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Implementing Strategies and Outcomes

When I first began my inquiry work, I started with using the checklists and tool-kits. Students seemed to be getting better at working through words problems, identifying the key information, and organizing their work. However, I noticed they were still struggling to identify the correct mathematical operation needed to solve the problem. 
For my inquiry, I tried…
  • discussions, acting-it-out, giving examples, and drawing pictures of the four math operations

  • working in groups, individually, with the teacher and the paraprofessional

  • having a word problem station where each group discussed word problems

  • using checklists and tool kits

  • having students repeat the checklist whenever they were solving a problem

  • looking at non-examples, discussing their errors and mistakes

  • vocabulary sorts

  • word problem sorts

After re-evaluating what worked and what still needed work, I decided to focus on the students' understanding of the four mathematical operations (addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication). At this point, I started implementing the Act-It-Out strategy. This is when I saw the MOST success. Students really started to think about and visualize what action was occurring in the word problem. They could identify the operation needed with higher success then before. We would often act-out word problems or use manipulatives to help them create a visual representation of what they were reading. Once I found they were ready to move on, I increased the difficulty of the word problems. 
We also got into a routine of using checklists to organize and identify the important information. Then, we would stop and think, “What action is happening in this problem? We would even write it down before we solve the problem: “This problem tells me I need to [add, subtract, multiply, or divide] because…”. Allowing students to discuss and reason about their decisions kept them from simply guessing like they did in the past. 

Student Work Samples

As I reflected on my inquiry-to-action work, I realized I should begin teaching these meta-understandings of the four mathematical operations much earlier in the school year. I would also like to work more on incorporating multi-step word problems. I focused a lot on single-step word problems because I really wanted the students to understand the process and have more success. We didn’t really begin multi-step problems until around January. Next time, I think it would be beneficial to start with multi-step word problems sooner. I would also like to eventually fade the checklists and toolkits. While these are useful tools, they are not always going to be available in testing situations or in their future classes. I don’t want students to rely on them so much that, if these tools are not available, the student is lost or unsuccessful. 
This is a pre- and post-assessment that I gave my students during to see if the success I was seeing in the day-to-day classroom work would translate to pencil and paper tests:

Word Problem Assessment Quiz