It’s not just this first-grader who is stumped by the math problem.

Nobody knows how to draw math pictures or make them equal. Even an MIT grad was confused.

Robin Zlotnick - Author

Let’s say I went to school. You can find out more by clicking here. Years ago, math education changed dramatically. Why? I’m not sure. They realized there were better ways to teach math principles to kids rather than quizzing them until they knew their times tables by heart.

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There are more math problems at school level that are not only confusing for kids, but also parents. I think this is because math has been taught in a different way or because teachers don’t write word problems well. Consider this viral math puzzle, found in a workbook for a 1st-grader.

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Twitter

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Helen’s friend — an MIT grad, she later reveals — could not for the life of him figure out what this problem means. Helen was also stumped. She shared the tweet with Twitter to see what people thought.

There are so many things I want to know about this particular problem. What is “math drawings” first of all? It’s a phrase I never heard in my life. The “number sentence” is made by first making the “math pictures” equal, then connecting them with equal signs.

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The first and second pictures should be similar enough for an equal sign to appear between them. It’s beyond me. Twitter users felt the same way.

The second basket contains the exact same fruit ?????” Asking one person. To make them “equal ‘????? It feels more like a psychological experiment than a math question. This person is right, but I think that she didn’t use nearly enough questions marks.

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Twitter

Ben’s answer above was confident, but to the majority of people, it made little sense. Helen’s response to Ben’s theory was “What?” Problem is with the drawing. Because the fruits are already there, you cannot remove them. On paper. Ink.

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Helen updated her tweet with the following: “OK, after reading through a lot of material, we are leaning towards the notion that drawing each fruit is one (1) math drawing. So drawing five fruits will be considered’math sketches’ in plural.” That’s…a step. It still feels a bit off.

Are you supposed to…copy it exactly? This is not clear to me.

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Someone else was able to solve a problem similar to mine and provided an answer that seemed the most plausible.

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Twitter

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You can draw different fruits and group them in various ways. Do you know what could have made this worksheet more useful? What would have been really helpful with this worksheet? A problem-solving sample where you were shown how to solve it! Kate seems to be describing and showing us what makes sense.

The math teacher at a college chimed in With his thoughts, he talked about what the purpose was of the task: “College Math Instructor here. It was my thought to make sure the baskets had exactly the same quantity of fruits. This could be done by adding FOUR oranges AND TWO bananas TO THE LEFT, or you could add three oranges AND two bananas TO THE RIGHT, then an additional orange on the LEFT!

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“I have a feeling that a big point here is to get students to think of the ‘=’ sign as not just meaning ‘the answer is’ — that’s what leads kids to think that statements like 7=2+5 or 6=6 are wrong — but rather meaning that the things on either side are equal *to each other.*”

This explanation makes some sense. You want kids to learn that “=” does not just mean, “here is the answer”, but also that both sides of an equation are equal. The problem is poorly phrased.

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