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What's the Problem with Word Problems?

My name is Megan Sozzi and I am a special education teacher at PS182Q in Jamaica, Queens. It is my second year teaching in a Grades 3, 4, and 5 self-contained class, but this year I am teaching only math. I have spent the last five years teaching in a self-contained setting and each year brings new adventures, challenges and successes. This year I signed on to join a TCICP Inquiry-to-Action team for the second time. I enjoyed my experience last year exploring strategies, overcoming challenges, facing new struggles and, best of all, working through this process with other teachers going through similar experiences as myself. 
As I began my research this year, I was having a hard time pinpointing exactly what I wanted to focus on. I had spent a lot of time teaching my students various mathematical strategies to solve the basic four operations: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. I found many students were able to grasp new strategies and, with practice, use them when appropriate. Then I would give students word problems and my students would hit a wall. Somehow all the strategies they learned flew right out the window and they would resort back to simply adding any number they saw in the word problem. And so my inquiry began.
My inquiry focuses on getting students to better understand and work through word problems. At first, I did not know where to begin or what to focus on. After many discussions with my Inquiry-to-Action team coach, fellow teachers, my school’s math coach, and other TCICP teachers, I began to try different approaches and strategies. I will guide you through the strategies I tried as well as what worked and what didn’t work.