Introductory Challenge


After resolving all their differences involving math, our heroes Jessica and Sam have gotten engaged, and are now deeply immersed in the wedding planning. A little too immersed, perhaps. Sam is having a very difficult time taking care of one of his few duties: Planning the seating for the reception. It’s not just a simple matter of space in the reception hall or number of tables; the problem is that both he and Jessica have quite a few social firecrackers in their family who clash hard with people of certain beliefs or lifestyles.

Just as Sam is about to hyperventilate from listing out all of the different ways in which their family members and friends are at odds with each other, Jessica has an idea. “What if we draw a diagram?”

Sam thinks it over for a minute. “That’s not a bad idea, but how can we keep track of all the clashes?” he responds.

“Well…we could start by listing out the main problematic beliefs and personality types and then list out the strongest representatives of each category,” Jessica begins slowly. “Then we could place those people first on a scaled down diagram of the reception hall. We could also make a list of people who are particularly good at resolving conflicts or who seem to be liked by everyone and then save them to the end.”

“Yes! Or we could specifically place those people right next to the most contentious guests to minimize any social damage!” [Notice that Sam and Jessica made a choice to specifically avoid controversies and clashes. They could have just as easily used the same types of logical thinking and diagrams to stimulate energetic discussions by seating people of opposing beliefs next to each other!]

Sam said, excitedly. “You know, the funny thing is, Jessica, that this problem is quite like the types of problems we’re looking at in my Discrete Math class. Maybe you’re better at applying math logic to situations than you take credit for!”

Challenge Questions

(to be answered independently or in a group)

  1. Why is this scenario with Jessica and Sam in a module about math when there weren’t even any numbers mentioned?
  2. Think of a time when you used a picture or diagram to help you simplify a problem. What was it about the visual aid that made the problem easier for you to solve? (Or, if it wasn’t helpful, why do you think it wasn’t helpful?)