Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Please explain

Just popping in to add my Ravelympic medals. I failed at two events but succeeded at three. All in all a decent enough showing considering. I'll report on them in another day or two but tonight I have other things in the fire and no time to post a "real" blog entry.

As stated in the title of this mini post I am in need of a plausible explanation for something and I thought perhaps some of you out might be able to enlighten me. My sister just called. She admittedly is not a math person, never has been, but I, on the other hand, have always loved mathematics so when the need arises she calls. Tonight such a need arose, but I couldn't help, perhaps one of you guys can????

The directions written at the top of her daughter's 4th grade math worksheet were simple.


The problem in question read thus:

The month of February has 28 days. Some months have 30 or 31 days. About how many days are there in 5 months?

First off, I'm just not going to address the misnomer that February as 28 days, cuz 1) they all have 28 days, and 2) sometimes February has 29 days. I'll cut the teacher some slack and allow her premise to stand as is with its assumed intent.

Without going into a very long involved equation that is well beyond 4th grade math that I can't imagine a teacher with such a shaky premise even considered, I'll assume that the answer she was looking for was a simple one. Very simple, in light of the fact that all other word problems on the worksheet were no more involved than adding or subtracting 3 digit numbers.

Now comes really troublesome part I:
What 5 month span of the year is she expecting the child to use? Does she expect the child to begin the 5 month span with January or February? Does February even have to be included in the span of the 5 months? Does it even have to be a span of 5 months???

Really troublesome part II a:
"About"?????? Really? She wants to know about how many? Doesn't that just compound the inaccuracy of this word problem??? Mathematics is a perfect language. It is precise. It is concrete. It is logical. There is no "about" about it! Sure I suppose you could argue that rounding off to the nearest 10 or 5 or whatever and approximations are legitimate exercises but the directions are to "solve" the problem, no hint of rounding or approximations in your answers.

Really troublesome part II b:
Doesn't the word "about" leave the door open for more than one acceptable answer???

Really, really troublesome part III:
My niece's answer to the question:


It was wrong.


Computing this ludicrous problem with every 5 consecutive calendar year months, will give you the answers 150, 151, or 153.

I'm thinking 151 is about as about you can get.

What say you?

I suppose you could argue that more often than not you get 153 days, but in those instances the month of February is not part of the 5 month span, therefore it is merely a red herring of info. A common tactic in grade school story problems, but please, a red herring and an approximation in the same problem?!? In fourth grade?!?

What am I missing here??? Have we stumbled upon an example why the state in which my niece lives is at the bottom of all national standard testing????