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Question

Dear Mitch, 

I've been reading and enjoying your Valentine's Day math problems, but I was wondering if you could provide one or two for younger students, such as second, third and fourth graders?  I've been collecting a bunch for tomorrow from a number of websites but would appreciate something completely original.  Needless to say, I've discovered that this site is the place for totally fresh stuff that no other teacher will have (unless they've discovered you too).

Sincerely, 

Ms. M.L. McMaster

Cape Town, South Africa

Answer

Dear Ms. M.L. McMaster, 

Absolutely!

Explain to the class that each letter of the alphabet is part of a code.  The code is rather straightforward.  It goes like this: A=1, B=2, C=3, D=4, E=5, F=6, all the way through Z, which of course equals 26. 

Write on the board:

"Saint Valentine's Day!"

Then explain to them that the code is used to convey secret numbers on important government missions (or something like that).  And if that's too dramatic for your taste, then try telling the class that it is simply the code of a baby-sitter's club...

The way it works is this:  in each of the tiny spaces between each letter is an invisible plus sign.  So, for example, the word valentine's really is to be transcribed onto each student's paper like this: V + A + L + E + N + T + I + N + E + S, and the world "Day" should be transcribed like this: D + A + Y.

Next, using a chart which you either hand out or have them derive themselves, they are to figure out the value (sum) of the phrase "HAPPY SAINT VALENTINE'S DAY!" 

Perhaps the class could be broken up into groups and each group works on one or more words so that they can see if their work matches up.

You mentioned third, fourth, and fifth grade classes.  Depending upon how mathematically experienced and courageous they (and you) are feeling, to step this little exercise up to a higher level, you could either present the phrase like this: Happy Saint Valentine's Day! And jazz it up by stating that upper case letters are double the value of the lower case equivalent letter, i.e., b = 2, and B = 4.  Or, you might try three times the value for uppercase letters.  And to step things up another notch, you could add the fact that the larger spaces BETWEEN words is to be interpreted as an indication for multiplication.  SO:  "Happy Saint Valentine's Day!" is to be decoded this way: 

(H + a + p + p + y)  x  (S + a + i + n + t)  x  (V + a + l + e + n + t + i + n + e + 's)  x

                                                      (D + a + y!).

Finally, for the wizard who finishes early, have him or he devise his own code (with, perhaps, fractions, or a pattern of 1, 3, 5, 7,  9... etc. for a, b, c, d, e...) for others to try the following day, if they so choose. 

Now that ought to keep things going for a solid math class on this LOVELY Holiday!

Hope this helps!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Mitch