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Monday, November 21, 2011

The Word Problem Committee…

Third grade math text books must be written by “socially correct (SC)” committees without regard for clarity. That’s the only possible explanation I can fathom when you come across examples like problems #2 & #3 below:
(click to enlarge)

 First draft: There are 28 people camping for the night and they share 7 tents. How many people slept in each tent? (Answer: 4)

SC Member #1: Since this is for 3rd graders, shouldn’t we somehow make it relevant and inclusive for them?

SC Member #2: Ok, sure. How ‘bout this:
There are 28 students camping for the night and they share 7 tents. How many students sleep in each tent? (Answer: 4)

SC Safety Officer: Hummm, 28 unsupervised kids in the woods at night? I don’t think that sends the correct message. Remember these are 3rd graders and that might give them the wrong idea about being safe.

SC Member #1: Ok, Ok…Let’s do this:
There are 28 students and their chaperones camping for the night and they share 7 tents. How many people sleep in each tent? (Answer: 4)

SC Member #2: Wait a minute, doesn’t that change the answer? I mean if each tent has 4 kids and one chaperone, that makes 5 people x 7 tents = 35 people not 28! Right?

SC Member #1:Oh! Good catch. Let’s change the answer to ‘5’.

SC Member #2: I’m not sure that’s the best thing. Everyone knows that 3rd graders don’t really “read the words” in word problems. They tend to automatically take the numbers they see in the problem and divide: 28 divided by 7 = 4 as an answer.

SC Member #1: Well technically, it could be read “28….studentsandchaperones” if you read it really, really fast and that means that the “28 people” includes all the students AND chaperones together, right? Maybe we could annotate the Teacher’s Edition (TE)  reference to make the following notation:

Note to teacher: There are 28, not 35, total people out in the woods that night. If you misinterpret the wording at this crucial point in the word problem sequence and get an answer of ‘5’ instead of ‘4’, you’re screwed when you attempt to answer the next question since we haven’t gotten to fractions yet.
      Sincerely, The Socially Correct (if not necessarily grammar literate) Committee

SC Safety Officer: What are the chances that the teacher will be out for the day and the substitute teacher doesn’t have the TE Math book with the “clarification notice”. That could be a problem!

SC Member #2:  Let’s not do the “Note to teacher” notice. It makes us look incompetent not being able to write a simple 3rd grade math problem. Besides, the teachers will figure it out on their own if we give them the correct answers to work backward from.

Dear reader: For the next one, you’re on your own as to how they came up with this one. I couldn't see any reference as to how many total booths there are.

The indicated answer is"10".  That would mean 10_rows x 10_booths x 100 people = 10 THOUSAND people in the balcony??.


Anonymous said...

I admit it's poor wording, but it should say something like "every booth was filled, with 100 people total in the balcony."

The ideal of 100 people in one booth is ridiculous. As is the idea of 10k people on the balcony. Clearly, it should be one person per booth. So for this division problem, 100 people total (in the whole balcony, all the rows) divided by 10 booths per row = 10 total rows. Again, it's poor wording, but that's how they came up with 10 rows. Every booth was filled, with 100 people total, not every booth was filled with 100 people each.

Keep up the enjoyable blogs! :)

Jene said...

I come across this everyday for 2nd grade math. Paige is always confused by what is written and what they "mean" to say.

Unknown said...

Frustration validated. I help children with their homework on a daily basis. Not a day goes by that I don't say, "I'm a stupid or does this problem just not make any logical sense."