Wonderful Word Problem Breakthroughs

A conversation with Kitty Tripp on episode 68 of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Today Kitty Tripp @kitty_tripp shares a breakthrough she’s had with helping her students solve word problems. Teach them to become a director! If you’re preparing students to take a test or just teaching math, this is a fascinating method for teaching.

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Kitty Tripp shares:

  • A breakthrough she’s had teaching word problems
  • A simple mindset shift to help kids
  • The excitement her students have about word problems
  • The 3×5 card trick
  • The mistakes she made before
Want to hear another episode on great math teaching? Listen to Felicia Casto talk about her awesome elementary math classroom.

Full Bio As Submitted

Kitty TrippKitty Tripp math teacher

Kitty Tripp, @kitty_tripp an innovative educator with 19 years in the field of education has experience not only as a teacher and district office administrator, but also in a wide variety of experiences integrating technology into the classroom. She has helped teachers, administrators and district office leaders create and implement a digital learning mindset.

This year Kitty took a bold step moving to Texas to work with a Twitter PLN contacts. She currently teaches 3rd grade at John C. Webb Elementary in Navasota, Texas and works with teachers in her school and educators across the nation on how to best to embrace digital learning across a variety of platforms. She greatly enjoys sharing her passion for being a connected educator through venues such as ISTE, Edcamp, EdTechTeam and various conferences. Follow Kitty on Twitter @kitty_tripp, @tripps_class or visit her blog at kittytripp.com.

Transcript: Wonderful Word Problem Breakthroughs with Kitty Tripp – episode 68 of the 10-Minute Teacher


[Recording starts 0:00:00]

At the end of the show, I’ll give you a discount code to use on the Cool Cat Teacher Store. You can use today’s technique with just about any type of thing where you’re trying to get kids to pay attention to details. Today we’re talking to Kitty Tripp about her wonderful word problem breakthrough. This is episode 68.

The Ten-minute Teacher podcast with Vicki Davis. Every weekday you’ll learn powerful practical ways to be a more remarkable teacher today.

VICKI:              Happy wonderful classroom Wednesday. We’re going to travel into Kitty Tripp’s kittytripp.com  third grade classroom in Texas. So Kitty, what are you doing right now that you think is wonderful?

KITTY:          I love how my students and I we’re acting out what is like to be a stage director. We are going through dealing with word problems and one of the difficulties I have found, my students rush through reading the word problem and so they miss a lot of the details they need to understand to solve the problem. So the way that we’ve taken to get them to slow down is to pretend we are stage directors and we have to set up the set for what is the action taking place on the stage of our word problem.

Then we take each section, maybe a phrase at a time, and we have our director’s log where we write all of our director’s notes. And we’re actually writing out the details of the word problems. But because of the mindset that the students have, I’m a director, they are really thinking about “I need to make sure I find out the details so I know how to set up the stage of what we’re doing. And with this mindset, I have seen dramatic growth in how the students are paying attention to the details of our word problems and really finding success in solving word problems.


VICKI:          Now, where did this idea originate, Kitty? I’m fascinated.

KITTY:          Well, I personally love the stage, I love going to plays, I love going to Broadway and I think I was just sitting brainstorming one day what will really help my students and help them to have another perspective. And at the time, I’m thinking about a play I wanted to see on Broadway and then just the ideas came together and I thought, “Yes, let’s be directors.” Because I thought all the details that directors had to be I charge of plus I know that my students love control, they love controlling things. And so a director has a lot to control but it’s important I’ve taught them not only does the director have control but they have to make sure they get all of their details correct or of course, our audience is not going to get the performance that they would like.

VICKI:          I love that. And I’m sitting here thinking about a Broadway performance I want to see which is Hamilton.

KITTY:          Me too.

VICKI:          Oh my goodness. Okay, so that’s a little random side trip.

KITTY:          Me too.

VICKI:          So that’s a fascinating way to do math. Now, how have your kids responded? Do they like math more? Because most kids groan when you talk word problem.

KITTY:          I know. And especially we have the state testing that is coming up. And while I don’t believe that students are being prepped for state testing, I do have that responsibility to help do to the best of their ability. My first goal is to teach them to think and then I think they would be able to perform on any test.


                    So with them I’ve told them listen, you’re not walking in and thinking, hey I’m going to take the [start testing] oh now, we’re walking in thinking, I am a director of 33 plays and I’m going to take each play on one at a time and then their director notes, they’re writing all the details for each play. Here in Texas, they’re given four hours and we talked about when we took our benchmarks. It took them about two hours. So it lasts them about four hours. And I said, guy, our imaginations can just have so much fun and we aren’t thinking about the boring tests, we’re thinking about the imagination of creating plays and the parts in a play and you have plenty of time to view that, so why not change the mindset.

And a lot of them agreed, hey, yes, I don’t like sitting there just having to put my head down. And so let’s try a new approach. And that was kind of the thinking that we used to help them go, “Oh, yeah.” And then the last couple of days this week, we’ve been acting about what does it mean to be the director? And that also gave them 3×5 cards because with students, they like to read that word problem all at once and it becomes overwhelming. But what my students have come back and said as we’ve had the card over the rest of the word problem except one part, we know that directors have to look for the details a little bit at a time, they can’t know all the details at once. And then they use their log to write out those details.

So using that little card helped them focus and that negative mindset towards the word problems went away because I actually think that big overwhelming feeling of, “Ah, I’ve got all this to take on” went away because of that 3×5 card.

VICKI:          So, Kitty, what kids struggle with this method and how did you overcome their struggle?

KITTY:          The struggle is in some of the words and understanding what they mean. For instance, today we had the word combined and then more than. And it was in the same sentence.


                    And so we really had to stop and talk about those words. And that’s where it’s critical for them to think as a director, directing a play, what is the action taking place? And I’ve got to understand that action and that then helps them to understand the words of what they need to be doing and the math. So really stopping and talking about those words and what their vocabulary means is been the biggest hurdle. But something about putting it together with acting helps them to visually and kinesthetically put those connections together.

VICKI:          So, Kitty, you seem so confident with teaching word problems – have you always been this confident?

KITTY:          No. Oh my goodness, Vicki. My worst two subjects growing up are math and science. I was that child that was struggling, I made C’s, I never had confidence. But as I have thought, I’m in my 20th year, as I’ve grown and developed that confidence it’s been through practice. And so I really have a heart for the students that struggle and sharing the strategies that I’ve learned throughout teaching, it’s given me confidence and I, in turn, am able to give that to the students as well.

VICKI:          So how does this method of being a stage director of math word problems compared to some of the other strategies that you’ve taught the kids to tackle word problems? Well in times past we would, of course, draw pictures to bring an understanding. But what I couldn’t get my student to stop doing was to look at the whole word problem all at once. I needed them to learn to dissect it a little bit at a time. And so when you take on that hat of being a stage director, we have to pay attention to the details.


And using that 3×5 card covering up everything except a little portion is really what made that key jump from, ‘okay, I’ve got to break this down’ before, they just struggled. And that sounds so simple but it was a hurdle that we had tried made different strategies before and couldn’t make that break. So this, we’ve had good success with.

VICKI:          So, Kitty, as we finish up – and you do have a lot of teachers, we have lots of friends with their kids getting ready to go into standardized testing, just coming out of them, could you give a 30 second pep talk for what can teachers do if the test is next week or in two weeks to help kids follow this model and maybe do better on these word problems and finally have that breakthrough?

KITTY:          Sure. I think a lot of students – first of all, you’ve got to teach them confidence. And that was the difference when I taught my students, you’re not walking in to just take a test. No, you’re confidently walking in as a stage director, you are in control, you have the power, you determine what’s happening. And so teaching that confidence and then sitting down with your students just a couple of days and using that 3×5 card, giving them that confidence boost of what is a stage director and then working out those strategies little step by little step I think you can see some great progress.

VICKI:          So teachers, this has been your wonderful Wednesday. We’ll call it wonderful word problem Wednesday, wouldn’t we?

KITTY:          Oh wow.

VICKI:          And this is what we get when we talk with each other, things breakthrough in excitement. And educators who care, share. So if you’ve had a breakthrough like Kitty tweet me, let’s talk about it on the show and share it with other educators, blog it, tweet it because we need each other when w have these breakthroughs. And I hope this will be a breakthrough for a lot of you with kids who are struggling with word problems.

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Thank you for listening to the Ten-minute Teacher Podcast. You can download the show notes and see the archive at http://ift.tt/2quX4Nu. Never stop learning.

[End of Audio 0:10:29]


[Transcription created by tranzify.com. Some additional editing has been done to add grammatical, spelling, and punctuation errors. Every attempt has been made to correct spelling. For permissions, please email lisa@coolcatteacher.com]


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