Math Culture Question


All teachers need to have a bag of tricks.  These are things you can pull out on a moment's notice when schedules change or things finish early or just for fun.  Dead time is a classroom killer.  You need to keep the students engaged every possible second. This is a great little exercise I came up with to do all that.

We called it the MCQ.  It is basically a puzzle wrapped in a riddle.  I kept a couple on a portable white board to use at the end of class almost every day.  I also used them as bonus questions on a test.  The students loved them.  It was one of the few times I allowed choral responses in class.  They would literally come flying out of their seats to get the answer out there once they solved it.

These puzzles go by different names - Brain Scramblers, Equation Analysis and Diltoids. They all follow a similar basic structure.  They are word puzzles in which a phrase, date, title, quotation or fact must be deduced from an equation with a number and the first letter from every key word in the clue.  Prepositions and connectors are not abbreviated.

So for instance: 

MCQ: 7 = D in a W   Ans: 7 = Days in a Week

That's all there is to it.  Now you are limited only by your imagination.  You can make them up as you need them. You can change them for every class if needed.  This is especially handy if they are used as bonus questions.  They can also be easily scaled for grade and ability levels.  And to make it even more productive, you can ask follow up questions.  I've given some examples below.

MCQ's are great for reviewing basic math facts:

MCQ: 90 = D in a RA    (Ans: 90 = Degrees in a Right Angle)

Conversions too:  36 = E in 3 D  (Ans: 36 = Eggs in 3 Dozen)  Then ask: How did you convert?

They can also involve other subjects.

Literature - 20,000 = L U the S    (Ans: 20,000 = Leagues Under the Sea)  Then ask: How deep is 20,000 leagues?

Social Studies - 9 = J on the S C   (Ans:  9 = Justices on the Supreme Court) Then ask: Name one of them

Science - 0 D C = 32 D F  (Ans: 0 Degrees Celsius = 32 Degrees Fahrenheit)  Then ask:  What is significant about those numbers?

In addition to being fun, they teach abstract thinking, puzzle solving and the concept of sorting known from unknown and filling in the gaps.  These are all part of the NCTM standards.

Sometimes I had the students write them as an optional bonus activity.  I had to pre-approve them and if I used one, that student got a couple of points.  Make sure you look them over first.  You wouldn't believe some of the things that come in.

I used these primarily at the end of class. When we were done and everything was picked up and packed up, we would take a minute to do an MCQ.  In addition to its value as a learning and classroom management tool, it allowed the students to burn off some of that pent up energy.  On those high energy days ( like the day before Christmas break) we would throw some extra ones in the mix.

Somebody usually got them fairly quickly but not always.  If I had to, I would start dropping hints and try to talk them into the answer.  If they still didn't get it, I told them to think on it overnight.  Of course, they wanted the answer right there and then, but there were no freebies in my class.  Very often, students would stop in between classes to try it again or just pop in with the answer.

Here's a couple that stumped them.  See if you can figure them out.

5 = D in a ZC

8 = S on a SS

21 = D on a D

52 = W K on a P

Here is a link to a page of MCQ's to get you started.  These puzzles are all over the Internet but I think it's more fun and more valuable to make up your own.  


Si facile, omnes esset facere....Mister L.