Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Navigating Numberless Word Problems

Do you struggle with students who have aversions to word problems? Do they just scan for numbers and perform any old operation on them without considering important context or relationships? Brian Bushart's blog is always an awesome read, but when I read about Numberless Word Problems last year, it was a total game changer for me in tackling this issue.

Numberless word problems are just what they sound like; word problems with the numbers (and question stems) removed, initially, to provide an opportunity for students to make sense of the relationships in the problem before rushing into computation. They are empowered to access the problem situation and employ their own wonderings, contexts, and questions to make sense of it. 

I have been working on NWP with some of the teachers I coach, and we have seen students ask lots of interesting and insightful questions about the situations presented, and many are even applying this idea of slowing down and working to understand what is happening in problems before rushing to compute.

Recently, we have been adapting questions from the standardized test they use to get at the structure of those items through NWP math talks. 

This is the general structure we use to plan (it can certainly be modified depending on the problem, like in this geometry example). We also brainstorm questions we anticipate students might come up with and choose one for a final slide where we actually ask them to solve.

Here is an example from a test prep resource:

So where can you find Numberless Word Problems to use with your students?

  • Start with Brian Bushart's blog:
  • Develop them from existing problems found in your textbooks or other resources
  • Write them based on real school or classroom scenarios (i.e. planning for a field trip)
  • Get in on the Twitter action with #numberlesswp and share your amazing ideas!


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  2. Numberless word problems are a great way to get students to think about how math can represent a real life scenario. I strongly believe that math should give students another lens through which to interpret, make sense of, and solve problems. Numberless word problems allow students to build those connections to be able to make sense of problems that can be solved mathematically in the real world. Oftentimes outside of the classroom, we are presented with a problem and then must think about what information we need to obtain to solve the problem, and this is the exact process that a numberless word problem takes the student on inside the classroom.

  3. I agree, Haneen, thank you for sharing your thoughts!


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I've had some travels in my teaching journey. I began working at a school I had done some of my college observations hours in and was he...