SPRING HILL — Suncoast Elementary School fourth-graders Connor Foster, 9, and Carlee Anselmo, 9, were hunkered down over a math word problem, working as a team. It was a tough one, but they had tools.
"Our teacher taught us something called KQL" Connor said.
Their teacher is Marguerite Kling, who added Word Problem Wednesday to her students' schedules about 3 1/2 months ago.
She explained KQL. When confronted with a complicated word problem in math, students should first look for the known information — the K.
"We write what we know from the problem," said Carlee, "and they tell you one question."
"But we might have a hidden question," added Connor. Q stands for the hidden question.
"After we found the hidden question," Carlee said, "we had to figure out what to do for the "looks like," the L part of KQL.
"Looks like" might be graphs or tables.
"You can do addition, subtraction, multiplication or division," Connor explained, to also illustrate a problem.
Teams around the room were figuring out their KQLs and solving their problems until Kling stopped them to move on to the next step.
At this point, Kling explained the math with the students as a group. Then each team left its work on the table and moved around the room, table to table and evaluated each other's work.
The students used Student Work Analysis Rubics as they visited each other's tables, ranking their work by looking for the identification of KQL (illustrations, equations, words). They checked their friends' calculations, organization and the use of labels and math vocabulary.
Kling really likes to hear math vocabulary. As she wanders around the room facilitating the process, she enjoys listening in.
"The conversations they have are really amazing," she said, "the math vocabulary they're using. It's nice for me, because I can kind of eavesdrop."
She said she hears the words they use and can determine whether they understand the concepts correctly.
After visiting each table, the students choose the top three problem-solvers of the week according to their assessments.
"So there's a little competition going on here, too," Kling said.
Each week's winners are posted the next day. This type of evaluation helps the students identify their misconceptions or, Kling said, they "have the chance to celebrate that their work was exemplary."
Teams are different each Wednesday.
"I often pair them randomly," Kling said. "It's good for people who normally wouldn't work together."
Kling explained why she decided to have Word Problem Wednesday.
"I found that over the years, students struggle with or are frightened of these kind of problems," she said. "It takes my whole math block, but I feel like it's valuable.
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The weekly lesson combines collaboration, problem-solving analysis, the actual problem-solving, writing and reading.
"Everything really rolled into one," Kling said.
And apparently it is rather fun.
"This is the first group I've had that kind of cheers when it comes to word problems," she said.
Word Problem Wednesday is sometimes extended at home.
"Many times they'll have homework that mirrors this, and that allows them to see if they can do the work independently," Kling said.
Lance Bonnett, 9, seems to appreciate the weekly math focus.
"I like it because it's fun and it gets my brain thinking," he said.
Victoria Carwell, 10, likes the way the entire class is involved.
"It's kind of fun. Math is a very easy thing for me," she said. "It's fun to go to other people and see their work, too."
Kling would like this problem-solving method to be long-lasting.
"I'm really hopeful that when they leave here, they'll be just confident about doing this," she said.