Last week's edible factor trees reminded me of a math activity I used to have my students do. Using a newspaper, they cut out numbers and glued them to a piece of paper in order to create six grade-appropriate math problems: one each of addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, and percents. I stressed "grade-appropriate" because single digit addition, for example, is not something most 5th graders need to practice. My expectations would be much different for younger or older children.
This is what I would expect of a typical 5th grader:
The first step was to cut out 15-20 numbers from which they could generate the six problems. If students had trouble finding numbers, I would direct them to advertisements. You can usually find dollar amounts, phone numbers, percents, model year numbers (cars), and other useful numbers there. Once they had their numbers, they needed to arrange them on the paper so that they made sense (no dividing by zero) and so that they can be solved (no fractions that can't be simplified). With the problems set, they needed to leave enough space between the problems to solve them before gluing them down.
While some may question how much solving six problems of their choosing could possibly be of much benefit to students, there's actually a whole lot more going into this assignment than just solving six math problems. Students become familiar with the layout of a newspaper, practice scanning (critical for reading proficiency), use fine motor skills to cut out small numbers, think about how to solve six types of math problems, judge the difficulty level and their own capabilities, develop spatial awareness, and learn to apply the correct amount of glue (another fine motor skill, and something 90% of kids need to practice more often). All this before they ever solve the math problems. Best of all, most of my students really enjoyed this activity that was packed with (hidden) learning.
Here's how the completed assignment looks:
Six little math problems, scissors and glue, and a whole lot of learning.