Over the summer I came across that "viral" math problem from China that asked 5th graders, "A captain has 25 sheep and 10 goats on his ship, how old is the captain?" I ended up reading about the history behind it and it was first started by a French researcher that wanted to see if children could identify that the problem didn't have enough information to answer the question. They figured most kids would realize this, however the results showed a majority of kids would try to manipulate the numbers to answer the question. This study was replicated in other countries and they found the same thing happening. As a result, I have decided to incorporate these types of questions into my word problems for the students. When I give a problem set of 10 problems I always have at least 3 of them that doesn't have enough information to solve the question that is asked. This small change into the problems I give my students has had a dramatic impact on my students' ability to read a word problem and think of what needs to be done. In just the 3 weeks of the school year of doing this (every day, including the day I introduce a topic I have word problems), my students went from the typical just skimming the problem to actual careful reading the question. Since they are taking time to read the problem and see what it's asking with the information given, my students are far exceeding students in my previous classes. Not just their ability to solve the problem, but also their critical thinking about the scenarios is sky rocketing! So if you teach math, give it a shot!

I love this! Another thing that I have been looking at are numberless word problems which also force the students to start to identify what information is important and what isn't needed.

It doesn't surprise me that children try to figure out how to solve this unsolvable problem. Their initial assumption is based on the fact that they are told to solve a problem. They trust those who gave them the problem to actually give them something that was solvable like every other time they are asked to solve a problem.