5 Replies Latest reply: Apr 30, 2013 8:11 PM by jroberts RSS

A Great Math Problem — Or Is It?

pvennebush New User
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Just before winter break, Illuminations sent a holiday treat (in the form of a math problem) to the subscribers of the Bright Ideas newsletter. The recipients included elementary, middle, and high school math teachers. The problem is implicitly personalized — students have to find the value of the letters in their name, based on some criteria given in the problem. A PDF of the problem is attached, or you can view it here:




A number of recipients shared their thoughts on this problem with illuminations@nctm.org.

  • “I gave the brainteaser to my students, and it was a success," wrote a high school teacher from Illinois. "The students were communicating about mathematics and having a great time. The problem was hard, but the difficulty is what encouraged them to seek help from others. This activity did a masterful job of utilizing several of the Common Core mathematical practices. Thank you for sharing this activity!”
  • A middle school teacher told us, "I would like to use this holiday math problem with my students, but I can't give them a problem that seems to be impossible to solve, even for a school full of teachers. How do we make this problem more fun for the kids, but allowing them some success?"
  • Another teacher asked, "What age child would you expect to be able to solve this puzzle, and how long would you expect it to take?"


What's your opinion? Is this a good problem? Would you use it with your students? Would you modify it in any way?


FYI, no answer key is provided with the problem. However, any person can check their answer at http://tinyurl.com/nameletterscheck.

  • Re: A Great Math Problem — Or Is It?
    davidwees New User
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    This looks like a fabulous problem to test computational reasoning on. One could probably set up an Excel spreadsheet to test different prices for letters, based on finding what an average price for a letter is likely to be from the data given.


    I think this would be fairly challenging to do by hand though as most students are likely to use a guess and check method. I'll see if I can have a couple of my colleagues try this problem out with their students and see what they think.

  • Re: A Great Math Problem — Or Is It?
    ssisler New User
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    This problem is great!  I immediately began looking for letter groups/name that could be subtracted away from other names to find the value of individual letters letters - almost like a system of equations.  My middle shcool students coudl handle this with some time.  It is a great example of a problem that builds perseverance. 

  • Re: A Great Math Problem — Or Is It?
    jroberts New User
    Currently Being Moderated

    I thought this was a great brain teaser, but not sure about it being a great math problem.  I gave it to some of my middle school students and they really enjoyed it and had a little difficulty at first.  My concern with the problem is that it would be great for teaching addition/subtraction but would be too difficult for those students in elementary learnign that material. However, I do agree with Stacey in that it wold be great example of perservance which would go with the Common Core Mathematical processes. 

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