Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Why Math Word Problems + Freebie

Elizabeth Chapin-Pinotti Word Problems
Let's face it - many of our students come to us terrified of word problems. Even those who breeze through most lessons can find word problems daunting.
Why? After all - they begin simple enough in first grade: "Jen has five carrots. Jake has three carrots. How many carrots are there in all?" And there are pictures. Unfortunately, such simple problems encourage students to easily find numbers and use operations studied in a linear manner and they give students the false perception that all word problems can be easily solved with a recipe - do this - add that and "poof" easy answer.

Ah, if only it really was that easy. Let's face it: textbooks given to us don't have good word problems and they don't help students learn to think logically through problems and they don't teach higher order The word problems, our students face, are usually two or three problems at the end of a lesson that follow the formula taught in the lesson. Most are one step and follow a rule.

Somethings, we as teachers are afraid of word problems, so we skip them. I had a professor in college - a visiting professor from Italy - who spoke of math anxiety. She'd researched it and instead of teaching much advanced statistics - she spoke about her research - but I digress.

So, how do we avoid the "rule following" word problems so that all of our students learn to synthesize and analyze and grow in confidence solving word problems? Fill students with confidence by giving them lots of engaging practice. Like those found in my FREEBIE Daily Math Warm-Ups and Early Finishing - In Rhyme - Engaging - CCSS. This first set is simple. They will grow will in progression, so check back.

Another reason students fear word problems is because it is so easy to make a mistake. Why is it that we, as teachers, know that growth only comes with learning from mistakes and yet the "establishment" still requires a "perfection based" reporting system? Digressing again. 

How do we counter this? -- by adopting a growth mindset for our classrooms. Our brains, and the brains of our students are constantly growing and changing.

Are brains are malleable - there have been studies done on our brains that have found that the area called the hippocampus grows substantially larger when kept active, but when they stopped working - the hippocampus shrunk.   This comes back to teachers again. Sometimes we think some students can't learn math; however, mostly all of our students have the capability to learn all of K-12 math - if, that is, they don't have severe learning disabilities.

How Math is Taught Matters

How students are taught math - makes the difference - the kind of encouragement, praise or lack thereof - have resulted in certain mindsets:

  • a fixed mindset or
  • a growth mindset
A fixed mindset is one that believes intelligence is fixed and cannot be changed. It is a mindset that stifles brain grown, learning and the growth of one's intelligence. A person with a fixed mindset avoids challenges.

A growth mindset see difficult opportunities  as a chance for growth. This student believes, has been taught to believe, that they can learn. That they are smart and even if they struggle they will grasp the problem at hand, their brain actually grows new connections between neurons or synapses.

How do we encourage a growth mindset? - come back tomorrow.

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