Here is a sample of one of the pre-algebra problems…give it a try because doing some math in the middle of summer is good for you (or call over one of your kids and promise them an ice pop if they can get the answer before you.)
Raul and Esteban just started working at their uncle’s farm on the weekends. Their first task was to count the ostriches and llamas. When they reported to their uncle,
Raul said, “I counted 47 heads.” Esteban added, “I counted 122 legs.”
“How many are ostriches? How many are llamas?” asked their uncle.
“It’s getting dark and I promised your mother I’d get you home for dinner. There’s no time to count again. You’ll have to figure out how many ostriches and how many llamas there are from that information when you get home. Can you give me a call after dinner and let me know your answer?”
How did Raul and Esteban figure out how many ostriches and how many llamas there were?
Got your answer? No giveaways here…you’ll just have to use the information in the problem to check your answer (because it is July and I know we’d all just scroll down to read it.) But here is the best part. It is not about getting the answer, but how did you get it? Did you take a guess? Make a table? Write an equation? Did you spend time trying to draw a llama or wondering why llama is spelled like that? And if someone else in your family tried it too, did they do it the same way as you?
All of these questions open up the process of problem-solving which is a very personal thing. Many students get completely stuck on word problems because they are focused on trying to remember how they are “supposed to start” instead of just following their intuition. In the problem above they might spend 30 minutes trying to decide what x should represent when guess-and-check could get them to the answer with no problems. Learning how to hone and sharpen your own problem-solving strategies is the real beauty of mathematics.