## Tuesday, March 3, 2015

### [Pri20150302PBW] Pebbles on a Road Backwards

Question
 A jar contained some pebbles. Nigel took out half of them plus 2 more for display. Jenny took out half of the remaining pebbles plus 1 more. Finally, Alice took out half of what remaining plus 5 more for her project. In the end, there were only 8 pebbles left. How many pebbles were in the jar at first?

Solution
We can trace what happens to the remaining pebbles at each stage, and represent the information given in a sequence as above.  Note that when “Nigel took out half of them plus 2 more for display”, we would have half and then two less the number of pebbles.  Similary for the Jenny’s and Alice’s stages.

Now we just do the opposite of all the operations.  The inverse operation of ‘–5’ is ‘+5’, the inverse operation of ‘´ ½’ is ‘´ 2’ and so on.  Working our way backwards, we arrive at 112.

Ans: There were 112 pebbles at first.

Commentary

Remember: In mathematics, there is no such thing as "the only way" to solve problems.  There are many ways to skin the cat, as they say.  Other methods to solve this question include: using algebra, and “the branching method” (taught by some tutors/teachers) which tracks both the remaining pebbles as well as the ones taken away.

If you do use algebra (of some sort), remember to use different letters e.g. v, w, ... etc to refer to different things.  Likewise, do not just write  ‘½’  to represent ½  a unit, otherwise it could be misinterpreted as literally the number ½.  I suggest you can surround the ‘½’ with different shapes (e.g. circle, square, triangle) .

Precision is very important in maths, as well as in life. You don't want an imprecise person to be your aircraft designer, accountant or doctor, do you?

H05. Work backwards

Suitable Levels
Primary School Mathematics
* other syllabuses that involve whole numbers and fractions
* any learner who is up for a challenge