Quick! What’s your first reaction when you hear the following phrase?

“Math Word Problems”

Many people respond with something sounding like, “Uuuuugh!”

It’s understandable how there can be an aversion to these types of math problems. But word problems are beneficial and necessary. Like math in general, word problems enhance critical thinking. Additionally, they provide real life anecdotes of using numbers. Much frustration with word problems derives from not having a logical way to find the answer. One solution to overcome this is to use bar modeling. 

Bar modeling is a strategy requiring the solver to draw a picture – literally bars – to represent the data. In theory, pictures facilitate getting to the answer.

Look at the following word problem:

If a turtle walks 5 feet in 20 minutes, how many minutes would it take the turtle to walk 12 feet?

If using bar modeling, one way the picture could be set up is like so:Blog Post Jan 04 16

Seeing that each bar represents 1 foot and all five bars fit in 20 minutes, a unit rate can be determined of 1-foot takes 4-minutes. From the unit rate, one can determine any amount. In this case, travelling 12 feet takes 48 minutes.

Naturally, there are challenges with bar modeling. First, one has to be able to come up with the picture (which alone is a skill). Second, each problem is different so the picture set up will vary based on what information is provided and what question is asked.

Generally, word problems look at data in different ways so finding the starting point is the first step. Work habits like grit come into play because the learner is challenged to interpret what is being asked and works to develop the mental fortitude to not give up. Of course, some problems are easier. In class, we start with these and then work up to more challenging problems. With practice, critical thinking improves, which fulfills the purpose of mathematics! Like algorithm problems, word problems technically should not be mastered, but rather they should be built upon.

It will be both interesting and exciting to see how far our scholars will advance in word problems!

Stephanie OtengWritten by Stephanie Oteng, Upper Math Teacher

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