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While gathering math ideas for the sisters I'm tutoring, I came across a problem that has a problem. I decided to find out if they could see it too. Here it is:
For the Good Cheer food drive, your class collected 320 cans of food. Each family gets 40 cans of food. How many cartons will you need to pack them?
I'm sure the intended answer is 8 - the number of families who would get food. However, the question asked how many cartons you need. Both girls knew the problem; they needed to know how many cans fit in a carton. We talked about vague, ambiguous, or just plain bad word problems. I told them not to be afraid to speak up when they come across such problems.
We moved on -
The bus left the terminal and picked up 5 people at the first stop. At the second stop, 2 people got off and 4 people got on. At the third stop, 3 people got off and 5 got on. How many passengers were now on the bus.
Instantly, the older girl asked, "Was the bus empty when it left the terminal?" I grinned and congratulated her for getting the message. No test was needed to assess her learning.
That morning, all three of us had a great time playing math!