Internet Stumped Over 5th Grader’s Math Homework: ‘Bonkers’

A leading educator has weighed in on the debate surrounding a seemingly impossible math problem allegedly set as homework for a 5th grader in the US

The math question first came to light after a screenshot was shared to Reddit by SoverignOne, who claimed it was given to their 10-year-old to do at home.

It drew a strong reaction from Julia Smith, a UK-based math specialist who has authored math study guides for the BBC and serves as an expert panel member for the AQA, one of the country’s leading examination boards.

Smith told Newsweek it was a “bonkers question” but despite expressing shock was able to offer up the correct answer.

Stock image of a child completing math problem. A homework question allegedly set for a 10-year-old pupil has sparked debate online.
Pornpak Khunatorn/Getty

The math question featured in the viral post reads:

Marvin uses 0.34 gallons of paint on each wall of his house. About [how] many gallons of paint does Marvin need to paint 37 walls in his house?

According to the original poster, the instructions accompanying the question said to “round each decimal to the nearest whole number.”

That’s where the problems began.

“My last insists the answer is 0. According to the instructions, he is correct,” they wrote. “I explained that you can’t paint 37 walls with 0 gallons of paint. Messaged his math teacher. She said the answer is 0.”

Homework remains a of some debate among parents and educators, with many questioning the necessity of additional study outside school hours. In a 2014 survey conducted by Stanford University, 56 percent of the students said they considered homework a primary source of stress.

This particular homework question certainly seemed to be causing undue levels of stress among the Reddit community, with users flocking to the social media post to express confusion at the conundrum.

“Schools can be pretty stupid,” one Redditor wrote, with another commenting: “This is why math is difficult for so many people, we try to make it relatable but just make nonsense questions as a result.”

“Honestly I remember hating math as a kid because of instructions like these,” a third said, while a fourth wrote: “instead of learning the valuable skill they were supposed to learn, the kids are just confused with this absolute nonsense.”

At the time of writing, the post has been upvoted over 75,000 times.

Thankfully, Smith, who offers advice on all things math via her Twitter account tessmaths, explained that the confusion lay in the fact that the instructions for the problem were wrong.

“Convention dictates that rounding occurs at the end of a calculation,” Smith told Newsweek. “So you would do the calculation 37 x 0.34 which gives 12.58.”

“I’d suggest, as you can buy paint in 1 gallon tins or combinations to make 13 gallons, that you’d need 13 gallons.”

Newsweek has contacted SoverignOne for comment.

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