The last Math Fundamentals Problem of the Week was a puzzle of sorts. You’re told there are three chips with a number on each side. The six numbers are consecutive one digit positive numbers. One way to throw the chips gives you 6, 7, and 8, for a sum of 21. You’re also given four other sums between 16 and 23 that are possible. Aside from adding three numbers together, there isn’t any other math concept that’s central to this problem. It isn’t about “fractions” or “proportional reasoning” or “measurement”. It’s about understanding what’s going on, and coming up with a method to figure out what numbers are on the other sides of the chips.

Since solving a problem like this often lends itself to running around in circles for a bit before you hit upon the answer, the resulting submissions are usually of two different types. The first is the solution that states the answer, and then confirms that the answer is correct. Here’s an example:

On the back of the 6 there is a 5, on the back of the 8 there is a 4, and on the back of the 7 there is a 9

for 16 i added: 7 plus 5 plus 4.

for 17 i added: 6 plus 7 plus 4.

for 20 i added: 6 plus 5 plus 9

for 23 i added: 9 plus 6 plus 8

That example doesn’t give me any idea how the student approached the problem, what sorts of things they tried or did, whether they made any mistakes and found them, or anything that seems systematic and efficient. We could do some work, using the sums that they provided, to figure out the correct combinations. But the student doesn’t provide any insight into the process they used to find the answer.

It’s not uncommon to see a lot of submissions that confirm results. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of the different paths you traversed on your way to the answer. Good recordkeeping is a must. I have to say, however, that reading the solutions for this problem, I was excited to see so many students telling the “story” of how they solved the problem. Most used some form of the Guess and Check strategy. Some used Logical Reasoning. Here are a couple of examples:

Told 6+7+8=21. Number are consecutive, and to add to 23, one number has to be 9, for 6+9+8. 6 and 8 stay- 7 and 9 are on the same chip. 4 and 5 are the other numbers. To add to 16 you have 4+5+7. 17 needs 4+6+7. 5 and 6 have to be on the same chip. 8 and 4 are the remaining numbers and are on the same chip.

First I thought, since the toss of 23 is larger than the 6, 7, 8 toss, it must contain a number greater than 8. Therefore 9 is needed. The toss must be 9, 8, 6 because no other combination gives 23. So the 7 and 9 are on the same chip. This also means the other two numbers must be 4 and 5. Next I thought the toss of 16 must be made of 4, 5, 7. Then, the toss of 17 couldn’t be 4, 5, 8 because it is not possible since the 7-9 chip is missing.
So 4 must be on the 8 chip to have all 3 chips in the toss. This gives the 3 chips: 5/6, 4/8, 7/9.
Then I concluded that the 20 roll is possible with 5, 7, 8 so it all checked out.

However they did it, we really love reading stories about students’ problem solving adventures. How do you support your students in telling this story? Is it something that gets reported orally in the classroom a lot (which is great practice for eventually writing it down)? Do they read aloud to others? Do you just keep prodding them to say more about their process? We’d love to hear from you, since all the kids submitting to this problem didn’t do a good job by luck or accident!

Some Let the Chips Fall… links in case you are interested: