Riddle me this… When is a math problem more suited for a history class?

in steemiteducation •  3 months ago

Earlier this week, I heard an old riddle for the very first time. It is so perfect! I can not wait to use it in my classroom this fall.

Riddle me this, how did he not get shot?

What is the riddle?

If there are ten birds in a tree and you shoot one, how many are left?

Pretty simple math problem right?

10 - 1 = 9

Great! But what is the point? That is too easy.

Well I won't be using this riddle in my math class.

I will be using it in World History.

I plan to ask my students this riddle and wait for their responses. I anticipate that several kids will raise their hands. If I happen to call on a student who gives the proper mathematical answer, I bet everyone else will put their hands down and agree with the answer. Sadly, this will happen even if a student may have been thinking of a different response. Teenagers don't like to look foolish in front of their classmates. It is much easier for him/her to go along with the group answer even if he/she does not agree with it. By the end of the year, I will fully expect my students to be bold enough to risk being incorrect. However, at the start of the year it is tough for them to assume that my classroom is safe for risk taking.

As the rest of the class lowers their hands, I will ask why?

Perhaps I will call on one of the other students whose hand was raised.

Beaming she will respond, "Because 10 minus 1 is 9."

I will answer...




This is a simple question!

The answer is 9!


After asking if anyone else wants to take a shot (pun intended), I will ask a leading question like "has anyone here ever been hunting?"

Because I teach in a very urban area, it is not likely that a majority of my students have hunted... but it is possible. If there is a seasoned hunter in the bunch, he/she may have a different answer based on his/her experience. If there are no hunters, I can solve the problem by simply asking, "Why do you think I brought up hunting?"

I am confident that this will illicit a new response.

I imagine a couple of hands eagerly shooting up to give the new "correct" answer:


Again I will ask, "Why?"

A proud student will respond, "Because when you shoot the first bird, the other 9 will fly away."

Time for me to ask, "Why?"

"Because the noise will scare them away."

I will respond...




Next I will ask, "Is there any way to shoot the bird without the others hearing a noise?"

Now I will have them. Kids minds will race as they shout out answers including:

"They could use a silencer." (My 14 year old students watch a lot of movies and play many video games)

"They could use a slingshot."

"They could use a bow and arrow."

"They could use a laser."


After that "maybe" (and the kids are ready to strangle me for my annoying non-answers) I will ask what the point of the lesson is.

Perhaps they will get it right away. Perhaps they will need some leading questions to help. Either way, when it is over, I want them to walk out of the classroom certain of a few things:

  1. My classroom is a safe place to take risks. If they don't agree with an answer, they should speak up.

  2. Intelligent people can come up with different answers to the same question... and the differing answers can be equally correct.

  3. A person's unique point of view can affect how he/she answers a question. Would the exact opposite have happened if I asked the riddle in a farming community? Maybe. (Bet you saw that coming)

  4. It is not good enough to simply answer a question in my class. They must be able to back up their response because I will always ask "Why".

  5. Uncovering new facts may make it necessary to change your answer. You can not simply ignore facts because they prove you wrong. For example, if I show them a video of ten birds and after one is shot, five fly while four remain, they can't simply dismiss that evidence because it proves them all wrong. Instead, they should continue the conversation by asking why that occurred.

  6. You can't simply invent facts in order to back up your response. If the hunter has a sling shot, you can't simply refuse to acknowledge the slingshot and instead say that he has a gun.

  7. You must be careful to ensure that your sources are authentic. If the image of the hunter were photoshopped to make it appear that the hunter were using Han Solo's DL-44 heavy blaster pistol, you should check another source.

  8. They better get ready to do some thinking this year.

Oooooooo! I just thought of another answer.

The answer is ten because they were "shot" by a photographer.

Is that correct?


Images 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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We mice thought we might just sit there with a question to 'shoot' at one - like 'do you really want to eat us?'

Now knowing the bird types down under - the 10 would either sit in the tree and laugh at us...

images (5).jpeg

Or 'maybe', we had better start running!

Onward to Hardfork 20 friend Han.




Oh you little scoundrels! Something tells me you two know how to do more than just carry those swords. I pity the foolish bird who would attempt to make a meal out of you.


Nice write-up


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This is awesome! I love that you are encouraging them to question the answer. Do expect them to get annoyed with the "maybe" answers though lol.

While reading the post it made me think of an experiment where they tested the group think mentality using an elevator. Even when the people knew it wasn't normal to stand facing the wall they still did because of the pressure of everyone else doing it around them. You can check it out yourself with the link I provided. Maybe you can even show it to your class as well.



Thanks for the link! I love the idea of showing that to the class. Great conversation starter about not being afraid to do what they know is right.

I would probably get a student that says zero, because in the matrix there are no birds.

Gif from Giphy

Very interesting way to make your students think and feel free to take risks. Sometimes a problem can have many solutions and it's important that they learn that.


Thanks! I agree 100%. Its more of a marathon than a sprint, but I hope this is a start for them.

What a great post! It really does give a great perspective of multiple ways to look at things in life! The best part is that it requires kids to think! Thanks for sharing the riddle!


Thanks! Yeah I never saw much value in having them regurgitate memorized answers. Plus it is really boring!

I wish you were my teacher when I was a kid. I might have learned to be more open minded. I really admire what you're doing to them you're letting them learn to think out of the box and stimulating their minds. You must have enjoyed all the answers that they were giving you when you were giving them your maybes hahaha. Thanks for sharing your experiences!


Thanks! Their answers are by far the best part. They are really creative and clever kids.


That is good to hear. I hope they grow up that way

Maybe I learned something... Maybe I didn't...

But why?!

Unfortunately, unless you're teaching a theoretical history class, answers are fairly set in stone when it comes to dates of events. History is made up of factual events, dates, times and situations, seeing as they have already occurred, you know what happened.

Sure, you don't always know the why.. which is where speculation and opinion can play, but facts are facts, at least until they're fake news..


Analyzing the events is where the real fun is and that is when kids get to think, form opinions and back them up.


Thanks for the upvote despite my atrocious use of commas! 👍🙂

I would vote for this TWICE if I could!

That is an awesome way to teach.

Some things I used to tell my kids, learned from hard experience -

As a rock climbing instructor - if you're not falling off, you're not trying hard enough

  • you only fail by not trying
  • you might beat me (be faster) but I'll have more fun
  • never laugh at someone else's misfortune - I learned this working in a concrete factory (making products out of concrete). If you laughed at someone because they tripped ( a common occurrence) or dropped something etc, you got sprayed with the hose by the boss.

If you laughed at someone getting spayed by the hose by the boss, you got sprayed with the hose by the boss.

  • always think before you speak - if you complained about the hot weather, you got spayed with the hose by the boss.

Now that I think about it, i'm noticing a pattern here........... hehe


Sounds like my kind of boss!

Seriously, those are all awesome lessons.

Ah your method of teaching is awesome.

Teach them to think for themselves, facts are too subjective to rely on.

I try to teach my kid to question everything in a logical way... unfortunately she outsmarts me quite often...


Then you have accomplished your mission;)


The most recent was the other day, kids lost the remote so I had to use the phone app... but kids lost my phone, so I grabbed my nieces phone and spent half an hour trying to figure out her code or her pin (shes 7). I even asked my daughter if she knew it and she said no and went about her way. Well I eventually gave up and left it on the sofa.

I came back in the room a few minutes later and my kid is sitting there with her cousins phone happily playing nail salon. Aghast I shouted "I thought you said you didn't know the code!"

"I didn't."

"Then how'd you figure it out?!"

In the most DUH! tone a five year old could possibly have, without even looking up, she responded. "Uh... G... for Gigi... like her name." I just stood there in shock for a couple of minutes trying to sort through my mixed emotions and hoping that I just have a really smart kid and I'm not that dumb. XD

Just when I thought you couldn't amaze me anymore, you totally go and do this!!!. I am absolutely stealing this and using it with my students at the start of the year. I spend so much time working with students to get them to justify and support their answers. This is such a fantastic intro to this topic. Thanks for taking care of a small bit of my planning for week one.


LOL. Thanks... but to be fair I totally ripped this off from my wife's work. She is in the business world and they had a meeting about harassment and proper workplace etiquette. She came back and told me the example of the birds that they used to teach the lesson that there may be more than one explanation/solution and people should respect other people's ideas. I just took that and expanded on it a bit.

mind games, next level lol

nice write-up..... exciting educational post

Fantastic post friend

You have a good teaching method I hope it always works. I invite you to take a look at my last post and know a reality that many face and most do not know.


Great Post with Great Information.

I would probably get a student that says zero, because in the matrix there are no birds.

Totally agree. And this is where we can think that everything is possible, that there are no concrete answers and that maybe we should always see all points of view to a situation, problem or action.

maybe he is the riddle or.. maybe he isn't
giphy (6).gif

Jajajaaj! que bueno! lo acabo de aplicar con mis hijos y obvio, dijeron 9!... luego se fueron a pensar mejor las cosas y empezaron a hacer hipótesis, porque cuando dejan de responder a expectativas tradicionales, comienzan a usar su pensamiento divergente, y cualquier cosa puede pasar... es bueno repensar como pensamos!... Gracias!