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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Deep Math

My daughter has math issues. More accurately, she's lazy, but extremely capable.

One question piqued my interest. It was a word problem something like this:

Mary mows 3 lawns at $10 each. She buys presents for her mom, sister, and brother for $6, $6, and $10. What do you have to do first?

(My answer: A. Wonder what child would mow three lawns so cheaply and use over 70% of the money to buy other people presents.)

It was multiple choice and my daughter answered that you had to add up the amount of the gifts first.

That was wrong, apparently you have to figure out how much she made first.

It takes two facts: How much did she make, and how much did she spend? There is no 'first' thing to do, really, if you consider that both are needed to solve the problem, and how is one any more important than the other? Both are independently arrived at, and solving one doesn't help you solve the other.

I guess the correct answer was that they say you have to know how much money she made first? Maybe that's a sociological perception! Interesting.

I wonder why they considered that one was more important than the other?

On a larger scale, 'out of the box' type thinking solves those really great problems. She chose to do the 'second' thing first. To me, it's equally correct.

Personally, my failing was that I didn't even think '3x$10' first, I just thought ''$30" automatically, thereby sort of skipping the first (too easy) step and not even considering it as step one. Maybe that's another revelation, if she did that.

It certainly reveals something about me: I suppose I take things as 'given' that are to other people, a math problem. I perceived the first math problem as an amount automatically, vs. a problem to be solved.

Disclaimer: I'm not defending my daughter's overall performance, she needs to do a lot more work, but her 'wrong' answer was thought provoking.

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