Friday, October 8, 2010

The Map is Not the Territory

I was reading my daughter the book The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White this week when I found this passage.  In my mind, it makes a strong statement for accepting the fact that there is usually more than one right answer, and that kids need meaningful, real-life experiences to make them effective and enthusiastic problem solvers.

Just as background, the character Sam is a born naturalist who spends many hours in nature, walking and observing the life around him.

Back in his own room, Sam sat down at his desk...their teacher, Miss Annie Snug, greeted Sam with a question. 

"Sam, if a man can walk three miles in one hour, how many miles can he walk in four hours?"

"It would depend on how tired he got after the first hour," replied Sam.

The other pupils roared.  Miss Snug rapped for order.

"Sam is quite right," she said.  "I never looked at the problem that way before.  I always supposed that man could walk twelve miles in four hours, but Sam may be right: that man may not feel so spunky after the first hour.  He may drag his feet.  He may slow up."

Albert Bigelow raised his hand.  "My father knew a man who tried to walk twelve miles, and he died of heart failure," said Albert.

"Goodness!" said the teacher.  "I suppose that could happen, too."

"Anything can happen in four hours," said Sam.  "A man might develop a blister on his heel.  Or he might find some berries growing along the road and stop to pick them.  That would slow him up even if he wasn't tired of didn't have a blister."

"It would indeed," agreed the teacher.  "Well, children, I think we have all learned a great deal about arithmetic this morning thanks to Sam Beaver..."


  1. Indeed - well expressed. The flat piece of paper is a poor representation of the reality of walking up and down hills for 4 hours.

  2. Great post. Thank you for sharing.


Thanks for reading. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments!


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