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## Those Dreaded Math Word Problems

Those dreaded topics word problems. What is it about word problems that puts such fear in our hearts? My daughter said it yesterday. They are taking Algebra this year and doing word problems. His comment about his friend was that he found word problems difficult. She said to me, “But mom, she only finds them if I set them up for her.” “Look at them!” That’s the trick. My son translates the words into the correct equation, so his friend has no problem doing the math. But the math skill that is taught with word problems is to do the translation, to do the installation.

Word problems have to be the only school math that most closely resembles real life. Out in real life we don’t always have all the information we need or we have extra numbers that don’t help. And we certainly don’t have an answer sheet or text to show you how to set up the equation. I heard that more elementary schools do word problems. I think this is great. But it is still not enough. Parents need help.

As parents, we need to involve our children in the real-life word problems we face every day. Take dinner for example. You have a 2.43 pound roast that takes 1/2 hour per pound to cook and you want to eat it at 6:30 pm. What time should you start cooking? Did you add time for the meat to rest after cooking before eating? Did you add prep time to the beginning to prepare the kitchen? Now what time does it start to eat from 6:30 pm. Here is another example. You have compared two items in the store. The 16 oz product retails for $2.79 and the 12 oz product retails for $1.99. Which is the best buy? Or better yet, you’re painting a room. The room is 12 x 10 with 8 foot ceilings. One gallon of paint covers 100 sq. How many liters of paint do you need to put on two coats. These are all word problems that we deal with every day. Get your child involved in helping you solve your word problems.

Did I make you think? These are typical real-life word problems. There is no answer sheet, no hint how to solve it, no equation to use. Did you understand them? You used a calculator. These are problems that I just have a rough estimate. I found an estimate to be pretty good. Since I only need a rough estimate, I usually do these problems in my head.

Take the dinner problem. I need 15 minutes of preparation time and 15 minutes of rest time. The 2.43 pound roast that takes 1/2 hour per pound to cook will take about 1 hour and 15 minutes. So I want to start at 4:45 pm and have the roast in the oven at 5 pm. Do you need the exact minute? I don’t think so. Now if you’re launching a rocket, then you might want to be a little more precise.

For our next example, let’s compare two items in the store. The 16 oz product retails for $2.79 and the 12 oz product retails for $1.99. Which is the best buy? I do this in my head using rounded numbers. Note that 16 oz and 12 oz are both divisible by four. The price on the 16 oz is also divisible by 4, about $70 for 4 oz. Multiply the price of 4 oz by 3 to get the equivalent price of 12 oz, $2.10. Now you can see that the price of $1.99 for 12 oz. is better than the price of $2.79 for 16 oz. My equation is

($2.80/4) * 3 = $2.10

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