Please give your students this quiz, and how big is a “bushel” anyway?

(h/t: Freakonomics blog)

The following is an actual test given to 8th grade students in Kansas in 1895, unearthed by the Salina Journal. Please refer to the “arithmetic” section.

Here are the “arithmetic” questions and my attempted responses:

1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.

Umm….. Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally?

2. A wagon box is 2 ft. deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?

/1985 8th grader pushes wooden desk aside and grabs a laptop equipped with Google Sketch-up

Wait, how big is a bushel?

/1895 8th grader googles “how big is a bushel of hay”

/is unsuccessful

3. If a load of wheat weighs 3,942 pounds, what is it worth at 50 cts. per bu., deducting 1050 lbs. for tare?

Let’s see. I know that “tare” is something they do at the deli counter so you don’t end up paying for the slight weight of the bag holding your meat. So, I’m going to say I’m paying for 3942 lbs – 1050 lbs = 2892 lbs.

Now, 2892 lbs at 50 cts/bu….. ? “Bu?” Does that have anything to do with a bushel? Cause I’m out.

4. District No. 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?

What a coincidence! We still fund schools at the same rate of $50 a month NOW!

So let’s see, District No. 33 (not related to District 9) needs 7 x $50 = $350 and then $104 for “incidentals.” So they need a total of $454. So we need a levy against the $35000. Well, 454/35000 = 0.01297…

So there would need to be a levy of 1.3%. Good luck getting that tax bill passed in this political climate.

5. Find cost of 6,720 lbs. coal at $6.00 per ton.

Finally! An easy one! 6720 lbs = 3.36 tons (I thought it was spelled “tonnes” back then).

So that’s $20.16 for 3.36 tons at $6 per ton.

6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 per cent.

At 7% what, exactly? You see, they do these “early paycheck” scams nowadays where you pay like 7% interest per week or something.

7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft. long at $20 per in.?

This is a trick question. You can’t pay for in “in.” as the question suggests. You pay according to “square inch”! Boomroasted!

8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 per cent.

Um… 10% of $300 is $30…. Pass.

9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance around which is 640 rods?

Love this question. Every Geometry teacher on earth has asked a less-19th Century version of this question.

According to ye olde wikipedia, a “rod” is equal to 5.5 yards. So the fact that it’s a square and has a perimeter of 640 rods suggests the dimensions are 160 rods x 160 rods. Or 25600 square rods. Or 2640 ft. x 2640 ft = 6969600 sq. ft. An acre is 43560 sq. ft. So this farm has an acrage of 6969600/43560 = 160 acres.

At $15 an acre, that’s $2400.

They had calculators back then, right?

10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.

Ummm.. Pass.

I absolutely love this last question though. Talk about authentic learning! I’m sure they had to be able to do this soon after they graduated the 8th grade. And I love that this is categorized under “arithmetic” and not “economics” or something.

I also love how the quiz is clearly Kansas-centric. It was just expected that students should know all about bushels, farms, and promissory notes. Localizing your assessment and activities can do wonders for comprehension.

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2 Responses to Please give your students this quiz, and how big is a “bushel” anyway?

  1. dwees says:

    That’s a pretty neat quiz. Question number one is looking for this:

  2. shawnurban says:

    Ha. Interesting set of questions. Definitely farmer-centric. I can get past the Imperial units (Oops, we are assuming American units. Hmm. Wasn’t a war fought over this?), but the context is nearly meaningless to me. Though I think authentic problems connect students to the math they do, this is one example that shows that what is authentic for one is not so to another. In our current classrooms, where student backgrounds differ greatly, we need to keep this in mind.

    Oh, by the way, a bushel is a measure of dry volume, using interestingly wet units. (Go figure!) For more, see

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