They aren’t “problems.” Let’s stop calling them that.

Recently, it occurred to me that part of the PROBLEM with the way math is taught is that we call it that:


I was looking at my son’s math (in spite of his native ability in the subject, and intuitive skill for discerning values – he HATES math). It just dawned on me – PROBLEMS. Every day he reads a lesson, and then he is handed up to 30 PROBLEMS to solve.

Why? They weren’t HIS problems. Someone else made them. Why should he (or you or I) have to solve someone else’s problems?

Okay, *that’s* probably a different story. Back to math.

They are NOT problems. Why do we tell students – from first grade through grad school – to work the problems and come up with solutions.

puzzle-210785_1280They’re PUZZLES.

We discussed this at dinner that night. My son agreed. They aren’t problems. What a change it would be if the book said, “NOW! Having read the clues [the lesson], check out this series of mini-puzzles. Can you find the solution to each? Which ones have stumped you?”t

What a different approach.

Math is really just a way to express the world around us. I know, you wouldn’t think so from the lessons in most math books. I spend more time talking to my kids to make sense out of the content that’s in their books than any other subject. 

But that doesn’t change the fact that math is something useful. Maybe we just need to start thinking about it that way, and when we (as parents and as teachers) aren’t seeing the use, take the time to look for it. 

5 thoughts on “They aren’t “problems.” Let’s stop calling them that.”

  1. I LOVE this!!

    One thing I’ve really liked about Rod & Staff Math is the story “puzzles” are realistic. My 12 year old has had to figure out percentages of ingredients for cattle feed, or make a graph for egg production. I realize that’s maybe foreign for city people, but for us, it’s realistic. (Well, we don’t have cattle, but would love to!)

    • It’s just like that passage in Farmer Boy, when Almanzo forgets himself and starts thinking out loud at the dinner table – the boys who so disliked school was doing multiplication right there, trying to figure out the price when his father went to market the next day!

  2. What a great perspective. I need this, because I am bad at math, and tried to not pass on my math anxiety to them. Thankfully, they got their math skills from their dad 🙂

  3. Totally stealing that. My littlest can do math work in his head like a beast if it relates to real life, but he dreads doing math on paper every day. Maybe helping him understand that he’s doing puzzles will ease the process a little. Because God knows mama needs some easing to happen. lol

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