Video Story Problem – What’s Wrong With This Word Problem?

My son had a math worksheet last week that included a hilarious word problem about a horse. Alright, I’ll qualify hilarious with the fact that my wife is a “horse person” and after reading the word problem at the dinner table, it was determined that the cowboy and horse in the problem possess some super-human qualities. And yes, we read a math word problem together at the dinner table…we’re nerds, we’re okay with that.

I’m curious how many other people can see the problem with the word problem, so I made a short video story problem about it:

This word problem, or more specifically word problems like it are the reason I started creating video story problems. The issue is the complete disconnect with the real world. I get it, worksheets and huge lists of facts and math problems given to students are meant to help strengthen their automaticity and fluency. But when we deal with extensions that are meant to engage and create curiosities about math in the real world (story problems), so many of them fall flat; either they’ve been designed by “instructional designers” that know nothing about actually teaching students, or they simply don’t have the ability to create problems and curiosities in a manner that would be more engaging.

So I decided to create a video story problem “challenge.” Can you pick apart the “Cowboy Carl” word problem in my video, and create a more engaging word problem, or at least a more realistic problem? What information would you need? I’ll confess, I shared this on my persona Facebook account, and one of my friends had her son take up the challenge. He immediately searched for the average speed of a horse (watch the video and you’ll understand why that’s important), and started to craft a problem with a more realistic goal in mind, not just a simple three-digit arithmetic problem dressed up with a bit of fiction. Instead, he created a real world problem for the rider and the horse, and then started to plug in numbers.

In short, when we venture into “math in the real world” territory…make it about the real world! Deal with real world variables, find numbers in narratives, not the other way around. And at the very least, challenge students to create their own problems, as the greatest amount of learning comes from the design of learning experiences themselves, not just being subjected to them.


    1. Right?

      I actually used this as a design challenge for a group of high school teachers recently, and it was well received. I challenged them to redesign, share, gather feedback, and then redesign again, and they came up with some fantastic problems that actually had stories about crossing the rockies, delivering the mail, etc. One group replaced Cowboy Carl’s horse with a Ford Mustang, and hardly had to touch the numbers 😉

  1. I really like the idea of creating video story problems. As a 3rd grade teacher, I try to avoid worksheet after worksheet. Too often they have nothing the student can connect with and students loose interest. I am moving towards an in-class flipped classroom and love the idea of real life video story problems being part of the lessons.

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