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September 29, 2010

The Problem with Word Problems

I already shared recently what we use for curriculum. I like what we are using for math. It's simple but yet effective. At times there are what even I consider to be "too many" problems. However, I think it's better to have to many then not enough. It's easier to say will skip some of these then to find or come up with more problems.

Today's math activity required Superstar, 9, to look at a chart and to answer simple questions about this chart. This chart had 3 columns to it. The first for the countries name, the second for the population, and the  3rd for the year the data was collected. It's worth noting that each countries population number was collected in a different year.

His question: List the countries in order starting with the country that has the least population and ending with the country that has the greatest population.  Looking at this question Superstar announces that he can not do the work.

I ask him why, what's the issue. He reads the question to me, I point to the chart at the top of the page and tell him. It wants you to use this chart to solve the problem. "I know that Mom, but I'm telling you I can't do it".  Puzzled and confused, because I KNOW he can list numbers from the smallest to the greatest with great ease, ask "Why not?"

Superstar's answer: "They all have different years! So I really don't know which country has the least and which has the most."

I shared this tidbit with some of my local homeschooling friends. I had one that backed Superstar up and said well technically he's correct. If you are going to compare data such as population sizes then you should be using data that was collected in the same year.

In regards to my son's reaction to his math book problem my mom made a statement "Thank God you homeschool! And we wounder what is wrong with the public school system!" Of course my mom was being a little sarcastic when she made those remarks. LOL

I don't think math problems like those are the issue, but perhaps lack of free thinking and questioning why something is done like this; or how, what should have been, a simple math problem could not have been done because the facts given were not "accurate".  hmm....I don't think accurate is the right word there.... It's late and I can't think; so I'll just use accurate for now.

I told Superstar to just answer the question anyway with the data he had. I basically had to tell him to ignore the years the data was collected. He did do it, but the whole time made it known how it really wasn't an accurate answer and the problem truly could not be solved!


  1. WOW! What great insight & thinking skills he's got! I'm not sure it that's something I'd question if faced w/ that problem.

  2. I know....as he was doing it I even thought that too of myself.


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