Open Ended Math Problems in the Elementary Classroom

I started with a simple question:

How many hours did you sleep last night?

From there is made sense to go to the next question:

How many hours have you slept this week?

Take it a step further:

How many hours have you slept so far this month?

Since the beginning of the year?

I had intended to get to this point in the beginning, and it was around the second question that they figured where I was going. So, finally:

How many hours have you slept in your life?

I love these types of open ended math problems, as they let kids really explore, make assumptions, play with numbers, and think critically. And it is so fun to get these crazy, useless facts. I was sent a blog a while back about stupid math calculations, and I love the basic idea here. The mathematical reasoning that goes into these questions is superb. As a reflection piece, I have found that the simple reflective question; Show how this is reasonable, opens up a whole new way of thinking about the questions.

I am trying to collect a series of these problems, so please share to this googledoc with your favorites.



Article Submission for TES

A three hundred word article about one word stories in which the title and an image do not count towards the final total

“Who think they know the difference between a great story, a good story, and poor story?”
Hands shoot up into the air. Faces look confident.
“Alright, what makes a story great?”
Groups of children huddle around large pieces of paper and scratch out ideas. After thinking has been exhausted, we collect ideas on the whiteboard. The same words and ideas keep popping up, like a rogue kernel of popcorn escaping the pan.
“This is an impressive list. Let’s have a vote on the top five.”
Each student finds a quiet place in their own mind. Stories are an individual preference, as unique human beings, we connect for different reason. But, we all connect to stories.
A silent and blind poll ensues. Checkmarks are gathered and counted. The brainstorm becomes something else. It becomes a structure.


“That is intriguing. I read a book about stories, and the author presented his list.”


“The lists are pretty much the same. How can we use this to make our stories better?
An initial rubric is created. Kids argue about word choice and how to differentiate between using character effectively, and ineffectively. We go back and forth a couple of times, play with wording, and finally accept that it is a work in progress that will never be perfect.
Like clouds, someone says.

We write. We focus on 100 word stories. By limiting our choices, we open paths for creativity. The stories grow and evolve. We reflect. Sometimes we decide to focus on one element (a 100 word story with clearly defined struggles) and others we try and weave all five into one story. Not easy to do in 100 words.

Then again, because it is not easy is exactly why we are doing it.