Creativity Drills - How Many?

What is a "How Many?" scenario?

This is an exercise where students are asked to come up with as many situations as possible that fit a set of criteria.  This should include the obvious answers, as well as those that require more creative thinking (i.e. "outside-the-box" answers).

This activity will allow students to review basic content (especially as they focus on obvious solutions to the given question), as well as develop the skills of Problem-Based Learning (especially as they search for more abstract answers).  The final goal is for students to realize that there are often several solutions to a given problem, even if some of them aren`t immediately seen.

What do "How Many?" exercises look like in the classroom?

Of course, there will be very few times when you want your students to ponder "How many ways is a forest fire a GOOD thing?" or "How many predators are the color orange?"  Instead, you`ll want to cater these problems to the subject matter at hand.  We`ve already written a wide-selection of "How Many?" exercises organized by topic, and they`ll be easy to create on your own once you grasp the concept. 

For example, if you are teaching about multiplication, you may use this "How Many?" exerciseHow many multiplication problems have a product equal to 9?

This question literally has an endless number of answers.  Still, students may get stuck after answering the "obvious" ones (3x3 , 9x1).  As a teacher, you must lead them out of their comfort zone to find more answers.  For example: 

  • 18 x 1/2
  • √9 x 3
  • -3 x -3 
  • |-1| x |9|
  • and so on

Do "How Many?" exercises work for all subject areas and grade levels?

Yes.  Without a doubt... yes!  The "How Many?" exercises can not only be used in multiple subject areas, but also for the many topics within a given subject area.  We have already provided a wide range of "How Many?" exercises in the core subjects, and these can easily be used as a model for teachers who want to write their own to fit their classroom.

The same flexibility applies to using "How Many?" exercises across grade levels.  What is especially interesting in this case is that the same "How Many?" exercise could easily be used for a kindergartner or a senior in high school... and each student would benefit greatly from the exercise. 

Let`s use this one for an example:  "List as many similarities as you can between a person travelling to the New World in the early 1700s and a person travelling to the Western Frontier in the mid-1800s."  A teacher might ask this to a group of kindergartners, hoping to hear basic statements like "It was a long trip" or "They wanted to make a new start." At the other end of the spectrum, a high-school teacher might expect to hear details about the motivations for the trip, the expectations, and the logistical challenges along the way.

What`s the one thing to remember about "How Many?" exercises?

It`s all about the process.  Teaching students the formulas and the facts and the figures is just the first step.  "How Many?" exercises encourage students to continue digging even after the obvious answers have been given... that`s where the true growth comes in.