While you might have been trying to solve the brain-teasing math puzzle meant for eight-year-old students that went viral on the Internet last week, Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper has found another unknown – the teacher behind the conundrum.
It turned out to be far easier to find the author of the brain-mangling math problem than its solution.
Nguyen Thi Kim Quyen, the chief teacher of the third grade at Thang Long Elementary School in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong, admitted she was at first worried to see her math puzzle cause a stir on the Internet.
“But I later reassured myself, thinking that what I have done is only for the sake of my students,” Quyen told Tuoi Tre on Saturday, after confirming that she was the teacher behind the brain-teasing math problem.
The puzzle, which requires third graders to fill in a snake-shaped series of boxes consisting of several operations with the digits 1 to 9, was first published by a Vietnamese newswire before it caught the attention of foreign media outlets such as The Guardian and The Huffington Post.
Students are required to use each digit only once, and the puzzle is meant to test their knowledge of order of operations, in which multiplication/division comes before addition/subtraction.
Quyen, a teacher with 22 years of experience, said she has frequently collected “impressive math problems” for her students over the last few years.
“I gave the math problem to a group of students during a review session on Tuesday last week,” Quyen said, adding the group included only 20 out of the 35 students in the class who had done the required consolidation exercises.
“I wanted to help these students improve their skills and knowledge with this thought-provoking question.”
These students were asked to do four extra questions, among which the puzzle was the last problem.
“I knew it was too complicated and tough for a third grader so I told the students they did not necessarily have to do it,” Quyen told Tuoi Tre.
Some students were so intrigued by the question that they gave it a shot, while some brought it home to seek help from parents.
One of the parents was shocked to see the puzzle and contacted newswire VnExpress, where the conundrum began going viral.
“I should have told the students to give a cross sign on that question,” Quyen said, adding it thus led parents to mistakenly think that she had required her students to solve such a tough question.
However, Quyen did not create the puzzle on her own, but got it from a book published by the University of Education Publishing House, she admitted.
The book, published in June 2012, includes many advanced math problems for third graders, according to many math teachers at Thang Long Elementary School.
Hoang Thi Hong, the school principal, said while she appreciates Quyen’s effort in collecting great math problems to help her students, the puzzle should not have been given to students en masse.
“It’s inappropriate to include the problem in a review session as it is against the standard knowledge level and Quyen did not ask for the school’s opinions before doing so,” she said.
But many parents and Tuoi Tre readers have supported the 43-year-old teacher, saying Quyen only wanted to help her students with advanced knowledge.
“My daughter loves the way Mrs. Quyen teaches her to solve math problems,” Huynh Thi Xuan Dung, the mother of one of her students, told Tuoi Tre.
“Mrs. Quyen is willing to help my daughter solve any tough problems and she also gave her excellent students good puzzles.”
That the math problem went beyond the school to the Internet was just an accident, one of Quyen’s colleagues said.
“We had been expected to rest as the academic year finished when we met with this accident,” Nguyen Thi Ninh, a third grade teacher at Thang Long, said.
“Both Quyen and I were very tired and worried.”
For Quyen, she does not regret doing what she thought was good for her students.
“It’s simple to only teach what’s in the textbook,” Quyen said.
“But as a teacher I think it’s a waste not to give advanced exercises to help good students improve their knowledge.”
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