Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 55

MathCircleasaProblemSolving Playground

JuliaBrodsky
www.artofinquiry.net www.intelligentchild.net

Aboutme
Whenthereisnotigerinthemountains,a monkeybecomestheking Chineseproverb Momof3youngkids,systemengineerat NASA Teaching2groupsofelementaryschool students(69yrsold)weeklyfor2years.

Systemengineering approach
Whatisthecurrentsituation? Whatarewetryingtoaccomplish? Howdowedefinethesuccessofthe mission? Howdowedefinetheminimalsuccessofthe mission? Whatourresourcesare?

ELEMENTARYSCHOOLMATH theproblemweface
Theelementaryschoolcurriculumsfocusis onnumbermanipulation Thekidsareconditionedto sitandlisten Textbooks,(ifany)aredryandpatchy. Inschool,wejustconvertsomenumbersinto newnumbers..anditissooboring! AnaL., 8yrsold

..butthereisstillhope:
Ihatemath,butIlovethinking! Lilien M.,9yrsold.

POWERANDFLEXIBILITYOFMIND
Itisourchoices...thatshowwhatwetruly
are,farmorethanourabilities. HarryPotter andtheChamberofSecrets

POWERANDFLEXIBILITYOFMIND
Power techniqueandspeed;abilitytomoveon Flexibility abilitytodisengage,chooseand switch Thesetwoqualitiesseemtobeindependent.To beagoodproblemsolver,apersonneedsboth. However,thelateroneisalmostnevertaughtin school,andbarelyincollege. Inordertolearntheflexibilityofmind,kidsneed tolearnhowplaywiththeproblem withoutthe pressuretogetaspecificresultbyspecifictime. Theyneedtomakemistakesandlearntoenjoy them!

LACKOFMATERIALSFORPARENTS ANDSTUDENTS
..andwearenottalkingKumon here Veryfewschoolmaterialsthatteachthe flexibilityofmind Veryfewmaterialsthatteachmathfromthe historicalpointofview,presentingthe challengesfacedbytheexplorers

IDEALTEXTBOOK
Dearreaderandfellowexplorer, TodayIwouldliketotellyouabouttheproblemI wastryingtosolve,mymotivationtodoso,my initialexpectations,andtheevolutionofmy understanding. First,Itriedtodothis..,andfailedmiserably. Analyzingmyerrors,Irealizedthat.. Now,Iamatthepointwhen..Myunderstanding isnotperfect,butlookingbackwardsIcangive youacoupleofadvices..

HUMANVOICEBEHINDTHETEXT
Mostofthecurrentmathtextbooks(especiallythe onesadoptedbyschooldistricts)lackthehumanvoice behindthetext. Thestudentdoesnotfeelthattheauthorcaresabout thereader,orthattheauthorishumanatall.They lookliketheyarewrittentobereadbycomputers.And childrenaresensitivetothat. Theschooltextbooksarewrittenbytechnicalwriters, notbythebestmindsinthefield. Math,thewayitispresentedinschoolandin textbooks,seemsboringandpointlesseventothe brightestkids.

TEACHERSSROLE
Teacherisarolemodelforproblemsolving.In ordertoteachthinkingskills,theteacherhas todemonstratetheproblemsolvingprocess totheclass,tomakemistakesandfixthem,to failandtorecover,andalwaysadjusttothe class. Thereareveryfewteacherswhocanafford thiswhileteachingtothetest.

ROLEOFTHE ELEMENTARYMATHCIRCLE:
Showthatmathisfun Providetheplacetoplaywithmath Nogrades/notimepressure Godeeper,not faster Showthehumanface ofmath Focusonproblemsolvingskills

PROBLEMSOLVINGIN ELEMENTARYMATHCIRCLE

MATHCIRCLEAND THEFREEDOMOFARGUMENT
Fearcancompletelyblockanymentalactivity. Thechildrenshouldbeencouragedtofreely (butpolitely! ) arguewiththeirpeersand theteacher,withoutbeingreprimandedor feelingstupid. Demonstrateyourthinkingprocess.Feelfree tomakesillymistakesinfrontofyour students,letthemfindyourlogicalfallacies, andletthemhearyouthinkingaloud.

PROBLEMSOLVINGTECHNIQUES
HereisalistofsometechniquesItriedtointroducein class: Selfawareness(unstatedassumptions,dealingwith uncertainty) Explorationofmultiplesolutions/domains Step bystepthinking(introtologic,simplification,proofs) Symmetrytests Solvingbackwards Educatedguess/estimation Idealresult/extremecases Sanitychecks

ATTEMPTSANDOBSERVATIONS
Today,Iamgoingtosharemyeffortsin teachingsomeproblemsolvingskillsto elementaryschoolstudents,alongwithmy thoughtsandobservations.Ihopetogiveyou enoughmaterialtotryyour problemsolving skillson

Mathislikeaslipperyfish NoahZ.,7yrsold

SELFAWARENESS
Whatmostexperimenterstakeforgrantedbeforethey begintheirexperimentsisinfinitelymoreinterestingthan anyresultstowhichtheirexperimentslead.NorbertWiener

Thebestwaytotestforonesunstatedassumptions istotrysomeinsight or outofthebox problems.Thesearetheproblemsthatexploitthe biasesofourmind,sotheyseeminsolvableatfirst butwhenyouknowthesolution,itseemsobvious. Thebesthinttogivethestudents: Isthere somethingyoutakeforgranted?

Example
Wespeakabout unstatedassumptions oneverylesson. Considerthisexample: Move3matchestoget 5triangles.

Thefistresponseis: Itis impossible! Kidscontinuetomovethe matches.Theyareableto get4equilateraltriangles (severalsolutions),but not5 Teacher: Takealookon yourdesigns.Areyoutrying toholdontosomethingyou donotneed? Student1: Oh!Theymay beofadifferentsizes! Student2: Andtheymay beinsideoneanother!

THEPOWEROF INSIGHTPROBLEMS
Toseemeaningandunderstandingcomewheretherehas beennomeaningandnounderstandingistosharethework ofademiurge. NorbertWiener

Insight problemsolvingmaybethesingle mostimportantskillyouintroducetothe students anditcreatesaverypowerful feelingofachievement,somethingtheywill noteasilyforget.

INSIGHTPROBLEMS CONTINUED
Insightproblemsalsomotivatekidstolookforinsightful waysofsolvingregular problems,approachingthem fromdifferentangles,recognizingandavoidingclichs. Kidsneedtolearntosearchforandtorecognizethe feelingoftheinsight moments;todistinguishbetween knowledgeandunderstanding. Myobservationsshowthatifkidsexpectan insightful solution,theyaremuchmorelikelytofindone. Fromtheteachersperspective,thereisalimitednumber ofinsightproblemsliterature,suitableforthelittlechildren thatis,hopefully,untilyoulearntorecognizethose insightmomentsinyourandotherslife,andcompose theseproblemsyourself.

UNSTATEDASSUMPTIONS
..inprejudicethereisagreatdealofcomfort,a greatdealofpleasure J.Krishnamurti

Theinsightproblemsrequirethesolverto criticallyreviewhis/herassumptions. Overthetime,Iseemystudentslearningto stopandreassesstheirassumptionseven withoutthishintfromme. Besidesthepracticalproblemsolvingskills,it teachesthekidstohaveanopenmind.Italso makesthemmoretoleranttoalternative solutionapproaches.

OPENENDEDPROBLEMS
Goodmorning,saidBilbo.Whatdoyou mean?Doyouwishmeagoodmorning,or meanthatitisagoodmorningwhetherIwant itornot;orthatyoufeelgoodonthis morning;orthatitisamorningtobegood on? J.R.R.Tolkien

OPENENDEDPROBLEMS
Mostoftheproblemsweexperienceinlifeareopenended problems.Theyhaveasetofsolutions,whichareallpossible andviable,thoughsomemaybemoreeffectivethanothers. Inschool,kidsareconditionedtolookforjust oneright answer.Whentheycometomathcircle,ittakessometime forthemtoacceptthattherearemany(sometimesinfinitely many)possiblesolutions. Theseproblemsareveryrelaxingtothekids,astheycanlet theirimaginationgowild.Theyaregoodforclasswarmups orendoftheclass.

FORINTRODUCTION: OPTICALILLUSIONS
Inordertoeducatethe kidsaboutunstated assumptions,wespend timeexploringoptical illusionsandother weird things. Theyarealsoagreat waytoinitiatea discussionaboutthe problemswithmultiple solutions.
Explore the picture. What do you see?

Is there only one right answer to this question? Hint for the students: Put aside your first solution and try to come up with a very different one.

SOURCESOF OPENENDEDPROBLEMS
Openendedproblems RomanemperorTiberius wasveryinterestedinhis areeasyfortheteacher future.Hewouldinvitean tocomeupwith.You astrologist,askhimfora cansuggestthe prediction,andthenpush problemsthatoriginate theastrologistoffthe cliff,sonobodywould inhistory,fairytalesor learntheemperorsfate. dailylife,whichmakes However,oncean themevenmore astrologistcametothe interestingtothekids. emperor,butsurvived
howdidhedothat?

ANALYZINGSOLUTIONS
Onekidcanannoyonemomaday.Howlongwillit take10kidstoannoy10moms? Anton:Tendays,iftheyaretakingturns(onedayone kidannoyshismom;anotherdayanotherkidannoys his,andsoon..) Marie:Oneday,iftheyareangryattheirmoms,who didnotallowthemtohaveaplaydatetogetherthat day! Imran:Onehundreddays,iffirstonekidannoysallten moms,onemomaday;thenanotheronedoesthe same,andsoon (Atthispoint,Ivividlyimaginedthissituation..)

ANALYZINGSOLUTIONS
AproblemfromancientEgypt:Divide7roundbreadsevenly among8people. Amodernstudentinstantlycomesupwiththesolutionof7/8 thatis,divideeachbreadinto8pieces,andthengive7 piecestoeachperson.Thissolutionisanacceptableone, however,itrequires28cuts.Iaskedifthereisamore effectivesolution(giveeachperson, and1/8ofthe bread).Asyoumaycalculate,thiswayismuchmoreeffective just12cuts.(Ifyouconsiderasimilarprobleminindustry, thisapproachmaysavethousandsofdollars). Besidesobviousexcitementthatisgeneratedbythesetypes ofproblems,childrenexplorethesetofpossibilitiesandlearn howtorangethesolutionsintermsofeffectivenessand beauty.

PROBLEMSWITHNOSOLUTIONS
Whilethechildrenthoughtfullyenjoytheopen endedproblemsprovidingformanysolutions,itis veryinterestingtonoticehowuncomfortableitisto thechildrentothinkof nosolution solution.They willresistthisideauntiltheyarecompletelystuck. WhileIwouldnotliketoteach learned helplessness tothekids,asmallamountofthese problemsisdefinitelyhealthy.Iwouldliketosee themtorecognizethatsometimeseventhebest effortsareinvain,andlearntodealwiththat. Again,nosuchproblemsinschool.

Example
Thereare4glassesonthetable 3areupright,and1isupsidedown. Youmayturnover2glassesatatime.Isitpossibletogetall glasses upright? Theproblemtookhalfoftheclasstime(childrenneverwanttogiveup). Boys(BenandAnton)decidedtoturnjustoneglass,buttwice, (upand down)andclaimeditasolution.Whenaskedtoshowushowtheydoit, theywerentabletoreproducetheclaimedresult,however,theywere extremelyproudoftheir outofthebox thinkingnevertheless. (Ben: NoIdidit! Ana No,youdidnot! DanaasksBentodemonstrate. Ben Oh..butIhaveitanotherway! ) VickyandMariewereabletoactuallyformulatetheirstatement(with somestudentassistant shelp) theyexplainedthataddingorsubtracting 2fromtheoddnumberdoesnotchangeittoeven.

ILLDEFINEDPROBLEMS
Relatedtotheproblemswithnosolutionsareill definedproblemsthatI(sometimeswithnointention todoso)givetothekidsfromtimetotime.These problemsforcethestudentstotryvariousstrategies, modifytheirplansandreevaluatetheirgoalsalong theway.Eventually,theylearntorecognizeanill definedproblemandrestateit.(Thereisanother opportunityforthemtoseetheteacherasahuman being,makingmistakes..) Goodnews thesetypesofproblemsareeasytocome upwithfortheteacher!

Example
Could you build 4 triangles with just 6 toothpicks? This one was definitely an ill-defined problem, and I had to continue to impose limitations as we went on. First, I asked them to make 4 triangles with 6 toothpicks. Noah broke the toothpicks in half, and built those. Marie used the toothpicks so they will not touch, ( built a parallelogram with diagonals) and just indicate the direction. I had to explain that they have to use a non-broken toothpick. I also told them that the triangles need to be equilateral. Robert quickly built a set of 4 equilateral but unequal triangles ( see below)

Finally, I told them they need 4 equal equilateral triangles. That confused the kids for a minute, and Lilien asked for a hint. I reminded them to look whether they are limiting themselves to something not stated in the problem. 2D! exclaimed Lilien. We are limiting ourselves to a flat surface!

LOGICALPARADOXES
"Itisbadlucktobesuperstitious."

LOGICPARADOXES
WhenIwasachild,Iwastoldastory.Achildisplayingpianoscales.The dadisreadinganewspaper.Somekidsareplayingsoccerinfrontoftheir windows. Daddy,mayIgoplay? whinesthechild.OK,answersthe dad.Thesonjumpsoffthechairandrunsout.Thedadgetsup,still lookingintothenewspaper,comestothepianoandfinishesthemusical scale. Thedadinthisstorywasnotabletostandanunfinishedmusicalscale. Thesameistruewiththelogicparadoxes itisverydifficultforus humanstostandsomethingasunfinished. Logicparadoxesareaspecificsetofopenendedproblems.Thebest thingIlikeaboutthelogicparadoxesthattheyinstantlymakeyouthink andconstantlyquestionyourassumptions.

STEPTOSTEPTHINKING
Logicalthinking Simplification Proofs

LOGICALTHINKING
Kidshaveanaturalabilitytothinklogically. Youdonothavetoteachthemthat.What theydonotknowisagoodnotation andthis shouldbetaught,demonstratingthebestand worstpractices,andidentifyingthepossible slips.

SIMPLIFICATION
Findingasimilarbutaneasierproblemisvery challengingtothekidsofthisage. Theyneedalotofpromptingandcoaching. Question:Shouldweteachthemthisor shouldwejustwait?(getbacktomewith yourthoughtsandobservations)

PROOFS
Donotattempttoteachformalproofsin elementaryschoolcircle youaregoingto fail.. Dointroducetheideaofproofs informally. Considertheirknowledgebase. Makejokesaboutproofs.

PROOFDISCUSSION 1
Teacher: Provethatcloudsarecloserthan theSun Student,6yrsold: Doyoumeanduringthe dayorduringthenight? Student,7yrsold: Idonotknow,butwecan sendarobottocheck.. Student,8yrsold: Anairplanecanfly throughtheclouds,butSunisstillabove..

ANOFFTOPICOBSERVATION
Atthatpoint,Ishowedthemapenandabook,andputapenin frontofthebook.Whatiscloser thepenorthebook? Vickysaysthatthepenisclosertothem,sincethebookiscloserto me,andweareontheoppositesides.Iaskwhathappenswiththe penasIputitbehindthebook. Itdisappears! saysArina. The objectthatisclosercanblockthedistantobject guessesJordan. So,whataboutthecloudsandtheSun?Dothecloudshidethe Sun? yes! DoestheSuneverblockstheclouds? Theclasssays no Itisveryinterestingthatthekidsofthisagedonothavethisinner feelingofsomethinginfrontofsomethingbeingclosertous, thoughitisoneofthecommonwaysourbrainusesourvisionto communicatethedistances. Shouldwetalkmoreaboutthatwiththem,orshouldwewaitfora coupleofyears?(Thisfactisobviousfor9yearolds)

PROOFDISCUSSION2
Donotintroducerealproofs introducefake ones! Theorem.Acathasninetails. Proof. Nocathaseighttails.Acathasone moretailthannocat.Thereforeacathasnine tails.

NEGATIVECONFIRMATION
Itisknown,thatpeopletendtotestinaone sidedway,bysearchingforevidenceconsistent withtheirhypothesis.Theylookfortheevidence thattheywouldexpecttoseeiftheirhypothesis wastrue,neglectingwhatwouldhappenifit werefalse. Iwastold,itisanevolutionarytrait ifyouthink youseeatiger,yourunaway;ifwouldnothurt youtorunaway,evenifyouaremistaken.

NEGATIVECONFIRMATION
Mostofthepeoplesuggest A F 2 7 turningA,whichisanobvious choiceconfirmingthe hypothesis.However,noneof mystudentswouldsuggest Identifywhichcardsyou turning7,whichtests needtoturnoverinorder whetherthehypothesisis totest thehypothesis: If false.Itisimportanttodiscuss thereisavowelonone thisphenomenawiththe sideofthecard,thereis students,teachingthemabout anevennumberon theirinnerpreferences,and anothersideofthecard advisingthemtoreassess theirassumptionseverytime theyapproachaproblem,even ifitlookscounterintuitive.

SOLVINGBACKWARDS, ANDANIDEALFINALRESULT
Solvingbackwards,andthinkingofanideal finalresult,arebothpowerfulproblemsolving techniques.However,theyseemtobehard forthekids. Thebestwayofintroductionformewasusing themazes,andsolvingthemfromfinishto start. Anothergoodsourceofsuchproblemsare Nimtypegames.

GUESSINGANDESTIMATION
Childrenloveguessing!Iusethisalotwhen wearestudyingprobabilitydistributions. Childrenseemakingpredictionsasa wonderfulgame.Wealsodoalotof estimations,thinkingofextremecases,and suggestingvarioustests tocheckoutour predictions.

Example
Ihave3pokerchips blue,redandwhiteinsidethelunch bag.After9trials,amIgoingtohavemorereds,more bluesormorewhites?(writeyourguessonyourpaper) Observations: Itisinterestingtonoticethatwhileolderkidstendtogoto asymmetrical333distribution(thatneverhappenedto usinclass),theyoungeronestendtofavoronecolorover therest,givingsomethinglike621distribution.Well,the truth,forthegivennumberoftrials,liesinbetween Overseveralrounds,wenevergottheexactguessofanyof thekids,totheirbigsurprise youmaysuggestthemto countthenumberofallpossibleoutcomes,andthen calculatethepossibilityoftheirguess.

SYMMETRY
Themathematicalsciencesparticularlyexhibitorder, symmetry,andlimitation;andthesearethegreatestforms ofthebeautiful. Aristotle Symmetryhasaspecialappealtousashumans.Wetendto noticeitandtoadoreit.Whyareweinclinedtopayspecial attentiontoit?Iamnotapsychologist,andIamnotwell versedinthismatter;however,Icertainlyobservethis phenomenoninclass. Childrenliketoplaywithsymmetry,tobuildsymmetrical ornamentsandtoexploremirrorandrotationalsymmetry. However,ouradmirationofsymmetrysometimesleavesus toconsideronlysymmetricalsolutions.Nonsymmetrical onescometouswithmuchmoredifficulty.

Example
Itisveryeasytoput8chairsalongthewallsofarectangular roomsuchasthereisanequalamountofchairsateachwall. Noonewillhaveanydifficultysolvingthisproblem.Now, suggestthekidstosolvethisproblemfor10chairsinstead.

GAMETHEORY
TheEthicalEquations,ofcourse,linkconductwithprobability,andgive mathematicalproofthatcertainpatternsofconductincreasethe probabilityofcertainkindsofcoincidences.Butnobodyeverexpected themtohaveanyreallypracticaleffect MurrayLeistner, TheEthical Equations IrememberreadingTheEthicalequations asteenager,andIremember howfascinatedIwaswiththeideathatethicsandmathematicscan relate.Icouldnotresistgivingatasteofthistothekids. Iconsideritcriticaltoshowthechildrenthattheyareencouragedto applytheirknowledgeinonedomaintoaverydifferentone;inthiscase, mathtosocialstudies. Ialsowantedtodiscussthenotionofunintendedoutcomeswiththem.It isextremelyinterestingandintriguingtothechildrentolearn thattheir desiresmaybringthemtoaveryunexpectedoutcome.

PRISONERSDILEMMATHESTORY
Twokids(askforvolunteers,writetheoutcomeson theboard)areinbigtrouble,buttheteachersand parentsdonotknowwhoisthemastermindbehind themisbehavior. Theyseparatethekids,andtellthem:ifwegetno answerfrombothofyou,youbothgetsuspendedfora day.Ifyoutellthatitwasanotherkid,youarereleased andanotherkidgets3daysofsuspension.Ifbothof youtellofeachother,youbothget2days. Tasya :itwasConstantin!Constantin:ItwasTasya! (discussion)

PRISONERSDILEMMATHEGAME
Eachpairisgivenredandbluepokerchips.Playerssitbackto back, sotheydonotseeeachothersmove.TheplayersareNOTallowed tocommunicate!Theysimultaneouslyputthechiponthepieceof paperontheirside. Ifbothplayaredchip,theyget2toycoinseach.Iftheyplay differentcolors,theonewhoplaysthebluegets3coins,andthe onewhoplaystheredgetsnothing.Ifbothplayblue,bothget 1 coineach.Thepurposeistogetasmanycoinsaspossible. Writeyouroutcomesinthetable(Besideseverythingelse,this problemisgoodasadatacollectionandanalysispractice.) Countyourtotalscoreincoins.Whatstrategy(cooperationornon cooperation)isbetterintheshorttime?Inthelongtime? (discussion)

SUMMARY
Asyousee,Idefinedtheminimalsuccessofthe mission asintroducingthebasicproblemsolving skillstothekids. Itoldyouaboutmyeffortstoteachthechildren notonlyhowtosolvetheproblems,butalsoto showthemthattheyneedtolearnabout themselvesinordertodoiteffectively. Goodteachersdothisintuitively,butitisapity thatthisselfawarenessandproblemsolving skills arenottaughttothekidsonaregularbasis.

TEXTBOOKFOR MATHCIRCLEORGANIZERS
Idecidedtowriteatextbookforfuture organizersofthemathcirclesforthe elementaryschoolkids.Iplantodevotea chapterforproblemsolvingskills,andtherest ofthebooktolessonplansforthemathcircle, alongwithsampleresponses,hintsand referencesforproblemsolvingtechniques.

Content
Introduction 4 Chapter1.Topicsandproblemsolvingskills 7 Chapter2.Sessionplansandsolutions 15 Introduction: 15 Lesson1.Multiplesolutionsandunstatedassumptions 23 Lesson2.LogicalParadoxes Lesson3.Proofsinmathematics 32 Lesson4.HalloweenMathContest 41 Lesson5.Gametheory 46 Lesson6.Parity,candiesandjokes 51 Lesson7Cryptography 55 Lesson8Solvingbackwardsandanidealfinalresult 60 Lesson9.Symmetry 68 Lesson10Knightsandknaves 73 Lesson11.Probability 80 Lesson12.Mathcontest 85 Lesson13Elimination 86 Lesson14.Reasoningunderuncertainty 90 Lesson15.Math,musicandastronomy94 16

ELEMENTARYMATHCIRCLE INACTION
Watchthevideoat: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3Jw3Evu9l0