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Topic: Careful Reading of Math PoWs
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Terry Trotter

Posts: 26
Registered: 12/3/04
Careful Reading of Math PoWs
Posted: Mar 9, 2001 11:12 AM
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There have been several recent commentaries in PoW-teach referring to
the importance of language arts skills and their use in math work,
especially in the explanations the students write in their answers.
There has been occurring a related phenomenon in my AlgPoW service
with my problem posted on February 26 – Lt. Stone's Troops.

Briefly for those who haven't read it, it simply discusses a company
of 120 black soldiers and their drill sergeant who perform some
marching maneuvers for a ceremony. This is much like what marching
bands do during the halftime of football games.

The trouble or "trick" that ensued was my final question, about how
many soldiers from Company A participated in the activity. My answer,
naturally was 121 – the 120 who formed the rectangular shapes and the
sergeant who lead the men.

My exact words were: " Finally, as the ceremony finished, the soldiers
and their sergeant left the field in their original arrangement.
Another successful performance well done. With this information,
determine the total number of soldiers in Company A who participated.

Of course, initially most replies considered only the marchers, and
forgot about the sergeant. Perhaps they thought he was not a
"soldier". But in my understanding, anyone from a lowly private to a
5-star general is a "soldier". And the sergeant was referred to
several times.

When prompted, most students realized they had forgotten about the
sergeant and then gave 121 as the answer. And all was fine then.

But what concerns us here is that quite a number of corrections said
that my grandfather, Mr. Stone, was the extra individual! And nowhere
is there any indication that he was involved in any direct manner.
Besides he was a lieutenant, not a sergeant.

And to top this all off with a mystery, more than a couple of students
hurriedly revised their answer by saying "…and the general makes 121."
The word "general" was never used in the story.

Yes, careful reading of details is very important in problem solving

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