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.


  1. Anonymous22.2.14

    Hi, I like this idea and will enjoy sharing the challenge with my class. I added a few to your list:

    How many breaths do you take in your lifetime?
    My favourite one growing up was, “How long will it take you to count all the people in the world?” ...the great thing about this one is that I'm still working it out!

    I just put together a set of helpful posters to assist teachers ask questions that support open ended problem solving, and that help students use prompts and question frames as well as outline a 4-Step Problem Solving Process with guiding questions that may help your kids too. You can download for free:

    Natasha Hutchins

    1. Nice! I was going to start some problem solving strategies with my class next week. I think I will use these posters. Cheers!

  2. This is great, I have been doing one day a week of problem solving. Another arrow for my bow


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