the group to NOT include the questions students wrote individually in order to allow for group collaboration.
In this video, you can see and hear just how difficult and challenging this task can be for some students. Seeing this video reminds me how important it is for students to have many varied problem solving experiences every day in math class. Listen in as this group talks through a question with me and discovers whether or not the question they create can be answered by the information given. You can click here to see a sample question as well.
Watch in this video, a group of students discussing a problem. The group is struggling with a question one member has come up with. They feel like it doesn't make sense. You can listen in as I guide the groups thinking. Here is another group question.
Of course, when students work in groups, problems sometimes arise between group members. Listen in to this video and my suggestion to the group.
When most groups have discussed and written several questions, I lead a brief discussion with the entire class and ask group volunteers to share their questions. As a class we decide if the question can be answered with the information provided.