Material Critique: Math Word Problems from Montessori 123

I am very pleased to be able to partner with Montessori123 for a product review today. They very generously provided me with their Math Word Problem Collection of Five Sets, Levels 1 and 2. Take a look:

Description

Here’s the description from the website:

These story problems will sharpen your students reading and math skills at the same time. This collection includes five different sets (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and problems requiring two steps). Each operation includes twenty different cards, individually numbered for record keeping purposes.

The cards are illustrated to make the work more inviting. An answer chart is included to encourage independent work.

The level two set features word problems based on factual information with larger Montessori123 Word Problemsnumbers.

The level one set features situations that children are familiar with in their own lives.

What the description doesn’t tell you:

  • The cards are color-coded:
    • Red–Addition
    • Green–Subtraction
    • Gold–Multiplication
    • Blue–Division
    • Black–Multi-step problems
  • Each word problem card is about 2 x 2 in. The control (answer) cards are 4 x 7 in.

Storage

Whenever I get a new material, as excited as I am to share it with my students, my first Poppin Business Card Holderconcern is always how to display it. Fortunately, a Container Store just opened up nearby, so I stowed a pack of my shiny new Word Problems in my purse, hopped in the car and toodled on down the highway.

These Poppin Business Card Holders would have been perfect…except that I couldn’t continue the color coordination across the set. They have orange instead of gold, which could have worked, but the green is a mint shade, which could not. Also, there was the problem of keeping Levels 1 and 2 separate. Keeping them separate is easier if all the Level 1 cards are together and so are all the Level 2 cards. On to the next idea:

Like-It Bricks SystemThe Container Store’s Like-it Bricks system is nice because you can purchase the length, width, and number of dividers you need. This was the perfect solution logistically speaking, but it’s not the most attractive piece of equipment. I decided to hold off on a purchasing an imperfect storage system and use what I have: index card file boxes. Levels 1 and 2 fit into two boxes and I use index file dividers to keep the operations separate. I actually like the fact that they’re closed containers and that they’re clearly marked Level 1: Multiplication and Division, but the fit is far from perfect.

What I Liked

The cards are easy to read and I’ve found that my students generally have very little trouble identifying the question they’re meant to answer. Also, the topics really do interest the students, and they enjoy finding themes across the operations. The cards come without Montessori123 Word Problemsinstruction, so I decided to do my own thing with them, which was to have students working on Word Problems choose a card from each of the four operations and then one multi-step. This was great, as it gave them practice addition, subtraction, multiplication and division–and then they had to identify which operation was being asked of them on the last card.

My students enjoyed the stories and enjoyed trying to find themes. “Today I’m going to all the stories about bugs!” Hey, whatever it takes to get my students excited about math, amirite? Also, like all Montessori teachers, I love the color-coding and the fact the answer is next to the matching picture on the control card. Students can check their work themselves–though I usually had them swap with a peer.

Some Suggestions for Improvement

I would have preferred more realistic pictures. I don’t know if the lack of them was a copyright issue, but I found the images too cartoony. They rather resembled clipart. Realism is a hallmark of Montessori materials, and I would have like to see that reflected in these Word Montessori123 Word ProblemsProblems. One particular card features an imaginary creature with two heads and four legs. Now, I’m no biology expert but surely there’s a bizarre multi-limbed, multi-ocular (if not multi-headed) true-to-life animal that would have served the same mathematical purpose? My students live for that kind of ephemera.

My second suggestion is for classrooms with Levels 1 and 2 on their shelves. The cards in the two levels often got mixed up. Students working on Level 1 would put their cards in the Level 2 box–the kind of thing that will happen in a classroom. Since there’s no way to tell whether a card is Level 1 or 2 without referring to the Control Chart, I ended up adding a symbol on the back of all the cards (blue stars for Level 1 and red circles for Level 2). An easy fix, but it would be nice if they came coded in some way.

One last note: a few of the cards did have errors, either grammatically or in subject consistency. My students were very understanding, if quick to point them out.

Final Notes

It occurred to me, as I used these story problem cards, that one of the primary things I want my students to learn is those key phrases that identify which operation they need to use. However, I went back to Montessori123’s website. They actually have a Word Problem Strategy Work, so it may just be that I was looking at the wrong work. I’m not sure, though. As much as my Montessori mind loves the color-coding, it’s a double-edged sword with the word-problems. If the color identifies the card as a division story, that’s half the work.

The other thing I wondered about was that the cards don’t require the student to filter any extra information. Obviously, this was primarily a concern with my older students, but one of the tasks they need to be work on is figuring out what is relevant and what is not. Maybe this is Level 3? Maybe this is also included in the Word Problem Strategy Work?

All in all, I’m very happy to add the Word Problem Cards to my Math Shelf. They’ve seamlessly enriched my curriculum and I’d like to thank Montessori123 for generously giving them to me in exchange for review.

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