February 01, 2007

What's more stupid: the question or answer?

Via Tim Rylands' blog, via Andy from Edinburgh.

The answer is a perfect example of creative, yet lateral, thinking in action.
The question sums up everything that's wrong with modern education and high stakes, yes/no, binary questioning.

What would I prefer? "How long is the side marked 'x'? How do you know this?"

Who's up for answering? (Extra prizes for creative or lateral thinking to an obvious question ;-)


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This picture has been going around maths departments for a while, along with some other humorous student responses. I'll try to find links to them for your amusement :)

These are really good, some of them quite sweet - you don't know if the kid genuinely thinks that's right or if they got so frustrated they just decided to have a laugh. Not that this innumerate blogger is anything to criticise... ;-)

Those pictures are great. So where do those students fall on the state tests. Are they proficient or advanced?:) I can't wait to pass these on to my math dept. You wonder if those students thought that these were logic problems and not really a math problem. Some of the answers are quite creative.

Selten so über Mathematik gelacht.
Ewan, vielen Dank für die Links!!!

The "expand...." answer is a work of genius! I wish I'd had the balls to do something like that at school :)

The question is more stupid, but not because it's stated poorly. Consider the student's situation:
-Either they know the desired answer and are playing around, or they are manifesting some combination of boredom and frustration with the class, test, lesson, etc.
-Or they don't know the answer, and either don't take themselves too seriously, or they're embarrassed by their ignorance.

This is a question completely without context; it's an exercise in computation that has been stripped of any power to interest the student. I used to dread worksheets filled with these sorts of questions. They're unimaginably dull.

At the same time, it seems clear that you don't want to start down the slippery slope of constraining a student's thinking for them. The prospect of thinking carefully about making sure students give you the answer you're looking for seems backwards. Whether the student know or doesn't know the answer, it is abundantly clear that they're subverting something in the process.

Alternatively, I might simply be taking this too seriously. It is pretty amusing, at first glance. I've just little or no patience for work like that.

Some good points, Alec, although it is meant to be taken half-seriously. I think these are students of both categories you describe. What I find valid and interesting is the idea that we both to ask questions to which we know the answer and know what we want to hear as the answer. You've expressed more clearly than me perhaps what I wanted to say in that respect.

Ewan - thanks for the reference (please see my updated posts in re-re-referencial deferential "comment" to your...reference)
The rocket science "infrequent and occasional" section gets a lot of folk talking. They may be old, some of them, but they're goodies
I agree with Robert, that this kind of question occurs frequently in our classrooms still, but lacks context and, more importantly imagination and excitement.
Here's to more of these if your readers find them.

yo! if cha kno maths then cha kno wat's da meanin of da q's but da thing is tat da answa is STUPID....findin "x" requires formula lik da term "SOH CAH TOA"..if cha kno wat im talkin bout

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

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School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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