# Math Textbook Problem Makeovers

I had a similar idea a few weeks ago, and ran through a test using an editable Google Doc that encouraged individuals to come together to collaborate on the task. I won’t say it was a complete success, but it wasn’t a failure either. I think that we got to the point where we were making some progress towards reworking the problem, but then the task ran out of steam. And that’s ok, because it was just a test. (Feel free to head over to the doc to continue the collaboration.)

I’ll submit the same task here again, which was sent my way via Christopher Danielson as one of the worst textbook (pseudocontext) problems he has encountered.

Would trying to rework this problem be analogous to putting lipstick on a pig? Should Could this problem be reworked, and if so, how? Do you have another idea to use in the teaching of the concept? I’d appreciate to hear what you think in the comments.

5 comments on “Math Textbook Problem Makeovers
1. I think the problem is probably a waste, but there’s a part of me that wants it to make it over just so that I can use the clip from Dumb and Dumber where they trade the van in for a moped.

2. suehellman

I think this IS the lipstick on the pig — the pig being a traditional mixture problem. Someone has put some effort into creating a context for this application that might seem more real to students, but has then made it so so complex, it will turn off any willingness to care. I’d put this into the ‘trying too hard’ category and look at ways to make the reason behind learning traditional example more evident. Perhaps the best approach will be to teach the basic pattern in the simplest context possible and then have the students generate authentic examples where knowing how to do this would be useful? They should be able to articulate the bigger purpose of the problem and then talk to store owners, professionals, and trades people in the community to find out when this kind of task is done.

3. What on earth does one say to the student who says “Can we make several visits to the gas station?”

4. “After having a discussion with the people at Mathalicious, I’m not convinced that this is a lost problem. The format and formulation may be tragic and dull, but the concept behind it is rich. There are discussions to be had here about opportunity cost…”

That was as far as I got in my thought process before I started encountering thoughts like “no, that wouldn’t really work” and “For that, it would be a different problem entirely.”

I thought about trade-off problems asking “Which of these would be better in which situation and why?” and realized that it was too poorly constructed even for that. When I found myself asking “If he can only afford 12 gallons of gas, maybe he shouldn’t own two vehicles” I knew it was time to quit trying to fix it.