Steven Strogatz on Word Problems

Patrick Honner’s interview with Steven Strogatz in Math Horizons is a great (and, sadly, way too short) read:

[update:  Steven Strogatz sends the following link for the complete interview:

Click to access strogatz_feb14.pdf



Sitting outside of both the worlds of education and academia but teaching my own kids, I try to spend as much time as I can reading about what others have to say about math education.  This part of the interview really stayed with me:

“[Strogatz] It just struck me as unbelievable that we’re doing word problems in one night’s homework. Students should spend at least two to three weeks on word problems. They’re hard! Every old-fashioned word problem is being thrown at her in one night.”

Funny enough I just started word problems with my youngest son last week and had practically the same reaction.  Right now we are in week two and you can already see that he has quite a bit more comfort in approaching simple word problems than he did ~10 days ago:

MathProblems120: from March 4th:

and MathProblems127 from today:

I’ll freely admit that I know nothing about how kids normally adapt to word problems, but I’m happy that he’s starting to think though the problem before diving in.  I’m definitely looking forward to at least another week of these word problems.

So my own anecdotal experience leaves me in agreement with Strogatz – one day of word problems just seems wrong.