Math Word Problem Solving

Instead of dismissing the context of word problems, teachers should take time with students to make sense of word problems and their supporting context. Teachers should push back against students' compulsion to calculate by focusing on the relationship between the knowns and unknowns in word problems, and not rush to find an answer (Kieran, 2014). By situating mathematics in contexts that are understandable for students, word problems encourage students to pursue solution strategies that make sense to them and lead more often to correct answers (Koedinger & Nathan, 2004).

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Math teachers are often concerned about students' abilities to transfer classroom learning into the world beyond the classroom, but this "suspension of sense-making" shows that the reverse is also difficult – students struggle to apply their knowledge and understanding of the world back into a mathematics classroom.

Having been conditioned with years of arithmetic, almost always involving obvious operations and the expectation that each problem has a correct answer, students develop a "compulsion to calculate" (Stacey & Mac Gregor, 1999) that can interfere with the development of the algebraic thinking that is usually needed to solve word problems.

There is no reason that this should end in early childhood.

Students at all levels should engage in mathematics in a sensible context before it is made formal and symbolic. Segal (Eds.), Informal reasoning and education (pp.

Some types of word problems might be particularly useful for promoting reasoning because they either lack an obvious strategy, don't have one right answer, or could be "tricky" for students who assume the problem is straightforward.

Some examples: Verschaffel, De Corte, and Lasure (1994) used these word problems to see if students would reason differently with the odd- and even-numbered items.

Word problems are not just for applications of already-known mathematics. Grouws (Ed.), Handbook of research on mathematics teaching and learning (pp. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

In fact, the most powerful way to use word problems in the classroom is as a means to help students learn math. Learning to think mathematically: Problem solving, metacognition, and sense making in mathematics.

Brian Bushart, an elementary teacher and mathematics curriculum coordinator from Texas, popularized the idea of "numberless word problems" after a colleague tried the approach with some third-grade students. Teachers’ and researchers’ beliefs about the development of algebraic reasoning.

Numberless word problems aren’t entirely new, as the book (Gillan, 1909) presented something vaguely similar in the early 20th century. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 31(2), 168–190.


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