The Problem Solving and Communication Activity Series Solve a Simpler Problem

Solve a Simpler Problem

Solve a simpler problem is something that mathematicians do all the time. They get good at identifying ways to make a problem simpler, and applying what they learned from the simpler problem to give them insight into whatever they're trying to figure out.

In our experience, students often see what's making a problem hard for them (the numbers are hard, there are too many possibilities, it takes a lot of calculations, etc.) but don't know that they're allowed to (or that it would be worthwhile to) work on a simpler version. So we offer concrete ways for students to develop and work on simpler versions of a problem, and then share what they learned from the simpler version that they might build on.

Activities to Learn this Strategy

Facilitation Questions

  • What makes this problem hard?
  • If you could change the problem, what would you change to make it a little simpler?

Recommended Library Problems

The Strategy Examples documents linked from these problems contain examples of what students could do with the activities. You need a Class Membership or higher to access Library problems.


Growing Up
Clean Up Time

Math Fundamentals

Buy the Numbers
All Aboard!
Order in the Court
Building Barns


Watch Where You Step!
Shortcut Savings
Women's Walkway
Lillian's Lines


Take Me Out to the Ballgame
Ration Ratios
Sierpinski Stages
How Many Ties?


Plane and Simple?
Is the Fair Fair?
Where's Juanita Walking?
Pythagorean Circles

Learn more about the different membership options.

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