Recently, I was asked to tutor a sixth grader in math. The math worksheets included introductory algebra as well as problems on mean, mode and median. It was interesting to me to work with this student and see how he solved the problems.
One particular problem stumped him: the problem asked for a missing bowling score. Five scores were given as well as the mean for six. What I did was have Paul create his own similar problem. I asked him to substitute small numbers for each score and supply his own number for the “unknown.” Thus he already knew the answer and solved the problem by working backwards. He calculated the mean for the six games and figured out the “missing” score.
Have your child do this with any word problem. This strategy will boost your child’s confidence in his/her math abilities. When presented with a difficult problem, substitute your own problem and supply the “missing factor.” You know the answer, so the problem is now easy to solve. It’s now easy to translate the more difficult problem into the “language of algebra” and solve.