This fall, I have been using the Problem of the Week resource from the Centre for Education in Math and Computing at the University of Waterloo. Every Wednesday, my grade 8 students get 40 minutes to tackle one of the problems and it’s great!
I love that students are required to draw on math skills that they have learned in previous units. Too often, students think they can forget skills just because they have moved on to another unit. I intentionally choose problems are are not necessarily related to the current unit. Students know this and expect to have to select relevant math skills and strategies.
I love that students can’t check the answer in the back of the book. To be honest, the first time I tried Problem of the Week with my students, I didn’t have time to work out the solution in advance. That turned out to be serendipitous: when students asked if they had the right answer, I had to respond with, “I don’t know. Is it right? How would you know?”, which encouraged some really great discussions. Now, students are in the habit of talking to each other to justify their solution and their approach.
By trying to explain their reasoning to a few classmates, students are better able to present their solution logically, which bring me to my next point…
I love that this is both accessible and challenging for all students. It’s a gross over-simplification, but I do seem to have two groups of students in my class: those who solve problems quickly but struggle to explain how they did it, and those who reach their solution by working it out carefully on paper. The problem itself is a challenge for the latter, and requiring students to write out their solution extends the abilities of the former.
If you’re interested in using Problem of the Week in your classroom, click here to subscribe to receive weekly problems from the CEMC.