# How to Solve Math Word Problems or Story Problems with Confidence Instead of Fear

For students, parents, and teachers, single-step, two-step, and multi-step word problems represent big challenges for the Pre-Kindergarten through Elementary school years. Many students are unsure how to solve word problems correctly, and many adults are unsure about how to help their children and teach strategies for solving them, which can cause unnecessary frustration and anxiety. With addition, subtraction, multiplication and division word problems, students can learn skills to solve even those that are the most challenging. Word problems can be made easier following some key points. Products like Jumping Joey’s Number Line can help bring about the joy of learning and raise confidence for solving word problems.

Here are four tips to make solving word problems easier:

1) When solving word problems, first figure out the goal; then figure out the steps that help you reach the goal. Ask yourself, “What is this problem asking me to figure out?”

For example, suppose the question said, “If Peter walked from his house 9 blocks north to buy a sandwich and then walked 4 blocks south to go to school, how far away was he from his house?” Students can ask themselves, “What is the goal?” The goal in this problem is to figure out how far Peter was from his house.

Using Jumping Joey’s Number Line, the Number Line itself could represent Peter’s walk. Going up the Number Line could show going north and going down the Number Line could represent going south. The student could use a Jumping Joey figure with the Place Mat or his body with the Floor Mat to jump up the Number Line nine spots from zero and then down the Number Line four blocks from nine to end up on five. Peter is five blocks away from his house.

Having a goal provides direction for how to organize the decision processes.

2) When solving word problems, underline keywords to help determine what is important and to see what needs to be done.

For example, suppose the question said, “There are three four-foot tables, and two five-foot tables. How long are the tables all together?” Of importance here is the relationship between the number of tables and the length of tables, which represent multiplication. These are key words that should be underlined, along with all together. The goal is to find the overall length of the tables.

This is a multi-step problem because after the individual table lengths are found, they need to be added together, which becomes the strategy to reaching the goal. Using Jumping Joey’s Number Line Arithmetic Place Mat, students can see that three four-foot tables equals three groups of four or twelve feet and two five-foot tables equals two groups of five or ten feet. Twelve feet and ten feet equal twenty-two feet. The tables equal twenty-two feet all together.

Keywords help focus the learner on what is important. And using Jumping Joey’s Number Line provides a template for students to solidify each step they take in the problem-solving process.

3) When solving word problems, make a schematic diagram to help determine what is going on in the problem and how to solve it easily.

This is a critical step in solving word problems and must be done with care. By schematic diagram, we don’t mean making detailed pictures regarding the problem. We mean diagrams that show the motions of the problem that help you solve it. In the first example, one would make two arrows; one going right longer than the one going left. The one going right would be labeled nine and the one going left would be labeled four. In the second problem, there would be three blocks with four hash marks and two blocks with five hash marks. Jumping Joey’s Number Line products could then be used to solve the problems easily.

Schematic diagrams help isolate the key structures of the problem so that the right steps can be taken. With schematic diagrams, students have an easier time understanding the goal.

4) Use a number line approach to help concretize the learning.

Psychological Science, the leading psychology journal, in September 2010, reported that those children with a well-developed mental number line did best in terms of remembering numbers that had to do with a story. Story problems (word problems) have such numerical features.

Products like Jumping Joey’s Number Line help develop a mental number line that make word problems easier, because they provide an organizing framework for solving problems.

Word problems with all four operations are solvable when figuring out the goal, underlining keywords, making schematic diagrams, and using a number line approach like Jumping Joey’s Number Line. Solving word problems or story problems with a number line approach helps increase mathematical flexibility and raises confidence, making homework and schoolwork that much easier. The combination of sound strategy and high quality math products like Jumping Joey’s Number Line empowers the learner to take control of mathematics and study without fear, but with curiosity and joy of learning.

Matthew Mandelbaum and Jamie Cohen are learning specialists and are the creators of Jumping Joey’s Number Line. Jumping Joey’s Number Line is an innovative, child-centered, multi-sensory arithmetic learning system for Pre-K through Elementary. Jumping Joey’s Number Line fosters enjoyable, engaging, effective and efficient mathematical experiences, where students are motivated and build a strong math foundation with long-term understanding. Students feel successful and excited about learning opportunities, and confident in their emerging abilities.

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