Engaging students: Solving word problems of the form “a is p% of b”

In my capstone class for future secondary math teachers, I ask my students to come up with ideas for engaging their students with different topics in the secondary mathematics curriculum. In other words, the point of the assignment was not to devise a full-blown lesson plan on this topic. Instead, I asked my students to think about three different ways of getting their students interested in the topic in the first place.

I plan to share some of the best of these ideas on this blog (after asking my students’ permission, of course).

This student submission again comes from my former student Christian Oropeza. His topic, from Algebra: solving word problems of the form “a is p% of b.”

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What interesting (i.e., uncontrived) word problems using this topic can your students do now? (You may find resources such as http://www.spacemath.nasa.gov to be very helpful in this regard; feel free to suggest others.)

Students would be able to answer word problems that involve real world applications. For example, a student could be asked: “Sam went to Academy to buy clothes, sports equipment, and fishing gear. At the register the total of Sam’s transaction before tax is $141.32. Given that the sales tax is 8.25%, what would Sam’s total be after tax?” These type of word problems would be relatable to students, which would show them the importance of this topic in life. Students always ask the question, “how is this used in everyday life?”, and with these type of word problems students may be able to generalize the concept more easily. When students cannot relate to a topic in math they become easily discouraged, give up, and stop paying attention in class, but with problems like these the students would be able to incorporate the topic into their own lives. Some other problems that students could be asked could involve any type of scenario where there is a percentage to be found between two numbers (Reference 1 & 4).


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How can this topic be used in your students’ future courses in mathematics or science?

This topic can be used in different scenarios for math and science, but Chemistry is an excellent example. In chemistry, there is a topic that covers calculating percent composition. The basic idea of this topic is to calculate the percentage of each element’s mass in regard to a molecule’s total molecular mass. An example would be, “Calculate the mass percent composition of each element in a potassium ferricyanide, K3Fe(CN)6 molecule.” (Reference 2). These types of problems would help students understand how much a certain element or compound is in a particular molecule. Another example of how this topic can be used, is in math when a student has to convert between fractions, decimals, and percentages in a word problem. An example could be, “Mia has a basket full of fruit. In this basket she has 1/5 apples, 2/3 oranges, and 2/15 bananas. What percent of each fruit does she have in relation to the basket?” Students would be able to work on their converting skills to enhance their understanding of multiple representations of the same number (Reference 3).


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How can technology (YouTube, Khan Academy [khanacademy.org], Vi Hart, Geometers Sketchpad, graphing calculators, etc.) be used to effectively engage students with this topic? Note: It’s not enough to say “such-and-such is a great website”; you need to explain in some detail why it’s a great website.

Technology is always a great way to engage students especially with the newer generation of students where technology is part of their everyday life. The website mathisfun.com (Reference 4) is an excellent piece of technology to introduce or review this topic to the students because the website goes through visual representations of how a percentage of a whole looks like. Also, the website has a section where a student can input a number and a slider that allows the student to move it around to see what number would represent a certain percentage of the number inputted. Another example of effective technology is the website Khan Academy (Reference 1) because it has real world problems that are relatable. The website also gives hints and step-by-step solutions for each question in case a student is stuck and does not know what to do next. The use of multiple websites is good for students to have a variety to choose from in case one is easier to understand than another.





  1. https://www.khanacademy.org/math/pre-algebra/pre-algebra-ratios-rates/pre-algebra-percent-word-problems/e/percentage_word_problems_1
  2. https://www.thoughtco.com/how-to-calculate-mass-percent-609502
  3. http://www.aaamath.com/pct.htm#topic7
  4. https://www.mathsisfun.com/percentage.html



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