If you teach middle school, you know the importance of knowing how to teach word problems. You’ve tried all the tricks, but your students still struggle.
You’re sure that they know the math, so it just doesn’t make sense. Could it be a reading issue? A lack of effort?
You’re sure you could figure it out if you could just get them to show their work!
Why Middle School Students Struggle with Word Problems
There are two reasons why most students have trouble with word problems.
The first is that many students learn how to calculate with whole numbers and fractions, but without understanding the underlying concepts. In fact, the reason word problems are so prominent (in textbooks and state tests) is because word problems assess students’ conceptual understanding, whereas calculation only assesses procedural understanding.
The second reason is that most students lack a good process for solving word problems. They’re not sure where to begin, how to organize their thoughts, or what to do when they get lost.
How to Teach Word Problems with The Polya Process
The solution to both problems is the Polya Process. This is a 4-step approach to solving word problems that emphasizes conceptual understanding.
Understand, Plan, Solve, and Reflect. The secret to how to teach word problems to your middle school students.
In the Understand phase, students identify given information and what’s being asked.
In the Plan phase, students apply proven problem-solving strategies, like draw a picture, or work backwards to solve even the most challenging problems.
To Solve, students complete the strategy they planned. Then, they Reflect on the accuracy of their solution, what they did well, and what to improve.
This approach goes well beyond “boxing the key words.” Your students will learn to make sense of problems, and to apply their understanding to real world situations.
The How to Teach Word Problems workshop includes 8 hours of hands-on, interactive professional learning. Each session is conducted in real time, with a live facilitator. You’ll solve problems and engage in discussions with fellow educators.
As a participant, you’ll learn how to teach word problems, and you’ll receive copies of all the print and digital classroom resources to help you bring the Polya Process back to your classroom the very next day!
Unit 1: Knowns and Unknowns – Ensure students are making sense of word problems by focusing on what information is being given, and what is being asked.
Unit 2: Modeling Strategies – Learn concrete and representational problem-solving strategies, like Act it Out, and Draw a Picture.
Unit 3: Abstract Strategies – Learn to apply abstract strategies like Work Backward or Write an Equation.
Unit 4: Teaching the Polya Process – Learn lesson models for teaching the Polya Process through collaborative inquiry.
Unit 5: Planning and Assessment – Incorporate problem-solving into your unit plans and yearly pacing guides. Learn to assess student understanding with word problems.
Enrolling in the How to Teach Word Problems Workshop
Enrollment is open to all middle school teachers, administrators, instructional coaches, tutors, and homeschool parents.
For more on the Polya Process, read our article, How to Help Students Who Struggle with Word Problems. For more information on any of our workshops contact us at [email protected].
If your school or district is interested in group pricing or custom professional development packages, schedule a free consultation with one of our education consultants.
We accept payment by credit card or purchase order. To register by PO, choose Purchase Order as your payment method at checkout. Please include contact information for your school or district business office.
About the Presenter
Jeff Lisciandrello is a curriculum specialist and educational technology consultant specializing in student- centered instruction. He has over 15 years experience as a classroom teacher and instructional coach. In Jeff’s workshops, you won’t just hear about differentiation and inquiry-based learning: You’ll experience them first-hand. Find him on Twitter @EdTechJeff
I really enjoyed the STEM word problem and the resources shared at the end. These are real PDs that actually give teachers tools to help facilitate learning and discovery with there students.
Sheila Holland –
We got to play with the tools in breakout rooms. It was hands on and helpful.
The introduction of different types of tools, one of them being the parking lot problem that forced students to use the visualization method.
Pear Deck was a great tool
I love how are involved through Meetup’s chat.
I liked how we can use pear deck with students and encourage them to problem solve and help them break down the steps.
I like the break out rooms but I didn’t understand how to do mute correctly.
Pear Deck is a great tool!
I loved the hands on experience.
I liked how the powerpoint was interactive but unique for each person (what I typed could only be seen by me and the “teacher”).
Good use of different strategies, and the interactivity of the session.
I loved all the resources Saira presented. I love being able to leave a workshop and be able to immediately implement something I learned into my teaching. This gave me about 5 different items that I could use tomorrow.
I enjoyed being interactive with Peardeck and breakout rooms.
The interactive component of Pear deck slides that could be used with a class remotely and responses can be viewed by the teacher.
I like that you can work together through this application and you can guide them through this or they can work at their own pace.
I enjoyed the template for problem solving
Marissa Lehnert –
I loved working together instead of independently, and you get to try methods on your own before bringing them into your class.
Suzanne Albert-Williams –
It felt good to work together in groups and then present our findings. I feel teachers will get some great information to help them in the classroom.
Matthew Gertler –
Jeff has the knowledge about the reasons why students face challenges in retention and understanding. He is able to delve beyond the surface to help teachers develop the skills needed to teach math to today’s digitally proficient students.