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This article outlines teaching ideas appropriate for primary mathematics. It is mainly aimed at primary school teachers and teacher-researchers. Mr. Men stories are inspiration for this set of challenging problem solving tasks.
82 October 2017 • teaching children mathematics | Vol. 24, No. 2
math by the month James Russo and Toby Russo
James Russo, (Belgrave South Primary School), and Toby Russo, (Bell Primary
School), are brothers and primary grade school teachers in Victoria, Australia. Their teaching passion revolves around developing engaging
mathematical games and activities that extend student thinking. Edited by Lisa Brooks,, a lecturer in the College of
Education and Human Performance at the University of Central Florida in Orlando; and Samantha Neff, Samantha_neff@scps.k12.fl .us, a K–
grade 5 math coach at Highlands Elementary School in Winter Springs, Florida. Email problem collections for the editors to consider as future
Math by the Month columns. See submission guidelines at Email creative solutions and adapted problems
to for potential publication, noting Readers Exchange in the subject line.
Mr. Tall is a fast walker. At the end of the story, we learned that Mr. Tall covers the 40 miles from the beach
to his home in just 4 minutes! How far can you walk in 4 minutes? (If your teacher or parent is willing, go to
your school yard or your local neighborhood to fi nd out.) How much faster than you does Mr. Tall walk? We
also learned that it took Mr. Small a whole year to walk 40 miles! How much slower than you does Mr. Small
walk? How much slower than Mr. Tall does Mr. Small walk?
Mr. Rush has a new job delivering express letters. He can deliver twice as many letters, in half as much
time, as the former postman, who used to deliver 60 letters in his 8-hour shift. He was paid 50¢ per letter
delivered. Each day, Mr. Rush does an 8-hour shift, working as much as he can to save for his beach holiday.
How long will it take him to earn $1,200? Mr. Rush is so good at his job that he is given a pay raise while he is
on vacation. After his holiday, he is paid 70¢ per letter. How many 8-hour shifts must he work to save $5000
to buy a new car?
To tickle the teacher, Mr. Tickle shaped his arms into a perfect circle (at full stretch) so that he could reach
under each of the teacher’s armpits with both hands at the same time. Standing at the classroom window,
Mr. Tickle was exactly 30 feet away from the teacher. Work out how long each of Mr. Tickles arms are. If you
get stuck, create a scale model of the problem, using string to represent Mr. Tickle’s arms.
Extra challenge: Work out the area of one of Mr. Tickles cuddles.
Little Miss Princess was all mixed up. She tried to buy sausages at the bakery, peas from the butcher, and
bread at the Green Grocery. She got everything wrong because she had spent her whole life living as a
princess, and she had never had to do anything for herself. Poor Little Miss Princess! Even though she did
not know which shop sold what, it did not have to be this way. She might have bought the
right items, from the right shops, just by chance. She might have guessed right. What is the
probability that she would have bought the right items from the right shops by chance?
That is, what is the probability that she would have bought sausages from the butcher,
bread from the bakery, and peas from the Green Grocery?
Grades 5–6
Mr. Men and math
Read a Mr. Men story with your students, and tackle the associated
mathematical tasks. Success with these tasks requires children to draw on a
variety of problem-solving strategies, including drawing diagrams and pictures,
creating tables, trial-and-error strategies (guess and check), modeling problems with
concrete materials, and possibly even acting out the problems. Have fun!
Copyright © 2017 The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Inc.
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Mr. Bump finally found a job where he can be successful; in fact, his tendency to bump into
things is actually really useful. Mr. Bump is a fantastic apple picker. Every time he bumps
into an apple tree, half the apples fall down and can be collected for Mr. Barley. If a tree has
64 apples on it, how many times must Mr. Bump bump into the tree before only 1 apple is
left? One tree in the orchard has lots of apples on it. Mr. Bump actually bumps into this tree
9 times until there is only 1 apple left. How many apples were on this tree to begin with?
Mr. Mean’s favorite thing to do is count his money. He has a collection of coins hidden in a box in the
kitchen. When he pours his box of coins out onto the floor, he can see a collection of quarters and dollars.
He sees 26 coins, and he counts $20 total. Can you work out how many quarters and how many dollars he
has? After saving for another year, Mr. Mean has $32 worth of coins and exactly 72 coins (made up of dimes,
quarters, and silver dollars). Can you work out how many of each coin he has? (Hint: The last question has
more than 1 possible answer.) For an extra challenge, try to find at least 2 different answers.
It takes a while living in Happyland before a miserable person starts to feel less miserable. How long it
takes a person to become happy depends on how long he or she spent being miserable to begin with. For
every year that a person has been miserable, it takes 1 month, 1 week, and 1 day of living in Happyland to
become happy. Mr. Miserable has been miserable his whole life, and he is 36 years old. How long would it
take him to become happy after he moved to Happyland? Mr. Miserable’s father is 72 years old and is about
to move to Happyland to join his son. He also has spent his whole life being miserable. How long must he
live in Happyland to become happy?
Mr. Slow is such a slow eater that when he eats peas, he eats only 1 pea at a time! Guess what? It takes him
20 seconds to chew and swallow just 1 pea. If 48 peas are on his plate with his roast dinner, how long does
it take him to eat all of his peas? After his peas, Mr. Slow slowly begins eating 3 roast potatoes (each 1 takes
15 minutes to eat) and 2 pieces of lamb (each piece takes an hour to eat). If he starts eating his dinner at
6:30 p.m., what time will he finish?.
Grades 3–4
The secret to Mr. Strong’s strength is eggs. The more eggs he eats, the stronger he gets.
He eats boiled eggs for breakfast, fried eggs for lunch, and fried eggs for supper. If Mr. Strong
eats 20 eggs every single day, how many eggs might he have at each meal? How many fried
eggs and boiled eggs might he eat in a day? Show as many possibilities as you can.
The clock in Sleepyland has only 4 hours on it because Mr. Lazy is asleep for the rest of the day. Can you
work out how long Mr. Lazy is asleep each day? Are you as lazy as Mr. Lazy? How do you know? Work out
how much sleep you had last night. How much more or less sleep did you have than Mr. Lazy? If Mr. Lazy
went to bed at 6 p.m., what time would he wake up the following day?
Mr. Silly lives in Nonsenseland, a place where even dogs wear hats. One sunny day, Mr. Silly went for a walk
to the park. When he arrived, a group of dogs was throwing balls and the dogs’ owners were fetching them.
All the dogs and owners were wearing hats, of course. In total, Mr. Silly saw 7 hats and 20 legs. How many
dogs and how many people did Mr. Silly see? If you get stuck, draw a picture to help you. Later in the day,
even more dogs and their owners arrived at the Nonsenseland park. In total, 13 hats and 40 legs were in the
park. How many dogs and how many people were in the park now?
Little Miss Lucky had a terrible dream about the frightening Midnight Tree chasing her across the field. In
Little Miss Lucky’s dream, the Midnight Tree looked particularly scary because it was autumn and the tree had
just lost all its leaves. While she was running away from the horrible tree, Little Miss Lucky counted the red,
orange, and purple autumn leaves that were fluttering around in the wind. In total, Little Miss Lucky counted
12 leaves. How many leaves of each color might she have seen? Show as many possibilities as you can.
K–Grade 2
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