What does this mean in the math classroom?
Some students just don't like word problems, they dread them and never feel they can understand them. I've started acting them out. A problem that states "The temperature is -32 degrees and it increases by 20 degrees." is not thrilling at all. How can this be acted out? I placed one student at the left most part of the class and said she needed to act cold because -32 is really cold. Then I pretended to be the sun which was so embarrassing I won't even describe it here. (I'll be honest...with a last name of "Strange" I can get away with being pretty ridiculous in the classroom.) I was bright and shining and generally goofy. The student said "Okay but what does that like as a math problem?" (That is success in math dialogue...students asking questions.)
I told her I didn't know yet what the math problem looked like but it probably has a -32 in it. And I wrote -32 on the board. "Then what happened?" I asked. The student took the marker and wrote -20, looked at it, said "no", then wrote +20 on the board. I told her to turn that into a math problem and she wrote -32 + 20 = -12. This turned into a problem that was not so scary.
(Now...what I should have done next is say to pretend it is -32 degrees and the temp changes by some amount, what would the expression be? Then she might have written -32 + x and we would talk about what positive value for x and a negative value for x would mean. I hate missed opportunities but oh well...next time I'll bring that up.)
So a student who said she didn't do word problems successfully solved one. The next word problem was about football yard gains and losses and she said, can we do that one now?
I'm now toying with the idea of making a promise to the kids that we will act out EVERY word problem we come across...I'm wondering if I can actually do that. But I'm also wondering if that will help turn their dread of word problems into an anticipation to see what they mean...and thus a method to solve them.