Subject: division

Kelly Allen
Basic maths question
Home School Parent/Teacher

My 8 year old daughter had 12 bracelets which she arranged into 4 piles of 3. Did she divide 12 by 3 or by 4?

Most people I've asked can only offer an opinion. What I'm looking for is a definitive answer, if there is one.

My husband says the number of sets is the answer: 12 divided by 3 = 4 Most others I've asked said that the amount in each set is the answer: 12 divided by 4 = 3

I asked my daughter to do a different problem, 12 divided by 2, to see what she did. She took 2 bracelets and made a pile and continued until she ran out of bracelets, then counted the piles to come up with the answer, 6. This is the way my husband would have done it but not the way I or the others I've asked would.

I realise the answer is the same either way and thought it didn't matter until my husband gave me 48╩items that needed to be divided for a meeting.╩As he left the room he asked me to divide the items by 8. When he returned I had made 8 neat piles of 6 items each. Unfortunately╩there were 6 people in attendance at the meeting and each needed 8 items.

Thank you in advance for you help in this matter,
Kelly Allen

Hi Kelly,

Part of the difficulty here is the way we use the word divide in English. For example you might say to your daughter "divide 2 into 12" or you might give her twelve sheets of paper and say to her "divide the 12 into 2". In everyday conversation the context carries much of the meaning. In particular, depending on the situation your daughter would understand the last instruction as asking her to arrange the sheets into two piles of six or to cut each sheet in half to get 24 pieces. I would say the same about your husband's instructions, "divide the items by 8". He needs to give clearer instructions. You might have done it with scissors.

For the problem that you gave your daughter, 12 divided by 2, she did it correctly. You can see the advantage of her method if you change the instruction to 11 divided by 2. Her procedure would result in 5 piles and one left over, that is five and a half piles. If you start by arranging the bracelets into 2 plies you get 5 in each pile and 1 left over. Here it is not clear what the 1 represents.


For your original question "My 8 year old daughter had 12 bracelets which she arranged into 4 piles of 3. Did she divide 12 by 3 or by 4?" Chris sent this response

Ask yourself what the units are: you start with braclets and divide the collection among four piles having 3 bracelets per pile; that is, 12 bracelets divided by 4 piles equals 3 bracelets per pile. Perhaps there is a way to interpret piles per bracelet, but not in the context that you've described.
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