When people think of the study of math, they usually think of students solving problems. And the girls in our middle grades Girls Who Math club certainly spend plenty of time working on math problems, both in the club and in their math classes. However, another tool I often use in my classroom is to have students write their own math problems. Writing math problems encourages meaningful communication of mathematics, promotes problem-solving skills, allows for differentiation in the classroom and slows down the thinking process. With this in mind, I showed recently the girls in the Girls Who Math club some examples of the type of problems Ms. Scully’s class of fourth graders were solving in math and we decided to write similar problems with a Valentine’s theme. The girls were excited and ready to go!

Students in the Girls Who Math club created fourth-grade math problems with a Valentine's Day theme.

Students in the Girls Who Math club created fourth-grade math problems with a Valentine’s Day theme.

The girls work on their problems.

The girls work on their problems.

First, the girls chose a context for their problem. They decided how many characters they wanted in their story and determined a relevant theme for their problem. For example, one girl chose to have two different students receiving candy while another girl chose to have three different types of candies served at a Valentine’s party. The second step was to pick the numbers and the operations they were going to use in the problem. This is the part of the activity that promotes problem solving. The girls had to pick two or more numbers, find the relationship between the two numbers and write the problem. They worked hard on this, discussing strategies with their peers and brainstorming strategies with me.

One of the problems written by the girls.

One of the problems written by the girls.

Here is one of the problems students wrote:

“A candyman has 200 lollipops and chocolates. He receives 66 chocolates and now he has twice as many chocolates as lollipops. How many lollipops and how many chocolates did he have at the beginning?”

By writing their own math problems, the girls meaningfully communicate concepts and improve their problem-solving skills.

By writing their own math problems, the girls meaningfully communicate concepts and improve their problem-solving skills.

After seeing the enthusiastic response from the club members about this project, I met with Ms. Scully to discuss more opportunities for our students to work together in meaningful, mutually beneficial ways. We are now in the process of developing a math buddy program, in which we will pair fourth and sixth grade girls to work together on problem-solving skills during lunch. Hopefully, this partnership will not only be a helpful way for both groups of students to sharpen their math skills and make new friends, but will also encourage Lower Division students to look forward to joining the Girls Who Math club when they enter the Upper Division!

Some very sweet math problems!

Some very sweet math problems!