Contributor: Laura Bracken, Lewis-Clark State College. 

Laura Bracken writes: “There is much more to the art of teaching than just presenting examples from the textbook. It is a balancing act of tools, strategies, textbooks, and persistence to find the correct equation for student success.” Try this activity, based on the work of George Polya, to engage your students in their study of mathematics.

Do you have unique suggestions for activities to use in the developmental mathematics classroom? Respond via the comments section below, or submit it to
The Five Steps

  1. Understand the Problem
  2. Make a Plan
  3. Carry Out the Plan
  4. Look Back
  5. Final Answer

Using The Five Steps, have your students work in pairs or small groups on this problem (based on the experience of my niece, Hannah Kooiker). To make the problem more complicated and more realistic, have students deduct FICA taxes of about 7.65% from the total salary and, instead of providing the cost of gas, say that the bills include the cost of gas for 45 miles per day for a car that gets about 18 miles per gallon at $3.75 per gallon. Or, change the monthly bills to reflect costs in your area and ask for student input on what additional bills might be considered part of the budget.

A marketing company advertised a job that required the employee to visit big box home improvement stores five days a week, asking customers who were looking at purchases for a kitchen remodel if they would be interested in signing up for a free in-home consultation with a kitchen designer. The job paid $1200 per month plus $60 for every completed in-home consultation. A person interested in the job had monthly bills that included rent ($500 per month), phone ($65 per month), car payment and insurance ($425 per month), food ($300 per month), gas ($200 per month), and catastrophic health insurance of $149 per month. Find the number of completed consultations that the employee would have to sell per month to pay the bills. Round to the nearest whole number.

Laura Bracken, co-author of Investigating Prealgebra and Investigating Basic College Mathematics, teaches developmental mathematics at Lewis-Clark State College. As developmental math coordinator, Laura led the process of developing objectives, standardizing assessments, and enforcing placement including a mastery skill quiz program. She has worked collaboratively with science faculty to make connections between developmental math and introductory science courses. Laura has presented at numerous national and regional conferences and currently serves as the regional representative for the AMATYC Placement and Assessment Committee. Read more from Laura Bracken at her blog, Dev Math Diary.