Published: 07th September 2020
How EdTech major EI is helping students solve maths word problems better with real-life examples
Educational Initiatives has conducted studies to find how word problems in mathematics can be connected to real-life examples to make learning effective. We find out more
Here is an arithmetic word problem: There are 125 sheep and 5 dogs in a flock with Raghu. How old is Raghu?
We have all had to solve such problems in school. But how many of us tried to solve them rationally by understanding the concept rather than just providing an answer mechanically? I, personally, found them very confusing unless my teacher made me sit and understand with something in real life that I could relate to. Even now, students face challenges with certain keywords in word problems and find it difficult in applying them to real-life situations. While solving arithmetic word problems, a majority of students demonstrate the tendency of applying one or more arithmetic operations to the assigned data without realistic consideration of the context. Educational Initiatives, the EdTech major has done various studies across schools and come up with the finding that these word problems if connected to real life and designed well can be an extremely effective tool for learning.
With their Maths learning tool Mindspark, EI is applying this approach to enable children to understand concepts better and solve word problems logically. "Word problems must involve realistic and relatable contexts to enable students to draw from their real-life experiences. Students are often mechanically solving word problems, performing operations on given numbers and often don’t see if their answer makes sense and relate to their real-life experience. All these problems written down in the textbooks are complicated and not events from real life. Sometimes children lose context, they are way too fictional. With our maths learning tool Mindspark what we have been trying to do is bring in relatability and formulate word problems that are effective in the learning process. For example, they saw a soap discount ad on their way home from school and we try to bring that in a word problem so that they are able to relate and get the context," explains Anand Dani, Chief Business Officer, Educational Initiatives.
EI conducted student interviews to understand why students answer in the way they do. "We go to a classroom in a school, pose a problem, invite student responses and ask them to articulate their reasoning to arrive at an answer. This way of uncovering student’s thinking also helps us understand misconceptions students have and their extent. We conducted one such student interview in an English-medium private school in Goa," says Maulik Shah, Head, Maths Pedagogy Research, Educational Initiatives.
Here is an example:
Gaurav (name changed) is a class 4 student in the school whose mother tongue is English. He is comfortable in English. The problem given to him was as follows.
Ram had 187 marbles. Shyam had 245 marbles. How many more marbles did Shyam have than Ram?
Gaurav’s answer was 332.
"When asked to explain his answer, Gaurav didn’t have to think twice. Confidently he answered, 'When ‘less’ appears in the question one needs to subtract and when the word ‘more’ appears the numbers are added.' So, when asked a simple arithmetic word problem in English, Gaurav follows keyword-based rules instead of trying to understand the problem and choose an appropriate arithmetic operation," adds Maulik.
According to the data collected by them through various studies on a large number of students on different types of addition and subtraction word problems shows that there are many students like Gaurav in classes 1-5 who tend to identify the operation (addition, subtraction etc.) to perform based on keywords like ‘more’, ‘less’ or ‘few’ in a word problem. "The ability to apply operations in real-life situations shows students’ conceptual understanding of these operations. Different contexts and situations are encountered in real life," he adds.
A lot of schools use Mindspark, with every child learning on their level, which keeps getting challenging. For example, in a class, if 30 students are doing this, the teacher will understand what the misconceptions are that need to be addressed. That's how children will learn the concepts better. EI also conducts an annual Asset test determining the students' learning capabilities. They have been doing this for 20 years across 18 countries.