I hope that you and your students or colleagues enjoyed
discussing the Counterfeit Bill problem. I suspect that a variety of solutions
were offered, including these:
shoe owner gave $20 to the grocer and $20 (counterfeit) to the FBI.
shoe owner gave $15 to the customer, $20 to the grocer, and $20 (counterfeit)
to the FBI.
To think about whether these solutions are correct, let’s
start by trying the act-it-out strategy.
Although the shoe-store owner is not able to make change for
the $20, you can assume that he has some money in his cashbox (just like you
can assume that other pairs of shoes are in the store). Let’s say, for the sake
of argument, that he has $40 in his cashbox and that he has the slippers on his
The customer hands the fake $20 to the shoe-store
owner. The shoe-store owner hands the fake $20 to the grocer. The grocer hands
the shoe-store owner four $5 bills. The shoe-store owner hands the customer $15
and the slippers.
Result of transaction 1: The
shoe-store owner has $45 in his cashbox.
The shoe-store owner gives the grocer $20 in
exchange for the fake $20.
Result of transaction 2: The
shoe-store owner has $25 in his cashbox and a fake $20.
The shoe-store owner gives the fake $20 to the FBI.
Result of transaction 3: The shoe-store
owner has $25 in his cashbox.
shoe-store owner had $40 and a pair of slippers to start with, and then he
ended with $25. He lost $15 and a pair of slippers—or $20, if you assume the
value of the slippers is $5.
If you don’t believe me, act it out!
Alternatively, you might use the strategy look at the problem from a different view.
With this in mind, consider the following argument. By handing the shoe-store
owner a counterfeit bill, what did the customer receive free of charge? That’s
right, $15 and a pair of shoes. So the shoe-store owner lost what was taken
from him: $15 and a pair of shoes.
I have used this problem in a variety of settings, and it is
always interesting that students expect me to tell them who is right. If you
tried this problem in your classroom, I suspect the same thing was true with
your students. Not telling them, though, supports students in making sense of
the problem, listening to one another, and considering others’ justifications.
And by doing so, this problem supports the establishment of your classroom
norms. I hope you’ll share your students’ experiences of the Counterfeit Bill
problem with us.
Did you or your students use a different strategy? You are
welcome to share photos or work samples. We hope to hear from you.
Angela T. Barlow is a Professor of
Mathematics Education and Director of the Mathematics and Science Education
Ph.D. program at Middle Tennessee State University. During the past fifteen
years, she has taught content and methods courses for both elementary and
secondary mathematics teachers. She has published numerous manuscripts in Teaching Children Mathematics, among
other journals, and currently serves as the editor for the NCSM Journal of Mathematics Education Leadership.