Friday, October 15, 2010

Proof That Our Country’s Education System Is in Serious Trouble

Here is an actual problem from a fourth grader’s math workbook. [See photo.] Since the photo is a little dark, I have transcribed it below.

Reasoning Hwong can fit 12 packets of coffee in a small box and 50 packets of coffee in a large box. Hwong has 10 small boxes and would like to reorganize them into large boxes. Which boxes should he use? Explain.”

Speculation has ranged from the Stonehenge and pyramids lining up with Orion to Fermat’s last theorem to just chalking it up as an inscrutable mystery of the Orient.

If you can deduce the answer, please explain it to me so I can explain it to a 10 year old.


Anonymous said...

I assume they mean Hwong has 10 small boxes full of packets of coffee. He is to reorganize them into as many large boxes as possible. He therefore needs 2 large boxes and 2 small boxes.

The question should have been clearer. Clearly!

Skeptical Scalpel said...

You are saying that a fourth grader should assume the 10 small boxes contain 12 packets each when the set-up simply says Hwong can fit 12 packets in a small box. What if I told you that Hwong decided to use 3 large boxes, one of which would be only 40% full? That would be as many large boxes as possible.

Honors question: was the coffee decaffeinated?

Anonymous said...

When I was an undergrad I had the privilege of taking two math courses from a brilliant professor. He finished his PhD from Princeton at the ripe age of 18 and had earned his scholarship from his scores on the Putnam exam.

Anyways, he told me that one day in class a professor had scribbled notes all over the board for about 20 minutes and then finished his lecture by saying, "Thus, the conclusion is obvious..." and then stated his conclusion. One student raised his hand and replied, "But Professor, it's not entirely clear..." The professor stormed out of the room, leaving the students dumbfounded at his actions and the chalkboard.

20 minutes later, the professor came storming back into the room, looked at the board, looked at the students, and then said, "No, obviously it's clear. Class dismissed."


As to the coffee problem... Why not open the packets and spill their contents into one large box?

Kris Beldin said...

Are they teaching philosophy in elementary school these days? My third grader hasn't mentioned it but that could be because he knows I'm not that smart!

Funny, thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Hi im in 5th grade and this was on one of are homework papers.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Hello Anonymous in 5th grade,

Thanks for the comment. I hope you got the answer right.

SARAH said...


Skeptical Scalpel said...

I believe you. I couldn't answer it either.

Unknown said...

I had a problem like this once in the fourth grade. The correct way to answer this question to your teacher's satisfaction is to explain why the underpinnings of the question are wrong. I believe after I had taken this route, I was the only one in the class to get full points, which (unfortunately) did not make me very popular with my classmates. I don't like giving up, but I had not foreseen the social fallout that would ensue. Elementary school nerds, please weigh your pros and cons carefully. In the age of the internet, maybe email your teacher over a nice cup of Nesquik and milk, and explain both what you think and that you would like to not be identified as the person who sent this email to her, if it's all the same to her.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Emily, thanks for commenting. I think you are right in saying it might be best to explain why it's a bad question.

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