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 they’re trying to assess students’ conceptual 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 consists of five 90-minute sessions. 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!
Session 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.
Session 2: Modeling Strategies – Learn concrete and representational problem-solving strategies, like Act it Out, and Draw a Picture.
Session 3: Abstract Strategies – Learn to apply abstract strategies like Work Backward or Write an Equation.
Session 4: Teaching the Polya Process – Learn lesson models for teaching the Polya Process through collaborative inquiry.
Session 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 Elementary 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