Word problems, for me, are not the same as word problems were designed.
For example: If Sally goes to the store with Billy and Sally has $.57 and Billy has $.72 how many watermelons can they buy if watermelons are $.17 a pound?
What the hell is this craptastic scenario?!
My brain gets stuck. Not on the math—but in the story.
I want more of the story. Where the hell is the rest of the story?!
For me, my brain, is imagining Sally with a blonde, bob hairstyle, blue eyes and she is wearing a cute, flowy and flowery babydoll dress with patent leather Mary Jane shoes. Billy has a red and white striped shirt, faded jeans and white, low-top Converse shoes. He has a gentle face with brown eyes and a buzz cut. He is very protective of Sally as she is his little sister. In my mind, I’m wondering why their mom has sent them off to the store to buy watermelons since they are so young and watermelons are heavy.
Anytime I saw a “Word Problem” it was indeed a word problem. I was so lost in the story and it was problematic that the rest of the story was missing.
Every time I read a “Word Problem” I had to work even harder to focus on what it was that I was supposed to do because I was so lost in the missing story.
I wanted Sally and Billy to buy purple elephants and apple-sized lollipops. It was so hard for me to do the math when they had that many words without a real story. I always wanted more of the story. Or I wanted to know why these children were doing the things they were doing.
Or better yet, why was a guy standing on platform at the train station? Where was he going? In my mind he was wearing a London Fog, camel-colored trench coat, he was holding a leather bag, he wore a grey fedora hat, shiny wingtip loafers, he had thick black-rimmed glasses, and an intelligent face. I wanted to know what he did for work, what he was going to eat when he got to Chicago or New York. To me, it did not matter how long it took him to get to these places, I wanted to know what he was going to do when he got there.
I survived the “Word Problems” of my childhood only to be more baffled as I got older and advanced to Algebra. When I saw “Solve for X” on the board I was like where is the rest of the word?
Why was there only one letter?!
Is “X” the first letter or the last?!
Was the missing word “Xylophone” or was it “Sex” or was it something trickier?
In my mind you could not just put a letter on the board, there had to be more.
Math for me was the most torturous thing because it always involved letters and these letters were missing letters. I hated that the letters equalled numbers. The letters should be with more letters not be reduced to a singular number.
It is a true miracle I survived my math classes in grade school, high school and college, (Statistics-ugh! Don’t even remind me of that course. I passed with hard work and by the kindness of my professor and walked away never to do anything other than basic math ever again). I could never tell anyone what was happening in my brain with “Word Problems” or Algebra because I knew they would think I was completely mental. I suffered through it and thank the Word Gods who helped me realize words are my friends and as long as I can keep my bank account balanced, I’ll be just fine.
Only now can I share with you the problems with word problems from my youth and know that I am not completely mental. I am a word lover and word freak and in my mind words tell a story. If you give me only bits and pieces of a story, my mind will create a story and get lost in the details that I filled in. And there is nothing wrong with that. Words are not problematic for me, words are not numbers, words are delicious distractions, wondrous wishes, and things of beauty to get lost in.