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Responses to the how big was the cat? problem

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The problem appearing in the February 2001 "Problem Solvers" section was stated as follows:

Jordan's walks in the woods were always an adventure. One day, Jordan saw a big cat as he was walking. In his journal, he drew pictures and described why he thought this cat was big. He rushed home to tell his family about this incredible cat. When he threw open the kitchen door, he exclaimed, "I just saw the biggest cat!" His sister Emily asked, "How do you know it is the biggest cat? Did you hold it down and measure it?" Jordan replied, "No way! I kept my distance! But I can do lots of different measurements without holding the cat down. Here's what I did... " How might Jordan explain the size of the cat? How many ways could Jordan have described how big the cat was? What things around him in the woods could be used to help him measure the cat? Finish telling Jordan's story to Emily about his adventure with the cat.

Claudia Andreski's team of fourth- and fifthgrade teachers from Jefferson Elementary School in Westfield, New Jersey, posed the problem as stated to their students. The teachers and students did some initial brainstorming about the problem, then students worked individually to determine the size of the cat. Students generated various thoughts during their discussions, including these:

* "Could the cat live in a jungle?"

* "Could it be a Persian? A bobcat? A lion? A tiger?"

* "Big has to do with the normal size of the cat but bigger!"

* "Trees, rocks, sticks on the ground could be used to measure the cat."

* "Benchmarks, such as arms, legs, height, etc., could be used."

* "I studied cats before so I know that most are this big."

Students described...