We Asked 4 Adults to Solve a 4th Grade Common Core Problem. Here’s What Happened…

It seems like Common Core is always in the news, whether politicians and educators are criticizing or lauding it, or bloggers are making fun of it. But the fact is, a lot of us haven’t actually, well, done it.

We decided to give four grownups the challenge of completing a real Fourth Grade math question from the Houghton Mifflin Publishing Company Assessment Guide:

The apparent incoherence of the problem sparked a fury of debate with the Daily Caller even wondering if this was the “Worst Math Question in Human History.”

A discussion about Juanita and her stickers on Drexel’s Math Forum illuminates some of the issues with the problem.

User Pubkeybreaker noted:

It starts by saying that she wants to give BAGS of stickers to her friends. [i.e. ENTIRE BAGS]. This is fine, so far.

It then contradicts itself by saying that she wants to give the same number of stickers. [i.e. individual stickers, not same number of bags of stickers]

It does not say that all bags contain the same number of stickers. [failure to specify conditions; some bags might contain a small number of large stickers while others might contain a large number of small stickers]
Indeed. From the fact that the problem switches from asking about bags to stickers to then asking about individual stickers we may infer that all bags do NOT contain the same number of stickers.

It then asks how many STICKERS [not bags of stickers!!] should she buy.
This question is unanswerable.

We can’t know how many STICKERS to buy unless we know how many stickers
are in each bag.

The question can NOT be answered as asked.

As asked, an answer to the question is: She should buy a number of stickers
that is an integral multiple of the number of her friends.

User gnasher729 provided an alternative interpretation of the problem through which it is possible to find a solution:

She wants to give stickers to her friends – which means there are two or more friends. She wants to give bags of stickers to them, and the same amount of stickers to each one. She doesn’t know whether she should buy four or six bags.

The number of friends must be 1, 2 or 4 so that she can give the same amount to each friend if she buys four bags.

The number of friends must be 1, 2, 3 or 6 so that she can give the same amount to each friend if she buys six bags.

If both buying 4 or 6 bags solves the problem of giving each one the same number, and we know the number of friends is greater than one, then obviously there are two friends.

Therefore, she can buy 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 bags and so on.

It should be noted, however, that gnasher729’s solution requires undertaking some assumptions that are not present in the original wording of the question.

Check the video above to see how four adults fared when asked to solve Juanita’s problem…

What do you think?

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