18 February 2011

Experimental mathematics for small children

a six year old solves the subset sum problem: a post on an operations research science fair project.

Roll five dice. Can you make a subset of the numbers appearing on them add up to 10? to 12? Laura McLay's six-year-old daughter did this experiment as a science fair project, solving the problem visually with bars of length 1 inch to 6 inch fitting in a 10-inch or 12-inch frame.

This is both the cutest and most awesome thing I have seen so far this morning. (But be aware that I have only been awake for half an hour.) There should be more things like it.

It's also what I'd do if I were seeing this problem for the first time. (Although, being a Grownup, I'd skip the manipulatives. Which would probably make it less fun.)


CarlBrannen said...

I had a funny experience yesterday teaching combinatorics and probability to ITT (technician, mostly) students.

It turns out that they were much more intuitive with calculating probabilities than combinations and permutations. So instead of starting with the combinatorics and then doing probabilities, I reversed the order of the lecture.

Laura said...

Thanks for your post about my daughter's science fair project. I am biased, but I agree that her project was pretty cute. I never cease to be amazed at how frequently kids make hypotheses and then test them--I hope she never loses her enthusiasm for math and science.

Basil said...

Very nice science fair project. I do a similar thing in my class with a game called "Chance". There are a total of 6 different rounds, one for each letter in Chance. Each round consist of rolling two dice. Students are allowed to stand up during a round and add the sum of the dice. They may remain standing and continue to add their sums until they sit down. Once they sit down, they are not allowed to stand up again that round. The catch is if a one is rolled, then the round ends and anyone standing when the one is rolled losses the entire sum for that round. So if the total sum for the round were 17 and the students remained standing on the next roll of a 1 on either dice, then they would not make any points for that round. By sitting down, they are allowed to bank their points for the final score after all 6 plays. There is one last catch. If you are ever caught standing when a 1 is rolled on both dice you lose all points for all rounds. I think a good project would be to find when would be best to sit down in a round...