Thursday, September 27, 2012

Write Your Own Word Problem. Also: Why Am I Doing This?

My Algebra 2 students are working on some word problems that set up as systems. They are finding out how many of each type of ticket was sold for the homecoming dance or how many quarters and dimes make $3.45 -- that type of thing.

I thought that students would better understand the process if they wrote their own problem, so I wrote up the sheet below. In the interest of spending less time at the front of the room blah-blah-ing away, I wrote it so that students can read the instructions and work through the process on their own. They start with a problem we've already solved, and replace its parts one at a time. They will illustrate and solve the problem when they are done.

Write Your Own WP

Here's my reflection:

Students seemed to really enjoy this activity. They all dug in and did it. I just walked around and answered a few questions here and there. I also asked each student to check in with me at a couple of different points to make sure they were on track. When they finished, they were just tickled that their problem worked out as planned. In the end, they were more confident about these problems.

I like this activity, I really do. But . . .

I am really wondering if it makes sense to keep doing these types of problems this way, or at all.  The whole process is quite hand hold-y. Students are really just learning to follow a procedure here. I am sure there is a better way to teach systems. Keep the old-school word problems, or ditch them? Replace them with what?

Conclusion: Today I accomplished exactly what I tried to accomplish. However, I am not sure if what I am accomplishing is what I really want to/should accomplish.


  1. I love this. I teach word problems in a very similar way (although without the brilliant write-your-own twist) and my students end up pretty good at solving word problems. Between the ACT and the WorkKeys exam, both of which are required for my students, they really need to be able to handle a word problem. I like the longer investigative approaches, and problems where students need to ask the questions. But for me at least, traditional word problems still have a pretty big place.

  2. While, yes your kids are learning a process, you taught them to discover a method of system word problems and how to think about them and answer them, which is a BIG part of what we want them to do right? Think about the math in a real situtation and solve the "PROBLEM" I think it's one of your usually great ideas, AMY! I also planning on stealing this next year!

  3. Thank you so much. I am adding this to my tool bag.