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How to Teach Problem of the Week in Middle School Math

Use these tips and tricks to teach problem of the week in middle school math this year.

Do you ever find yourself wanting to shake things up with your math class warm-up? Well, that’s exactly where I found myself at one point in my teaching journey. As a math teacher navigating the dynamic landscape of middle school education, I was on a mission to discover teaching methods that were effective and exciting. I created a game-changer called the Problem of the Week (or month, if that fits better with your schedule). Join me as I share what Problem of the Week is, how I seamlessly weave them into my teaching routine, and the incredible benefits they bring to my students. Get ready for a math-tastic journey!

What is a Problem of the Week (or Month) in Math?

Let’s dive into how my Problem of the Week resources have injected a surge of excitement into my classroom. These are math exercises that provide students with an opportunity to put into practice a range of skills we’ve been diligently strengthening.

Teach problem of the week as warm ups, or review to help your middle school math students this year.

Problem of the Week word problems serve as a dynamic playground for hands-on application, from logic puzzles to interpreting quotients and mixed operations.

I set out to transform the typical warm-up into a more stimulating experience. The setup is simple yet profoundly effective. Each page kicks off with a concise scenario or word problem, paving the way for three follow-up questions tailored to the targeted skill. These are chances for my students to apply what we are learning instead of just memorizing for a test.

Numberless Problem of the Week Challenge

The real charm lies in what I call “numberless” problems, exemplified by the Problem of the Week Challenge #31. This goes beyond mere numerical computation. In this particular challenge, students are given a rectangle that is labeled with variables x and y. No numbers in sight. Cue the screaming and panic!

Teach problem of the week with numberless problems like these which challenge students to solve problems with no numbers.

In all actuality, there is no need for that because the questions will guide them through different scenarios. For example, if you’re given the measurements of side x and side y, how would you find the perimeter of the rectangle?

Students might respond by adding two x values and two y values. They might say multiply x by 2 and y by 2 and then add the products. Both are correct, and your students have solved it without any numbers.

Another question could be, “if you’re given the measurements of x and y, how would you find the area of the rectangle?” Your students should say something along the lines of “multiplying side x by side y to find the area”. It challenges my students to approach problem-solving with more creativity and by using their prior knowledge.

Benefits of Using Problem of the Week

Now that we have an idea of the what, let’s switch gears to look at the benefits I’ve uncovered by incorporating Problems of the Week into my teaching toolbox.

  • Enhancing Mathematical Skills: I’ve witnessed firsthand how Problem of the Week challenges serve as a tool for refining math skills. My students engage with these challenges in a way that goes beyond routine exercises. It’s pure skill application, which allows them to deepen their understanding of concepts.
  • Nurturing Critical Thinking: These problems are about fostering critical thinking. As students grapple with the scenarios presented at the beginning of each Problem of the Week, they navigate real-world situations that encourage reasoning. This, I’ve found, nurtures a mindset of critical inquiry and problem-solving progress.
  • Boosting Problem-Solving Abilities: Problem-solving is a skill that goes beyond math. The challenges push students to think creatively and strategically as they navigate through the follow-up questions. This, in turn, boosts their problem-solving abilities.
  • Providing Real-World Context: One of the standout features is their ability to inject a real-world context into math concepts. Answers the infamous question, “When are we EVER going to use this?” As students grapple with scenarios, the relevance of math becomes crystal clear.
  • Positive Impact on Engagement and Achievement: Problem of the Week challenges have a positive impact on student engagement and achievement. The interactive nature of these challenges captures students’ attention, turning what might be a mundane warm-up into an approachable and relevant activity for math.

Incorporating Problem of the Week challenges into my middle school math classroom has been a game-changer. They elevate the learning experience for my students. Not only that, but they also cultivate a mindset that extends beyond the confines of the classroom.

How to Use Problem of the Week Challenges in Your Math Class

You’re probably thinking, “This all sounds nice, but how am I supposed to fit this in? My curriculum plate is getting full!” I’m going to share with you a few ways how you can use these challenges easily!

Choose Your Rhythm

First things first, decide if you’re going to dance to the beat of a weekly or monthly drum. The flexibility is yours to own! Weekly Problem of the Week challenges can infuse a regular dose of practice, while monthly ones can build up to a review.

Tie it to the Now

One trick I’ve got up my sleeve is tying them to the current topics we’re diving into. My students know to take this paper out or to grab it from the designated spot to work on when work is finished. Other weeks, I use these challenges to warm them up for the rest of the class. Either way, I can trust that they are spending time applying our current math skills. It’s also a great way for me to check for understanding as we progress through the unit.

Review, Revive, Rejoice

Problem of the Week challenges aren’t just for the new kids on the math block. Use them as a way to revisit concepts you’ve already conquered. Who doesn’t love a good spiral review? Revive those previously learned gems and let your students marvel at their own progress.

Make it Integral

At the end of the day, you make the decision when and how you include these in your teaching. Make these an integral part of the learning experience. Whether it’s at the start of the week, end of the week, or once a month, let them create a practice routine for your students! Remember, the key is to keep it flexible and relevant with a dash of challenge.

Examples of Problem of the Week

To kickstart your journey into Problem of the Week, explore my free resource library, where you’ll find many challenges that cover a range of math topics. I gave a glimpse of Challenge 31 earlier, which you can find in my free resource library, but I want to explore another resource more in-depth with you.

Problem of the Week, #2 Explained

The following challenge practices interpreting quotients. The scenario is this: Carla and Charlie are making cookies for a bake sale. They need to make 85 baggies of cookies, each having 3 cookies inside of them. One batch will make 2 dozen cookies.

Question 1 Step by Step

The first question your students answer is how many batches of cookies will they need to make to have enough? First, they need to figure out how many cookies they need. So, they will multiply 85 baggies by 3 cookies per baggie, which equals 255 cookies. Now, they need to figure out how many batches of cookies that is. One dozen has 12 cookies, so with a batch of 2 dozen, that is 24 cookies in one batch. Their new equation is 255 ÷ 24, which equals 10.625 batches.

Question 2 Step by Step

In the next problem, they need to figure out how much money they will earn based on what they charge. The question asks, if they charge $0.75 per baggie and they sell all of them, how much will they earn? Your students will multiply 85 baggies by $0.75, which equals $63.75.

Question 3 Step by Step

Question C explains that Charlie thinks they’ll make more money if they package the cookies with 2 in each baggie for $0.50 since there will be more baggies. Is he correct? With fewer cookies in each baggie, more baggies will be needed. We need to take 255 cookies ÷ 2, equalling 127.5 baggies. Since we can’t use half a baggie, we then multiply 127 x $0.50 to equal $63.50. Charlie isn’t correct because we’d be making $0.25 less.

Question 4 Step by Step

Lastly, question D asks, if they want to make $100, charging $0.75 per baggie, with 3 cookies in each baggie, how many cookies will they need to make? First, $100 ÷ $0.75 to equal 133.3 baggies. We’ll round up to 134 because we can’t use part of a baggie. Multiply 134 x 3 to equal a total of 402 cookies. The second part asks for the number of batches. So, 402 ÷ 24, which equals 16.75 or 17 batches.

Engage Your Students

Embarking on the journey of integrating Problems of the Week into my middle school math classroom is more than a quest for math proficiency. It’s an experience that empowers my students to think critically and tackle problems. These challenges strengthen critical thinking skills and turn routine problem-solving into thoughtful analysis. With each scenario, a love for math extends beyond equations.

As my students navigate potential challenges, they start to see them as opportunities for growth. They develop a mindset that recognizes that the journey of exploration and discovery is just as significant as finding solutions. I eagerly witness the magic unfold as Problem of the Week challenges have seamlessly become an integral part of my teaching routine. They infuse my classroom with excitement during warm-ups, sparking problem-solving, and nurturing genuine enthusiasm for the world of mathematics.

Additional Math Resources

In addition to my free resource library, visit me at Cognitive Cardio Math TPT store for more math problem-solving sets. While some are inspired by past Problem of the Week challenges, others focus on specific concepts. This helps provide you with a toolkit ready to use for the next math class. Explore the possibilities and enhance your teaching with these additional resources:

Save for Later

Remember to save this post to your favorite math Pinterest board to use when you are in need of engaging resources, such as Problem of the Week.


Welcome to Cognitive Cardio Math! I’m Ellie, a wife, mom, grandma, and dog ‘mom,’ and I’ve spent just about my whole life in school! With nearly 30 years in education, I’ve taught:

  • All subject areas in 4th and 5th grades
  • Math, ELA, and science in 6th grade (middle school)

I’ve been creating resources for teachers since 2012 and have worked in the elearning industry for about five years as well!

If you’re looking for ideas and resources to help you teach math (and a little ELA), I can help you out!



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