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In simplest terms literacy means being able to read and write.

This is indeed the core of the educational process. The processes used to effect literacy in subject matter are extensive and well developed. Intensive programs based on research in teaching and the learning process are ongoing.

These efforts are producing measurable, positive results in more effective teaching of subject matter.

These efforts also enhance the ability to develop logical outlines, write tables of contents and indexes, construct business letters, write and use computer languages and many other forms of communication. The principles of effective communication are well known and are being further refined.

These principles have not yet been extended to the writing, reading and solution of word problems. The effect is present across the curriculum, becoming particularly chaotic in physics. In solving word problems the student continues to be faced with confusing, contradictory models which do not adhere to the principles of effective communication and the logical processes they learn in other areas.

The methods they encounter in problem solving continue to be similar to learning to type by the hunt-and-peck process. This process serves a very limited purpose and avoids the more effective, efficient and satisfying process of touch typing. Similar analogies are available in a huge range of human activities. Though it takes more effort and training to learn to touch type (as an example), the rewards and future benefits are substantial.

The inadequacy of historic teaching of problem solving methods and their current perturbations is widely known. Those who have struggled with deciphering and rationalizing students' solutions of word problems from grade school to grad school are well aware of this. Dissatisfaction with students' ability to solve word problems in an aware manner is known to all teachers, is well documented in the literature, and is recognized by professional organizations and employers in industry.

The underlying reason for the existing enigma is excellently and simply brought to light in They're Not Dumb, They're Different by Sheila Tobias. Quite simply, the logical processes students learn over many years are unnecessarily turned upside down in the problem solving environment.*

These web pages strive to introduce the idea that problem solving is not different from other human endeavors. One does not need to change logical gears to solve word problems. One does, however, have to learn basic problem solving principles just as one must do to learn to touch type or become literate in any other endeavor.

*On page 65 see Vicki's comment:

"... His logic seemed backwards to me."

This is a quite revealing, and common, statement. These web pages respond in a positive way to this situation by pointing out that the teaching of problem solving would be more effective and reach a larger population by using the same logical processes that are used successfully in other fields.

Also see Why students can't solve word problems reliably.

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