Here’s an interesting little question for you:

*Have you worked it out? How long did it take you to see it?*

It took me a few seconds at least, I had screenshotted the picture and was reaching for the pencil when the penny dropped, and that’s why I thought it was an interesting question.

The answer is, of course, 100pi. This follows easily from the information you have as the diagonal of the rectangle is clearly a radius – the top left is on the circumference and the bottom right is on the centre.

*So why didn’t I spot it immediately? *

I think the reason for me not spotting it instantly might be the misdirection in the question, the needless info that the height of the rectangle had me thinking about 6, 8, 10 triangles before I had even discovered what the question was.

I see this in students quite often at exam time, they can get confused about what they’re doing and it links to this piece I wrote earlier about analogy mistakes. The difference is I wasn’t constrained by my first instinct but all too often students can be and they can worry that it must be solved in the manner they first thought of.

Earlier today a student was working on an FP1 paper and he was struggling with a parabola question, he had done exactly this, he had assumed one thing which wasn’t the right way and got hung up in it. When he showed me the problem my instinct was the same as his, but when I hit the same dead end he had I stepped back and said “what else do we know”, then saw the right answer. I’m hoping that by seeing me do this he will realise that first instincts aren’t always correct.

I’m going to try this puzzle on all my classes tomorrow and Friday and see if they can manage it!

*How quickly did you see the answer? Do you experience this sort of thinking from your students? I’d love to hear any similar experiences.*

Cross-posted to Cavmaths here.

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If there are no wrong paths then it doesn’t really qualify as a math problem, more an interpretation of English problem. I was puzzling recently how one could find the axis of a parabola drawn anywhere on a plain sheet of paper. It took me a whole day to crack it. I then attacked the internet and finally found exactly the same solution, mentioning in passing that the result was known to Archimedes. One thing sudents should be able to do is to figure out when a “solution” is going nowhere, or round in circles, and to start with a fresh sheet of paper!

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