How To Incorporate Open Ended Math Problems

 How To Incorporate Open Ended Math Problems

I love using open-ended math questions and problems in my classroom. Not only are these types of problems engaging and fun for students, but there many benefits to incorporating open-ended problems into your daily classroom routine.

Simply put, open-ended math problems are problems that have more than one correct answer. By providing students with opportunities that allow more than one answer you not only find an increase in class participation, but you will also find students are more engaged!  Grab a set of FREE digital skill-based open-ended activities at the bottom of this post.

When students engage in math activities that are open-ended they:

Sounds amazing, right? It gets better! When you present students with open-ended math problems you are making it easy for all students to get involved. I like to tell students to "Make it Happen" using the skills that they have. This allows them to draw on what they already know to answer a question or problem that they don't know.  Students solve open-ended math problems using the skills that they already have, making it a natural way to differentiate in the classroom.  

How To Incorporate Open Ended Math Problems

Here is an example.

If you present students with a difference of 114, and ask them to create a matching subtraction number sentence, not only will you potentially get a different answer from each and every student, but you will get answers that represent students' individual abilities. A struggling student might respond with 115-1 while students at a higher level might respond with 200-86, and going further other students might challenge themselves to start at 1,000 and figure out how to get down to 114. 

digital open ended math activities


The real magic happens in the sharing of solutions!

Students are much more engaged in hearing all of the different possible solutions than hearing a "one right way" response to a problem that they might not have been able to solve in the first place. This means that mathematical discourse is higher and step by step solutions are shared. 

Over time, students will begin to challenge themselves and try to come up with more than one way to solve a problem.

I love to begin using open-ended activities by using skill practice activities. It is a great way to engage students of all levels with no prep. They are also easy to incorporate as practice all year long, no matter what math unit of study you are currently teaching.

My favorite skill-based open-ended activities focus on:

Once students get the hang of open-ended math activities with skills that they are familiar with, then it is time to get students engaged in open-ended math problem-solving tasks! Grab a set of FREE digital skill-based open-ended activities at the bottom of this post.

free digital math open ended activities upper elementary

When to incorporate open-ended math problems:

There is no right or wrong way or time during the day to incorporate open-ended math activities. Not sure how to fit in your day? Try one of these ideas:

  • Daily Math Problem of the Day: post it in the morning and discuss it during math
  • Math Chat or Warm Up: whole class activity before math begins
  • Math Centers or Rotations
  • Remote Learning (or in class) Independent Activity
  • Morning Work/Bell Ringer
  • Small-Group Instruction
  • Five-minute filler: use those extra few minutes throughout the day to solve an open ended math problem

If you are still having a hard time finding the time to fit it in, start with one day of the week. Make it a goal to present students with one problem each week. The more students solve them, the more excited they will be to solve more, and the easier it will be for you to fit open-ended problems into your daily routine. 

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How To Incorporate Open Ended Math Problems

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