Math Textbook Problem Makeovers

You do you know what I really like about Dan Meyer’s math textbook problem makeover tasks? The way he introduces the problem to the community. Releasing the problem via Twitter on the Thursday before he tackles it (which is the following Monday, by the way) allows for us to form our own ideas about the problem without being influenced from someone else’s opinion (I do understand that there is some ideas thrown out there via Twitter before Monday, but from what I’ve seen, it hasn’t really been an issue of influencing opinions). I get to decide what I like about the problem, and what I don’t like. I get to decide what I might do to make it a better problem. I don’t have the chance to form an opinion based on someone else’s opinion before I get to take in the context of the problem. (Which, by the way is a great idea to keep in mind for your students. They come into your classroom with influences, and this helps form the lens through which they see the content of your class. They also will very much be influenced by your attitude towards and how you present ideas and content. Sometimes, its wise to just give them a chance to play around with an idea or task before you employ any of your own strategies or ideas.) My only hesitation is that we are assuming that these problems need a makeover (in most cases, the makeover surely helps make the problem better) and that is a very personal decision that needs to be made depending on the pedagogies that you employ in your classroom.

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. Pingback: dy/dan » Blog Archive » [Makeover] Bedroom Carpet

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  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.

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