While doing math one day this week, I realized that many of my students were confused with simple word problems. I also realized that how the problem is worded makes the problem easy to solve, or difficult to solve. Solving word problems causes many mistakes on classroom math quizzes and on standardized tests. The math problem was this:
Mother is taking you to the movies. She has 2 movie tickets for you and 3 friends that are going. How many more tickets does your mother have to buy? (there was a visual of 2 tickets on the paper but it obviously wasn’t enough help)
Very few children got the answer of 2.
Most of the children heard the word ‘more’ and added up the child and 3 friends and said that mother had to buy 4 tickets. What was not readily evident to these children was that mother had already bought 2 tickets so she only needed 2 ‘more’ tickets. We worked it out a second time, this time with counting materials (manipulatives) and the answer became much clearer. When doing math with very young children always offer them the opportunity to solve their work while using objects for counting, etc. and you will find that more problems will be solved correctly and with a deeper understanding of the problem.