In the Classroom
What are We Missing with Story Problems?
June 6, 2018
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Cindy Cliche

This summer a colleague attended a conference and was so excited to share her learning. One “take away” was a speaker that shared teachers should use the term “story problems” instead of “word problems” because the word “story” indicates that it is more than just a bunch of words and numbers. There is a context. Reflecting on this discussion, I begin to think about how much focus we are seeing in math instructional resources with numberless word problems, Bet Lines, and “notice and wonder.” I wondered if what we call the word/story problem is the whole solution, or is it how we support student understanding of the context of problems?

It was through the discussion of this topic that led to the idea of using the idea of “story” problems and making sense of the context of these problems. Dr. Jeremy Winters from Middle Tennessee State University came up with the idea of “Missing Pages.” “Missing Pages” are booklets that support the young learner in looking beyond the numbers in a problem to understanding the context of the situation. These books challenge students to be authors of mathematics as they complete their page with words and math drawings. The page that is missing varies depending on the situation. Making sense of story problems allows students opportunities to develop a deeper understanding of the operations and engage in rigorous tasks.

This work is now available to educators on a free website ( The page is a collection of stories organized by the situations chart and ready to be printed. We are looking for educators to add to the collection of stories. Please feel free to use in your classroom or submit books for others to use.

Could making a simple change in our language support students’ learning or should we as educators begin thinking about the context of traditional word problems. I think we need to do both!

Cindy Cliche’s teaching experience includes over 35 years as a K-2 teacher. She has recently left the classroom to be the Math Coordinator at Murfreesboro City Schools. Cindy has worked as a Teacher Trainer with the Tennessee State Department of Education. In addition, she is the Project INSPIRE Assistant with Middle Tennessee State University and Murfreesboro City Schools. Cindy also has worked with other educators writing content resources for NCTM. She was the Presidential Awardee in Math and Science Teaching in 2004. Cindy received her Bachelor’s Degree from Ball State University and her Masters from Berry College. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

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