Analyzing and Designing Story Problems That Matter
Cathery Yeh, Maureen
Neumann, and Corey Drake,
posted May 22, 2017 —
In our previous three blog posts, we wrote about how the context and the chosen numbers
in the story problems that we create for our students
can influence students’ experiences with mathematics. Story problems influence
students’ sense of belonging in classrooms by whether they can see
themselves in the story, understand the context, or agree that the numbers in
the action of the problem make sense. Also, story problems project powerful messages to our students about what is
valued and whose knowledge and experiences are deemed important.
Furthermore, rich and authentic tasks can motivate student
learning, help build deep mathematical understanding, and connect school
mathematics to students’ daily experiences. The context, culture, number
choices, problem structure, and language used to create a mathematical task can
activate problem-solving strategies that enable students to productively engage
with learning mathematics (Carpenter et al. 2015; Land et al. 2014; NCTM 2014;
Schwartz 2013; Van De Walle et al. 2016).
Story problems serve as important vehicles to connect school
mathematics to the daily experiences of the children we serve. However, as
emphasized in the previous three blog posts, word problems can also exclude
students from mathematics when the contexts, language, or number choices are
not those that students can relate to or access. To conclude this series of
blog posts, we suggest the following for teachers to consider as they work with
students and mathematics problems:
1. Get to know your
students, not only as mathematics learners, but also as children with interests
and experiences both in and out of school.
2. Read textbook problems
critically to notice the ways in which they might reinforce stereotypes or biases
through the “hidden messages” they convey.
3. Be willing to adapt the
contexts, numbers, and language of problems to better reflect the lives and
experiences of your students and support their engagement with the mathematical
goal of the lesson.
Mathematics carries particular power in our society; historically
and culturally, mathematics instructional practices have allowed just a very few
to do well or to even like the subject. As teachers and teacher educators, we
have found the three steps listed above to be helpful in ensuring that school
mathematics is accessible and relatable for our students.
We hope this blog can continue to provide a forum for discussion
and the sharing of resources on this topic. Below is a list of related TCM resources.
Drake, Corey, Tonia J. Land,
Tonya Gau Bartell, Julia M. Aguirre, Mary Q. Foote, Amy Roth McDuffie, and Erin
E. Turner. 2015. “Three Strategies for Opening Curriculum Spaces.” Teaching
Children Mathematics 21,
no. 6 (February): 346–53.
Dominguez, Higinio. 2016. “Mirrors
and Windows into Student Noticing.” Teaching Children Mathematics 22, no. 6 (February): 358–65.
Muir, Tracey. 2016. “Out of
the Classroom, into the Home.” Teaching Children Mathematics 22, no. 8 (April): 496-504.
Neumann, Maureen D. 2007. “Preservice
Teachers Examine Gender Equity in Teaching Mathematics.” Teaching Children
Mathematics 13, no. 7
Yeh, Cathery. 2015. “Worth a Thousand Words.” Teaching Children
Mathematics 21, no. 8 (April):
additional considerations that teachers should keep in mind when creating or
selecting word problems? Do you have other resources on the topic that you could
share with our community? We want to hear from you. Post your ideas in the
comments below or share your thoughts on Twitter @TCM_at_NCTM using #TCMtalk.
Carpenter, Thomas P., Elizabeth Fennema, Megan Loef Franke, Linda Levi,
and Susan B. Empson. 2015. Children’s Mathematics:
Cognitively Guided Instruction. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Land, Tonia J., Corey Drake, Molly B. Sweeney,
Jennifer M. Johnson, Natalie Franke.
2014. Transforming the Task with Number
Choice. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
National Council of Teachers of
Mathematics (NCTM). 2014. Principles to Actions:
Ensuring Mathematical Success for All. Reston, VA: NCTM.
Schwartz, Sydney, and Frances Curcio.
2013. Implementing the Common Core State
Standards through Mathematical Problem Solving: Kindergarten–Grade 2.
Reston, VA: NCTM.
Van De Walle, John A., Karen A. Karp, and Jennifer M. Bay-Williams.2016. Elementary Middle School Mathematics:
Teaching Developmentally. Boston: Pearson Education.
Yeh is an assistant
professor in the College of Educational Studies at Chapman University in California.
She is the lead author of the newly released NCTM book Reimagining the Mathematics Classroom: Creating and Sustaining
Productive Learning Environments. Her work focuses on creating classroom
spaces for generative learning, agency, community, and collective praxis. Corey Drake is an associate professor
of teacher education and Director of Teacher Preparation at Michigan State
University. She teaches elementary school mathematics methods courses, and her
research interests include teachers learning from and about curriculum
materials as well as the roles of policy, curriculum, and teacher preparation
in supporting teachers’ capacity to teach diverse groups of students. Maureen D. Neumann, firstname.lastname@example.org, teaches mathematics education courses for preservice and
in-service teachers at the University of Vermont–Burlington. She is interested
in helping teachers understand issues of equity when teaching mathematics.
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