A Riddle: How are Math Word Problems Not Like School?

How are Word Problems not like School? What a question! Especially when you consider that most people only hear about ‘word problems’ while in school. Word problems and school seem to go hand in hand, but I tell you they are opposites. Consider what the two expect? Consider what they each reward? School expects the right answer. School rewards those who get the right answer and do it consistently. But what does word problems expect? What does word problems reward?

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Let’s step back. What is a word problem? Essentially it is a problem stated in words. Where did the math word problems come from? Originally, the problems came from living life https://argoprep.com/blog/k8/go-math-grade-6-vs-argoprep/. Everyday life is the source of our need to know how to solve math word problems. How much food do we need to buy to feed a crowd of 200 people? Can I fit all these activity into my schedule? Which size is the better value? How much wallpaper do I need to wallpaper the living room? How much money do I need to save for retirement? Everyday problems involving quantity, length, time and money are the reasons we learn to solve word problems.

Solving math problems is more than just knowing the right formula or how to plug the numbers into the equation. Solving math problems involves imagination, trial and error, the risk of making a mistake and perseverance. It is possible that you won’t be right consistently. This is the conflict with school. School wants you to be right consistently, to just know the answer and they reward correctness. On the other hand, you may not know the correct answer to real life problems. Sometimes you plow through by trial and error. You make mistakes while you try to find the correct path. You risk failing. And by these activities, math rewards you with success. Math rewards the very things that school discourages, even punishes.

Just what are Math’s rewards? To see these, you must look beyond just getting the right answer. Of course, getting the right answer is good and that’s why we work at math problems, but there is more. What do we achieve by risking failure? What do we achieve by making mistakes until we succeed? What do we achieve in our pursuit and our persistence? I think the answers to these questions are more important than ‘getting the right answer.’ The answers to these questions can be found in the beginnings of this great nation of ours. They can be found with the great men who built this nation. Thomas Edison comes to mind. He persisted through over a thousand failures to finally succeed with creating the light bulb. He states that this success required that many failures. His reward was the great company, GE Electric, originally known as Edison GE Electric.

Where am I going with this? I challenge you to walk the path of Math and reap her rewards. This path will do you in better stead in real life, then being correct all the time. As Ms. Frizzle of “The Magic School Bus” would say “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!” Ms Frizzle was right on target especially for math. Great things come out of risking failure, making mistakes, and persisting until you succeed. Nothing has come out of being correct all the time, well except good grades in school. What greatness could you achieve? It starts small with math word problems. Be adventurous! Risk Failure! Make mistakes, but persist until you succeed. If you do this consistently, I guarantee you will succeed in life and accomplish greatness. Bring on the Math Word Problems!

Ann LaRoche, Math Expert and Author of the book “Math Is Child’s Play.” Ann advocates learning math by playing games. Card games and board games are the fun and easy way to strengthen math skills and improve problem solving capabilities. In her book, Ann debunks common math myths, addresses math anxiety, and gives practical advice to parents who want to help their child with math but feel unable or unqualified. Ann sheds light on the confusion wrought by New Math and has a process for handling math homework time that will turn those tears of frustration into smiles of triumph.

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