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Those Dreaded Math Word Problems
Those dreaded word problems. What is it about word trouble that puts such fear in our hearts? My daughter said it yesterday. She’s taking algebra this year and they’re doing word problems. Her comment about her friend was that she found word problems difficult. She said to me: “But mom, she only finds them if I prepare them for her.” ‘Set them up!’ That’s the thing. My child translates the words into the correct equation, and then her friend has no trouble doing the math. But the mathematical skill taught with word problems is to do the translation, to do the placement.
Word problems must be the only school math that most closely resembles real life. Except in real life, we don’t always have all the information we need or we have extra numbers that don’t help us. And we certainly don’t have an answer sheet or text to show us how to work out the equation. I heard that more elementary schools are doing word problems. I think that’s great. But that’s still not enough. Parents must help.
As parents, we need to involve our children in the real-life word problems that we do every day. Take dinner for example. You have a 2.43 pound roast that takes 1/2 hour per pound to cook and you want to eat at 6:30 p.m. What time should you start cooking? Did you add time for the meat to rest after cooking before eating it? Did you add prep time at the beginning to get it ready to cook? Now what time do you start to eat before 6:30 p.m. Here is another example. You are comparing two items at the store. The 16 oz product sells for $2.79 and the 12 oz product sells for $1.99. What’s the best buy? Or better yet, you paint a room. The bedroom measures 12 x 10 with 8 foot ceilings. One gallon of paint covers 100 square feet. How many gallons of paint will you need to put on two coats. These are all word problems that we deal with every day. Involve your child to help solve your word problems.
Did I make you think? These are typical real-life word problems. There is no answer sheet, no hint on how to solve them, no equation to use. Did you understand them? Did you use a calculator. These are issues I just got a rough estimate for. I found a pretty good estimate. Since I only need a rough estimate, I usually do these problems in my head.
Take the dinner problem. I need 15 minutes prep and 15 minutes rest. The 2.43 pound roast, which requires 1/2 hour per pound to cook, will take about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Therefore, I want to start at 4:45 p.m. and have the roast in the oven at 5 p.m. Do you need the exact minute? I do not think so. Now, if you’re launching a rocket, you might want to be a little more specific.
For our next example, we are comparing two items at the store. The 16 oz product sells for $2.79 and the 12 oz product sells for $1.99. What’s the best buy? I do this in my head using rounded numbers. Note that 16 oz and 12 oz are both divisible by four. The price of 16 oz is also divisible by 4, or about $0.70 for 4 oz. Multiply the price of 4 oz by 3 to get the equivalent price of 12 oz, $2.10. You can now see that the price of $1.99 for 12 oz. is better than the price of $2.79 for 16 oz. My equation is
($2.80/4) * 3 = $2.10
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