# Engage All Students with Offbeat Math Problems

Try It! Math Problems for All
By Jerry Kaplan

Reviewed by Michael Hernandez

I love this book! As a math teacher, I’m always looking for ways to engage students. “When are we ever going to use this stuff in real life?” “This is boring.” “I’ve never been good at math.” and “This is too hard. I just don’t get it.”

These are just some of the typical comments I’ve heard from students over the years. I’m sure you have too. Middle School Math is not ranked as the favorite class across the US (maybe the world?). Jerry Kaplan has a remedy for such perspectives. It’s called “Try It! Math Problems for All.” So, I did.

I got the book and tried it. It worked. I had fun doing math.

The book is a selection of 25 math problems, riddles, brain teasers and more. Please allow me to quote the author’s personal descriptions of this book:

Try It! Math Problems for All is a collection of offbeat, open-ended math problems designed to make even the most math-averse student excited about working through these challenging yet accessible problems.”

I agree. I can’t wait to try these out in my class this fall. (I acquired this book just after the academic year ended.) These problems have a low floor/high ceiling characteristic. Some are quick and easy to solve; others take a bit more time. And, for most of the problems, there is more than just one way to get a solution. In fact, for several of the problems there is more than one correct solution.

##### Three versions of each problem

Each page contains one clearly described and illustrated problem. Each problem is presented three times.

• The first is a photocopy-able (is that even a word?) version to use in small groups, classrooms, after-school activities or clubs or whatever.
• The second version (on a separate page) includes a hint or two to get the student moving if they are stuck.
• The third version includes a worked-out solution; but remember – there are often multiple paths and even multiple solutions.

Honestly, I lost track of the time when I began working through some of the offerings in the book; I was too busy having fun to watch the clock. I believe many of my students will feel the same way.

##### Useful for K-12

I believe this book will be beneficial to a broad range of grades. Elementary through High School students will find these problems stimulating and mind-stretching. I was a bit disappointed that there was no alignment with grade level math standards. Then I noticed that most of these problems could fit under several different standards within and across grade levels.

That’s when I realized that these problems are more geared towards the eight Standards for Mathematical Practice. These practices remain constant across all grades K-12. This makes them even more flexible. They don’t have to be squeezed into the unit covering one specific standard or cluster. They can be used anytime throughout the school year and be beneficial. As the author states:

“These problems are for all students, the high and low achievers, the quiet and the loud ones. You probably know this: sometimes the quietest and lowest performing students will surprise you, if you them a chance.”

##### Jerry Kaplan knows his stuff.

Kaplan has taught Math in first grade through college. He has also written numerous other books and helped develop and write math curricula.

I did have one negative comment. There were only 25 problems in this book. I wish I could access more. And voila, Jerry has two more editions: Try It! More Math Problems for All and Try It! Even More Math Problems for All. Now I can triple my supply. He must have read my mind.

Michael Hernandez has taught middle school math at public school for 15 years in NE Ohio. To him, math is mostly puzzles and games. He has served on numerous committees for Ohio Department of Education, the local Board of Education, and the local Teacher Union. Michael previously served in the non-profit sector for 25 years. He plays Disc Golf for fun and plans to try to learn Pickle Ball this summer.

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