View Full Version : Story problems in 1st grade?

ursula northman
02-09-2012, 08:42 PM
Sister Bear is 7, and still in ps. I despise the math curriculum because it at totally off the map. One week they are working with tangegrams, and the next they are multiplying. They bounce around constantly, except for the horrid story problems. She can do the equations, subtraction, addition, and doubling. The math itself is not an issue, but she does not seem to be able to apply the math to story problems at all. They make up more than half of her homework. This is how they are worded:

The white cat has 12 kittens.
The grey cat has 8 kittens.
How many fewer kittens does the grey cat have than the white cat?

Every single night we have to remind her that this is a subtraction problem. She gives us a totally blank stare. She actually asked me, "Is it 14?" HUH? She does not seem to understand when to use the appropriate functions, and instead is just guessing. If it were real life, she would have no problems. She knows that if you need 8 eggs and you only have 6, that means you need 2 more eggs. But write it out and she is lost. I think she is confused by the wording? "How many fewer"? If it were asked "how many more", she does better, but she still needs to be told what equation to use or she will just start spitting out numbers to see which one sticks.

How would you approach this? I have tried every method I can think of, but after 4 problems, she just goes numb and stops thinking. Is 1st grade the right time to be using word problems? If I had the option of pulling her out now, I would, but until I get paperwork back from her father, we have to suffer through this stuff, which I honestly think she is not ready for!

02-09-2012, 08:47 PM
Do you mean how to get her through ps this year, or how to handle it when you home school her? Honestly, once i'd decided to homeschool my kids, i was just kind of going through the motions - i didnt really care what happened at school any more. As for at home - my younger son loves math and word problems (except we've discovered that he really doesnt connect w geometry at all . . . . i guess i need some sort of manipulatives for that?) . . . my older son really struggles with word problems. For my younger one, i use curriculum which are mostly word problems. FOr my older one, he's very slow to do problems but reasonably fast with concepts, so i usually only make him do every other problem and skip the hard ones - and only occasionally make him do word problems. He is starting to get better finally this year - like that part of his brain is finally making the connections. Meet your child where they are is my motto. if its not her thing, its not her thing.

Accidental Homeschooler
02-09-2012, 08:56 PM
Could you, for example, use 12 white beads for the white cat's kittens and 8 gray beads for the gray cat's kittens and line them up and then ask the lesser than question? Or if she likes to draw she could make a picture to go with it. That could take some time but it might start her thinking about how to translate the story into the math problem.

02-09-2012, 09:26 PM
To me, it seems like a vocabulary issue. I suggest making her a chart of some sort. On one side, the vocabulary used (fewer than, less than, the difference between, etc.) and on the other side the operation used and maybe an example. Aside from that the only other thing that comes to mind is letting her draw it or count it out with a number line, counters, or the like.

02-09-2012, 09:57 PM
I would just practice it more and model it by doing it with her. The Singapore Challenging Word Problems are perfect for this sort of thing.

While it's frustrating, I do think in a way that it's more important that a child be able to do a story problem than a straight up math problem. To do the regular math problem, you can memorize the algorithm without really knowing what you're doing. To do the story problem, you have to understand what you're doing, which is clearly a more useful skill for life. But I think it comes slower for some kids. My 7 yos also find these problems challenging sometimes and we've had to really work on them to get better at it.

02-09-2012, 09:58 PM
My ds (also first grade) has a real block with this type of problem. We were doing bar graphs and he would give me a blank stare...so frustrating! Personally, I think it is too advanced for a 6 year old boy, so I did not push it. A few weeks ago I placed small toys in several rooms and had my kids "collect the data" and then graph it. This seemed to make more since to him.

02-09-2012, 10:12 PM
ack, now i feel lazy!!

ursula northman
02-10-2012, 12:00 AM
Oh, she can draw it out, and if you tell her what equation to use she is fine, but without that function given to her she has no idea whether to add or subtract. If presented in bar graph to begin with, she has no problem and has the answer in a blink of an eye, same wording and all. But the second you present her with it in story form she is lost. Maybe we will try graphing the numbers before we even approach the problem.

Cara, I know what you mean about not caring about PS performance. It has been really hard to care about getting her homework done when it is this stressful and I know we will be able to do it so much easier when she comes home. I don't get the privilege of working with her when she is at her best (mid-morning), so it is really hard to work on her trouble areas. By the time we get to address them we are both tired from the day and the last thing we want to do is math. She is expected to complete two worksheets, front and back, twice a week. It works out to about 100 problems in 15 different formats, and it is due the next day. At this point, if we hit major road blocks and we both want to start cursing, I tell her we will do it over the weekend. It's hard to care about due dates anymore, and what do I care if she chest-bumps in the hallway? She wanted to share her opinion about a book during reading time? GOOD! Let her interrupt class if it is the only way to get her thoughts out. If the only way she is going to feel valid is by making a little extra noise, guess what I am going to think is more important? Send home all the notes you want, I don't give a darn!

02-10-2012, 08:03 AM
Totally nosy here, but could you pull her out now and forget suffering through the rest of the year?

ursula northman
02-10-2012, 09:07 AM
Totally nosy here, but could you pull her out now and forget suffering through the rest of the year?

If I could, I totally would! However, I am waiting on paperwork from her biological father. He is notorious for apathy. Our divorce took three years when all he had to do was take a class, sign a few papers, and make a phone call. I have to get a notarized statement allowing it, file the paperwork, and then wait 30 days before pulling her out. By the time I get it back, the school year will be over. So, suffer we must!

02-10-2012, 09:49 AM
wow, thats annoying that you need his permission to homeschool! I just told my ex, I didnt ask lol. OF course, mine is just about as useless . . . so its not like he'd come around trying to cause trouble. He barely manages to tell the kids happy b-day. Apparently he's been off his meds for over a year, which makes him that much more useless.

I chose to stick out the school year just cuz i'm kinda OCD like that, I wanted a clean break. But my oldest had an in-school suspension, and then got another one. I actually requested it to be changed to an out-of-school suspension instead, and then let me . . . i dont care about his middle school records, putting a bipolar/autistic/tourettes kid in a small room w a bunch of mean kids all day is just cruel and unusual punishment. Esp since this was a crime he'd already been punished for by the teacher. I think it was just refusing to participate in gym or something stupid. I was SO done with it.

oh, and then I was supposed to drill my kindergartener on memorizing definitions for his state standards tests . . . we went over them a few times and I threw them away. thats not learning and i just dont care.

02-10-2012, 09:59 AM
I would change the word on the paper or even rewrite it so it makes sense. If the teacher doesn't like it, remind them every kid learns differently and the other option is for you to just do it for her, her/his choice.

Dd is in 2nd this year and yeah, 1st had word problems like that.

02-10-2012, 10:30 AM
If it was me, I would have her act out the situation every single time. Use beads, or blocks, or poker chips or teddy bears, or whatever seems easiest. We used to model absolutely everything. If she has too much homework to do that, then maybe go in and talk to the teacher about it. Explain the problem you are having together and ask if it would be alright for your daughter to only do half of the work, but to spend more time on the half she does so that she can learn to understand it.

My second thought is that most questions could be either subtraction or addition. I mean, even your example about the kittens could be thougth of as "what do I have to add to the smaller number to get to the larger one?" Helping her understand the question and then allowing her to figure out her own way of answering it might be more important than teaching her to watch for certain key words. In fact, I would avoid teaching her to watch for key words, because I think that leads kids into problems.

Another thing to try, if you haven't already, would be using part-whole circles. Draw a large circle with two smaller circles joined onto it. Start by teaching her that when she is adding to groups of things together she should put the two numbers in the smaller circle and the whole amount in the larger circle. In subtraction she would fill in the larger circle and one of the smaller circles first, and then figure out what other number has to go in the other smaller circle that could be added with the first to make the whole. After she gets good at using them, then you would start using them with the story questions. Ask her to help figure out where the different numbers go. You have twelve kittens and eight kittens. Where does the 12 go? Where does the 8 go? What circle gets left blank for your answer?

02-10-2012, 11:41 AM
Okay maybe I am crazy but honestly some days four problems is my child's maximum she does with out getting all wiggly and grumpy. Other days we do more. Our math is Right Start and they focus more on the concept than the amount of problems you do. Amazingly enough even doing just a few problems every day she usually seems to get most of the concepts and moves on. My point is maybe it is just too much, especially of something she is having a hard time with the word problems. Maybe writing the words down that mean subtract and talking about them would help. That sucks you have to wait for her biological dads signature, what a pain. Sounds like you are doing the right thing just doing the problems on the weekends. Sounds like home schooling to me.

02-10-2012, 11:45 AM
Maybe try to have her "translate it" to ONE standard problem. Wneh dd was that age, if she got stuck on a word problem I had her restate the problem in terms of something that interested her (in this case bunnies and carrots). ALL math problems can be turned into problems involving feeding carrots to bunnies. In your example, it would be something like you have 12 bunnies and 7 carrots, how many fewer carrots do you have than bunnies? It became a touchstone for her, and sometimes she liked acting it out with stuffed animals and blocks. When we hit fractions she would make "carrots" out of legos. And who can be intimidated by feeding bunnies to carrots? LOL

So maybe it's apples for unicorns or pixie flowers for fairies or giant toes for trolls -- just pick her favorite and use it EVERY time. Seeing that all problems are equivalent to one problem is actually a key concept of mathematics. I mean, the whole point to word problems is that 12-7=5 no matter what you are counting. If it helps her to have an intermediate step, try it. Anyway, I prefer doing math with stuffed animals and blocks over at a table with a pencil any time! Now we do algebra cuddled on the couch (next to the chalkboard when she needs to work a problem). :)