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Why Math Word Problems are Worrisome to Children

posted Nov 3, 2014, 2:35 PM by Almohajer Aljadeed   [ updated Nov 3, 2014, 2:36 PM ]
By:   Giovanna Russo-Romao
Windsor Sylvan Learning

Word problems take math concepts, such as arithmetic, geometry and algebra, and relate them back to the real world.  But somehow, in the conversion from numbers and symbols to the written word, even students adept at math can become confused and discouraged. In fact, children often find it easier to solve a problem that explicitly asks them to multiply two numbers rather than tackle a word problem that requires the same mathematical skills.

In addition to knowledge of core math concepts, word problems also require strong reading comprehension skills. Before a child can solve a word problem, he needs to be able to translate the problem into a math equation.

Once a child deciphers a word problem and is able to convert it into a simple equation, most students can easily calculate the answer. Unfortunately, determining the right equation is often the most challenging part of problem-solving. By applying reading comprehension skills to their math homework, students are better able to solve word problems correctly. 

To help children boost their critical thinking and word problem-solving skills, the math experts at Sylvan Learning, the leading provider of tutoring to students of all ages, grades and skill levels, offer parents the following tips to help their children decode word problems, gather key information, solve equations and check their answers:
1. Read the question carefully. Ask your child to read and reread the question to make sure that he understands what he is being asked to solve. Encourage him to read the question aloud and pay close attention to the final question of the word problem.
2. Understand the problem. Encourage her to simplify the word problem by highlighting the main words and important ideas. Have the student ask herself the following questions: What am I being asked to do? What are the important facts? Do I have enough information to solve the problem?  What operation will I use? 
3. Convert the verbal statement into a mathematical equation. Help him break the word problem into manageable, ordered steps. It's a good idea to do the work step-by-step, particularly if it’s a complicated problem with several parts. It's easier to keep the pieces of the problem in order if he works this way and easier to avoid mistakes. 
4. Generate the result. Encourage her to solve the mathematical problem using a technique such as drawing or mentally acting out the problem. After she finishes, make sure the results make sense and that she writes the answer in the appropriate units (e.g., hours, metres, kilometres, etc.