Posted in Lesson Plans

A Meaningful Classroom Experience

By: Kristie Hinckley

This semester, I took MTHED 305: Basic Concepts of Math. In Unit 1 we learned about story problems. We focused first on addition and subtraction story problems and then on multiplication and division story problems. As we learned about how a student’s math understanding develops, we saw how different types of story problems could “stump” students and leave them puzzled. For example, one question read, “Susie found four seashells at the beach. Her sister gave her five more. How many seashells does Susie have now?” This question is an example of a “Join, Result Unknown” problem. It means that elements in the problem are added to a given set (join) and the sum of those two numbers is not given (result unknown). It is one of the question types that is easiest for students.Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 2.24.20 PM

We had two opportunities during this semester to go to Wasatch Elementary School and interview a student, using the story problems we wrote. The student was given paper and a pencil, along with some blocks. My partner and I asked the student our questions, starting with the easier story problems. As I read the problem, he picked out the numbers from the problem that he knew he had to work with and he would write them on his paper. It looked like this…


Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 2.25.07 PMThen we got to the harder story problems, such as, “Claire had some stuffed animals. She donated two of them and had two left. How many stuffed animals did she start with?” Our first-grader said, “I don’t get it, you didn’t say a number.” We read the problem again. He wrote the number two on his paper with a question mark in front of it. He said, “Some? That makes no sense. That’s not a number word. I don’t get what ‘some’ means.”

It was absolutely fascinating to see how each students found the answer differently, just like we learned in the course. One student used her fingers, another directly modeled using blocks, and yet another did all the computations in his head. The purpose of this interview was to effectively test a child on his/her addition and subtraction skills, analyze the child’s response—including strategies used—and write a letter to the teacher to help him or her understand their students’ specific understanding of math concepts. I find that my experiences in the elementary school classrooms help me learn the most. Have you had any meaningful classroom experiences?

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