Google The Unplanned Homeschooler: Don't skip the word problems

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Don't skip the word problems

I recently read a post from a new homeschooler, who said that her daughter liked math, but hated doing word problems to the point that it was often a battle just to get her to do them. She asked whether word problems are really necessary, or if her child could skip them, since she knew how to do the math anyway.

I say, emphatically, don't skip the word problems!

I know, your kids may hate word problems, and you might be wondering why they really matter, especially if you are confident that your children already knows how to do the math required to solve them. But here's the thing. Word problems require different skills than simple equations, and your students need to master both types of skills for a few good reasons.

Preparation for real life scenarios


Word problems require students to first determine from the information provided what math is required in order to find a solution. This is a completely different skill than being able to complete math problems laid out as simple equations.

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In real life, we're seldom presented with problems that are already laid out in an equation. Instead, we find ourselves answering questions like, how many pizzas do we need to feed our son's hungry baseball team if each of the nine boys can eat three slices of pizza and the pizzas are cut into eight slices.

We need added skills in order to parse out the information provided by a scenario like this and then determine how to come to a solution. That's the main reason why word problems are so important, they prepare you for real life math.

Preparation for exams


You'll want to pay special attention to word problems, especially if your child is college bound, because exams like the SAT, ACT and PSAT all have them. And if your child is not adept at solving word problems, their scores will suffer.

There may be no worse feeling for a student than freezing up on an exam question, knowing that the timer is ticking and the problem doesn't make any sense. Precious moments tick away, as you sit there, confused and frustrated.

Being unprepared for tricky word problems may cause your child to not only lose points on those questions, but also other math problems that they are unable to complete because they've run out of time.

Scholarship money is at play


I've told my own kids, who dislike word problems as much as any average middle schoolers, that these types of problems really are what separate the good math students from the great, especially with respect to scholarship contenders. Everyone competing for scholarships will have learned the basic math required to do well on the tests. But that added skill, of being able to read a complicated word problem and deduce what solution is required, is what will set the best scorers apart.

If you've neglected word problems, it's not too late. You can always start building your child's problem solving skills. Start with word problems that require math your child is already proficient at doing, so they can become confident at looking at math outside of neat little equations. Help them learn to think like a detective, and hunt for clues within the word problem that will tell them what question is being asked and how they'll go about solving it.

As the word problems get easier for your child, move along to more complicated math. Your goal is to help them learn to solve word problems confidently and in a timely manner, without confusion and frustration standing in their way.