The “Word Problem” Problem

Math with Bad Drawings

Or, How to Avoid Thinking in Math Class, Part 4
(See Also Parts 1, 2, and 3)


This speaks more to my naiveté as a first-year teacher than anything else, but I was shocked to find how fervently my students despised the things they called “word problems.”

“I hate these! What is this, an English lesson?”

“Can’t we do regular math?”

“Why are there words in math class?”

Their chorus: I’m okay with math, except word problems.

They treated “word problems” as some exotic and poisonous breed. These had nothing to do with the main thrust of mathematics, which was apparently to chug through computations and arrive at clean numerical solutions.

I was mystified—which is to say, clueless. Why all this word-problem hatred?

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