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Helping Students Make Meaning In Math Class

December 22, 2016 / by Kristin Gray

In math class, we often see students pull numbers out of math problems and operate on them without thinking about the context. Many students arrive at an answer, but don't realize their answer doesn’t make sense within the context of the problem.

When this happens, we're left wondering many things that are extremely important in our future planning:

  • Are they struggling with the math?
  • Are they struggling with comprehension of the text?
  • Are they making sense of the problem as mentioned in SMP1?

After reading Brian Bushart's blog post, I've found that taking the numbers and questions out of the problem itself engages students in making sense of contexts. Students are then able to notice and wonder about the context without the worry of having to solve for something.

Working with teachers, it can be as simple as adapting the curriculum you have. There's no digging around to find extra things; we use what we have and make some small changes.

Here are four easy steps I took in using a numberless word problem in a first grade classroom:

Step 1: I took this original problem from our curriculum:

1st grade math problem

Step 2: I removed the numbers and simply gave the students a sentence:

"A school bus picked up students at three stops on the way to school."

Step 3: I asked the students what they noticed and wondered (believe it or not they were able to notice and wonder all of the things the original question would be asking).

Step 4: I asked them to choose the numbers they would put in the problem to find the number of students on the bus.

Check out my Tch Tip Facebook Live video for a quick explanation and read more about it in this Tch blog post.

I would love to hear more about your experience with numberless word problems, so be sure to check back in with me on our Facebook page or on Twitter!

Topics: Professional Learning, Lesson Planning, Math, Resources

Kristin Gray

Written by Kristin Gray

Kristin Gray, a National Board Certified, 21-year veteran teacher of grades 5-8, is currently the Director of K-5 Curriculum and Professional Learning at Illustrative Mathematics (IM). She has served as a writer for the IM 6-8 math curriculum and as a Teaching Channel Laureate. Kristin has developed and facilitated mathematics professional learning at district, state, and national levels and presents annually at the NCSM and NCTM conferences. To reflect on her experiences, she blogs and connects with educators on Twitter, @MathMinds. Kristin has a B.S. in Elementary Education with a concentration in mathematics from the University of Delaware, a M.Ed. in applied technology in education from Wilmington University, and is the 2014 Presidential Awardee for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

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