What’s your favorite type of math activity to have your middle school math students work on?
For me, it’s almost always been math problem solving. This could include word problems that apply specific math concepts, word problems that incorporate a variety of math concepts, logic puzzles, word problems that focus on problem solving strategies (create a table, make an organized list, find a pattern, work backwards, draw a picture, etc).
I also love using problems that have more than one correct solution, so students can share the thinking that leads to different answers.
Cooperative Groups for Math Problem Solving
When we work on math problem solving activities, I often have students work together, so they can model for each other and share/listen to each others’ thinking and reasoning.
I wrote the “Party Planning” problem shown here to give students practice with:
- decimal operations and
- solving problems with multiple solutions
To solve the problem, students worked with one or two partners to come up with combinations of foods that Reggie could buy for a party.
To find their solutions, students needed to:
- add decimals
- multiply if they were going to include several of one item
- possibly subtract, to revise their answer if their total was over $50
Student Conversation and Feedback
I loved listening to the kids’ conversations as they worked on this problem. I heard comments like
- “No one eats pretzels”
- “I’d choose candy and chips over pretzels,” and so on.
The students had a few important questions for me, as they were pretty serious about this planning.
- “Is this a “regular” party or like a sleep-over party, because the kind of food would depend on how long the party is.”
- “How big is the container of ice cream?”
- “How big is the bag of candy?”
In addition to these questions, there were a few other factors that made me realize I needed to revise the problem, and add more details/requirements.
- For example, one student said, “Let’s just get 50 bottles of soda!”
- Another group of students decided that having 5 fruit trays and no other food would be a good plan (even though the problem stated that Reggie wanted a variety of food items).
Do you get to spend much time on math problem solving activities with your students?
If you’d like more math problem solving ideas, check out these posts.