10 Questions to Ask About a Math Problem

I’m substitute teaching 5th grade Language Arts today. I just found a handout with a set of questions titled “Peck’s Questions.” I quickly figured out (with my amazing powers of deduction) that they were questions you could ask about a novel.

After reading them, though, I thought, “Why don’t they have something like that for math?!”

So I did some research.

Before creating the super math list, I thought I would find out a little more about the original list.

Apparently this Richard Peck guy is pretty famous in young adult literature. The list is officially titled, “Ten Questions To Ask About a Novel” and was published in the The ALAN Review in the Spring, 1978 edition. Here it is:

  1. What would this story be like if the main character were of the opposite sex?
  2. Why is this story set where it is (not what is the setting)?
  3. If you were to film this story, what characters would you eliminate if you couldn’t use them all?
  4. Would you film this story in black and white or in color?
  5. How is the main character different from you?
  6. Why would or wouldn’t this story make a good TV series?
  7. What’s one thing in this story that’s happened to you?
  8. Reread the first paragraph of Chapter 1. What’s in it that makes you read on?
  9. If you had to design a new cover for this book, what would it look like?
  10. What does the title tell you about the book? Does it tell the truth?

The list allows students to dig in a little deeper to the novel. It helps them get creative and think about the story in ways they wouldn’t normally.

And it trains them to do this with novels throughout their lives.

Why a list of questions about math problems?

Before creating them, I decided the questions should do the following:

  • Allow the student to dig in deeper to the math problem, and the math behind the problem.
  • Help the student to think about the problem in ways they wouldn’t normally.
  • Let the student get creative in thinking about the problem.

And of course doing these things regularly will train them to continue to do this with all math problems through their lives.

Ten Questions to Ask About a Math Problem

  1. Who do you think created this math problem? Was it a man or woman? How old were they?
  2. Who do you think first figured out how to do a problem like this? How long ago?
  3. Imagine this is a real problem asked by a real person. What is that person’s job? Why are they asking this question?
  4. Why does this problem use the scenario that it does?
  5. If you could rewrite the problem using the same numbers and getting the same numeric answer, what scenario would you use?
  6. What numbers would you use in the problem to make it easier? What numbers would you use to make funny?
  7. Is there a story that can be created before or after this math problem that makes sense?
  8. Has the situation in the problem ever happened to you or someone you know?
  9. What about this math problem appeals to you? If nothing, why did you continue to work on it?
  10. If you had to illustrate this math problem, what would it look like?
  11. (UPDATE Nov 5 from suggestion in comments) Can you develop some sort of theory as a result of solving this problem?
  12. (UPDATE Nov 5 from suggestion in comments) How does this problem relate to problems you have encountered before?

Will it work?

Try using it yourself first. Get a feel for what each question means and how it might be answered.

Then try it on your children. Which questions work? What questions should be changed – and to what?

Share what you find in the comments so we can have a super solid list of Ten Questions to Ask About a Math Problem!

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4 Responses to 10 Questions to Ask About a Math Problem

  1. Quite an eye-opener, those questions! I also think questions such as ‘Can you develop some sort of theory as a result of solving this problem?’ and ‘How does this problem relate to problems you have encountered before?’ may help students relate to math better. It’s always great when you can discover links and methods on your own, instead of just learning them from textbooks or teachers.

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