The Infamous 3N8

It is my — and their — nemesis:

3.N.8 Select and use appropriate operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) to solve problems, including those involving money.

My students can perform computation into the thousands. We are pretty darn good at it. But toss a word/story problem in their direction and everything falls apart.  Why can’t these kids figure out an appropriate equation and operation from the words? It is really quite a pain.

Remembering the challenge of second language learners — and the nuance of the English language — partially explains why these kids have such a tough time deciding what operation and equation makes sense. I’ve resisted the urge to teach key wording because it doesn’t always fit the situation. And the standardized testing we foist on these kids often doesn’t follow the “formula.” Besides, I want them to think and to know what they need to find a solution.

So this week, I’ve started applying a teaching strategy we used to teach in another school for visualizing. Explicitly teaching students to visualize seems to me like the only way they are ever going to figure out if the answer – the result – should grow or shrink. Which I hope will lead the students to a reasonable equation for that computation they seem to do so well. It just so happens that the students are not very strong visualizers when it comes to reading either.

What I do know is that unless I can convince the students to thoughtfully consider the action in a story problem, to visualize what the situation is, all the computational skill that they have acquired will mean next to nothing.

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