About a week ago I vowed to stop using the word "problem" when asking a question in math, and for good reason, I think.
I proposed using the word "equation" when asking a student to add, subtract, multiply, or divide.
It turns out that "equation" is the wrong word, too. My friend, who is a physicist, points this out in his comment to my post. I'm posting his comment hear, broken it into paragraphs to make the reading easier but otherwise unaltered.
This is the same person who once explained to me that an email actually has physical weight.
I'm still not sure what word to use in place of "problem" but apparently it won't be equation.
Equation isn't the correct term. An equation is a relationship between numbers (i.e., it doesn't involve missing values).
If you want you could call it a puzzle (as is suggested by Linda): figure out what the missing number is. However, puzzle implies that this requested work is something that will require some type of deductive, inductive or creative thinking. In an addition, subtraction, multiplication or division "problem", though, we are hoping for a more rote response.
Therefore, if problem is unappealing, then I would argue for using "question". At the end of a reading assignment, we already ask them comprehension questions. They get multiple choice and fill in the blank questions in other disciplines.
But math is better than those. Shouldn't it have its own terminology as a meritorious distinction? And, a really good math problem is one that does cause us to think; it is a puzzle, or better yet a game. In actuality, though, is it not that math is nothing more than logical deductions based on the definition of the number line. Shall we then agree to say "Deduce by mathematical inference the answer to the following:"?