When I was in elementary school, I was puzzled by classmates who had trouble with word problems in math. After all,  they’re not only giving you a math problem, they’re giving you a backstory that will allow you to develop some intuitions about what’s going on. I recall that in fifth or sixth grade, we were taught some tips and tricks for converting word problems to stripped down arithmetic problems in preparation for standardized testing. The teacher told us that problems of the form “Has x things, and then takes y more things” were addition problems. This confused me, and for a while I thought it had to do with reading comprehension.

  While reading this article, I began to formulate an alternate hypothesis. Perhaps it is not that the students don’t have the reading comprehension, but instead that they don’t know how the arithmetic system connects to reality. And instead of teaching the connection, they taught more symbol manipulation tricks, teaching that “more” means “+”, “less” means “-“, and so on. This would explain quite handily the issues many young students had with word problems.