Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Students Hate Word Problems

Today, I quizzed my Advanced Algebra 2 students and part of the quiz included Linear Programming problems. They did poorly. Part of it may be that we did it before Thanksgiving, and part of it may be they just don't care about word problems. As they came into class today, several of them commented something along the lines of "I hate word problems. Why do we have to do word problems?" My answer was that word problems are the application of the mathematics, and it shows you where in the "real-world" that the mathematics is used. They weren't thrilled.

Over the last few years, I have taught word problems less and less. Mainly, this has been because we have so much material to cover in Algebra 2 and I have to make sure they are prepared for state tests as well. But I also realize I am doing them a disservice. Word problems are the application. How are they going to be able to apply the mathematics?

So how do you get students to not hate word problems? I know part of the answer is along the lines of what Dan Meyer is doing, but, let's face it, it's kind of hard to do that with Algebra 2 topics. So, what's the answer? How do you get students (particularly ones who have not done much with word problems for many reasons), to not hate word problems?


edurkin said...

Maybe authentic word problems are an answer: get kids to find their own data and answer problems, eg find out data on growth of facebook users, then do an exponential function and solve equations using logs to find when there will be y users, etc. This week I am having kids do experiments to see inverse variation relationships. Relationship between diameter and height of set amount of water in various cylindrical containers; "apparent" height of object vs distance from viewer etc.

The idea of an "opening" problem is quite nice for kids to see the connection between math and its applications. For a new unit or topic, give an opening problem, get them to discuss how to solve it and what they need to learn in order to solve it. Then as a class, do the learning, and come back to the problem when you are ready to solve it.

I know the big issue is good old "time". If it is time that is a constraint, it is the curriculum that needs modifying, maybe.

Riley said...

Word problems are not the application. Applications are the application.

I'm not just trying to be cheeky here - what's hard about math in life outside the classroom is thinking of possible strategies and then figuring out what you'd have to know to use those strategies and then figuring out how to know those things.

I don't think you should feel that bad about cutting word problems out. If you want to teach them to apply math, bring in a physical object and ask a question about it - I have some ideas at http://larkolicio.us/blog/?page_id=400

Anonymous said...

Lisa, there is thing called the Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM). As individuals go through change, the particular things that concern them shift. They worry about different things.

So let's call the change real-world mathematics for want of better terminology. Dan Meyer has gone through all those levels of change you'll see at the linked site. He is at level 6-refocusing. He is critiquing the meaning of real-world and he is working on curriculum development in some very fine-tuned ways.

You are at a much earlier phase of change (see also, your own blog's title). Five years ago, before your entry into the blogosphere, you probably were at level 0-not particularly concerned with the relationship between the real world and the mathematics you were teaching. You have moved past that. You want to know more, you want to try some things out and you're concerned about the effects of doing so. That shows professional growth.

Can you do what you want to do with Algebra II? Probably. Maybe the blog would be a good place to do some brainstorming about your ideas.

But the main question in your post? How do get students to not hate word problems? The answer is that we don't. I hate word problems. Because word problems are not representative of actual uses of mathematics.

whitecorp said...

In Singapore students are frequently exposed to the rigors of solving word problems from a very young age, hence the issue of alienation by such question structures doesn't quite apply over here.

Even in higher level mathematics, majority of the problems posed in Singapore junior college(ie US high school equivalent) examinations allude to real-life instances, a series of examples can be viewed here (taken from my site):


All the best in helping your students change their mindsets about word problems. Peace.

sociology sample paper of cbse board said...

According to me children made their mindset that algebra is very tough in comparison to other topics or maybe they feel fear of imaginary variables like x and y.I agree that Algebra is different than numerical maths but if they practice they can take expertise in it.There may be a reason that they are not learning it from good books.