Saturday, January 26, 2013

Word Problems

            I hate math word problems.

            Mrs. Kincaid has 375 square inches of paper that she wants to use to cover a box.  Her box measures 10 inches wide, 9 inches tall, and 6 inches deep.  Does she have enough paper to cover her box?  Justify your answer.

            Six students were sitting at desks scattered around my room, heads bent over, working on a math test.  I strolled among them hoping to be the helpful support, but feeling more like a guard in a prison yard.    

            “Good job putting your unit reminder at the top Landon.”  At the top of his paper he had written, “Area = square = 2, Volume = cube = 3.”

            “Remember you can lose half a point on your answer if you have the wrong label,” I said walking by Ramon.  He quickly wrote his area/volume reminder below his name.

            “Good job showing your work Cassie.”  She was busily writing the three box dimensions in a triangle and drawing loops around the numbers just like we had practiced.

            As I passed Jeremy’s desk, I watched him punch the “x” button on his calculator instead of “+.”   

            Jeremy’s head snapped back as “291,600” was displayed.  “What?”

            “Everyone, take your time and double check your work.”

            Jeremy punched the numbers in again, but hit the plus sign this time.  “204” came up.

            “Can I get another calculator?  This one’s acting weird.”


            I passed Cassie’s desk again.

            Way to go girl. 

            Cassie was circling “408 square inches,” but she started to flip the page to the next problem.

            “Cassie, get your marker and highlight the question you have to answer.”

            She picked up her neon pink highlighter, studied her paper, colored, “Does she have enough paper to cover her box?  Justify your answer,” and flipped the page to the next problem.

            I bent over and whispered, “Cassie.  You haven’t answered the question.  You have to write out an answer and give the reason for your answer.”

            She looked at her test again and then looked at me questioningly. 

            I whispered, “What did you do to answer this question?”

            Her eyes strayed up to her left, then back to me as she whispered, “I found the surface area.”

            “Highlight what you found.”

            408 square inches soon glowed pink, but her puzzled face turned back to me again. 

            “How much paper does Mrs. Kincaid have?”

            Cassie studied her paper then silently pointed to “375 square inches.”

            “Highlight that number.”

            Presently 375 glowed pink.

            I slowly whisper-enunciated, “Read – the – question - again.”

            Cassie’s whisper had risen to a hiss as she slowly enunciated, “Does she have enough paper to cover her box?  Justify your answer.”

            “How much paper does she have, Cassie?” 

            She touched the pink 375.   

            “What is the surface area of the box?”

            Now she touched the pink 408.   

            I waited while Cassie stared at her paper.  Suddenly she whipped her head towards me.  Her eyes were wide and she was smiling.

            “I get it now!” she hissed. 

            I straightened up and continued walking the room.

            Despite our confidential whispered exchange, other students had been listening.  Highlighters were picked up all around the room and questions and numbers began to glow yellow, green, orange, and pink. 

            Thirty minutes passed, and everyone finished their tests and placed them on my desk before they left the room.   I did a quick scan to make sure everyone had answered all the questions. 

            Four of the six, including Cassie, had answered - Yes, Mrs. Kincaid has enough paper because 408 is bigger than 375.

            I hate word problems.

Uh Oh.


This isn't exactly how I show the kids to do surface area, but it's close.

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