Home > General > Smarter Than a 4th Grader

Smarter Than a 4th Grader

My son is in the 4th grade in Tennessee.  With all of the discussion in the news regarding math testing and Race to the Top, Tennessee raised their math standards last year.  I am all in favor of this, but I think the pendulum has gone too far in the difficult direction.  TCAP (the elementary state test) is next week.  My son’s class is doing two math lessons a day to make up for a snow week and the requirements of the new standards.  His teacher is doing a great job handling this and not making it feel like a punishment or a chore.  I have to say that there are a lot of new and tough standards and I feel for the fourth grade teachers.  Ethan has already explained point, lines and planes as well as parallel and perpendicular lines.  Being a high school math teacher, I’m in favor of raising the bar at all levels of math (although I’m not sure what I’m going to teach in Geometry).

So, tonight, as with most nights, I’m helping my son with his math TCAP practice book.  (It must be awful to be the math teacher’s kid and even worse when that teacher is the head of the math department…No pressure!)  I was checking his work and came to a problem like this problem:

Which sum are you most likely to spin if you spin this pointer 2 times?  (The slices are all the same size.)

A.  18

B.  19

C.  20

D.  21

Maybe it is too many years teaching higher level mathematics, but the only way I could come up with to solve this problem was to set up a sample space.  I explained it to my 9 year old this way:

You could spin:

9 + 9 = 18

9 + 10 = 19

9 + 11 = 20

10 + 9 = 19

10 + 10 = 20

10 + 11 = 21

11 + 9 = 20

11 + 10 = 21

11 + 11 = 22

Since 20 shows up the most in the sample space, that is the answer.  Am I missing a simpler method?  Am I overthinking the problem?  If not, then is this level of probability and sample space really reasonable for a 4th grader or 9 year old?  Really?!  Maybe I’m just out of touch with the elementary school grades.  I’m going to give this as a starter to all my classes tomorrow and see how many high schoolers get stumped.  A better question would be how many adults get stumped…Are you smarter than a 4th grader?

Categories: General
  1. April 5, 2011 at 1:01 am

    I’m terrible at probability but my gut instinct was 21 because the 10 slice and 11 slice looked the biggest.

    • April 5, 2011 at 1:11 am

      @ Elissa That is my fault, the pieces should all be equal. I had to draw it in paint and paste it. Sorry…

  2. April 5, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    I’m not sure if this is the same as your explanation, but I looked at it as I could get 20 by adding 10 and 10 or by adding 9 and 11. Since no other combination would repeat, my answer had to be 20.

  3. April 6, 2011 at 1:00 am

    Listing the possible spins is the right approach and is within reach of many 4th graders.

  4. Betsy Gilbert
    April 6, 2011 at 1:10 am

    I have a friend who teaches high school math in Georgia. They raised there standards about five years ago, so she is finally getting these students as high schoolers. She says it is amazing how much better they are at higher level thinking, reasoning, problem solving , etc.! She definitely sees a difference, so I am encouraged for the future. However, she says they still can NOT do fractions, and don’t know the multiplication facts. I blame that on early calculator use, which is my worst pet peave!


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