# Rolling marbles

The Ministry is migrating nzmaths content to Tāhurangi.
Relevant and up-to-date teaching resources are being moved to Tāhūrangi (tahurangi.education.govt.nz).
When all identified resources have been successfully moved, this website will close. We expect this to be in June 2024.
e-ako maths, e-ako Pāngarau, and e-ako PLD 360 will continue to be available.

Purpose

This problem solving activity has a logic and reasoning focus.

Student Activity

Anna has a new toy. It consists of four red marbles next to four blue marbles in a U-shaped track.
Anna can pick up any two consecutive marbles and place them, in the same order, at the left or at the right end of the track.
Then gravity brings them all together again.

Can Anna put the marbles in order red, blue, red, blue, etc., using the move described above?
If so, what is the smallest number of moves that it requires?

Suppose the balls in the track alternate in colour, starting with red on the left.

Can Anna find a sequence of moves that will put them back into their original positions, i.e., four red marbles followed by four blue marbles?
If so, what is the smallest number of moves that she can make to do this?

Specific Learning Outcomes
• Find strategies for investigating games.
• Write a solution for a game.
Description of Mathematics

This is a logic problem, and logic is an important part of mathematics and of the curriculum.

If students choose to use equipment, a careful record of each step should be made. Using a simpler problem, for example with 3 marbles of each colour, is another approach students may choose. As in any problem solving situation, a written record should be encouraged in order for students to be able to justify their solution, or to identify an error made in the process.

Other related Level 5 logic problems include Lake Crossing I and Space Crossing.

Note: In recent years mathematicians have analysed a wide variety of games. Analysing games goes back to at least the 17th Century. The famous French mathematician Blaise Pascal (of Pascal’s Triangle) spent a great deal of time studying card games. As a result he laid the foundation for probability and statistics and for a branch of mathematics called Games Theory.

Required Resource Materials
Activity

### The Problem

Anna has a new toy. It consists of four red marbles next to four blue marbles in a U-shaped track. Anna can pick up any two consecutive marbles and place them, in the same order, at the left or at the right end of the track. Then gravity brings them all together again.

Can Anna put the marbles in order red, blue, red blue, etc., using the move described above? If so, what is the smallest number of moves that it requires?

Suppose the balls in the track alternate in colour, starting with red on the left. Can Anna find a sequence of moves that will put them back into their original positions, i.e., four red marbles followed by four blue marbles? If so, what is the smallest number of moves that she can make to do this?

### Teaching Sequence

1. Pose the problem and check that it is understood.
2. Have students work on this in groups. Encourage them to take care keeping a record of their solution as they work.
3. Support as required and make the Extension available when appropriate.
4. As students share their solutions ask:
Is this the only solution?
Is this the smallest number of moves?

### Solution

By taking the two adjacent red and blue marbles and moving them to the right it only takes two moves to have the marbles alternating in colour. As it is not possible to do it in one move then this is the smallest number of moves.

We now give one possible algorithm for making the change (there are others). Starting from the right, always take the left most mixed pair of marbles in which the left most in the pair is the same colour as the right most of the eight marbles. After three moves, then move the paired blues to the right. In the diagram below the capital letters indicate the marbles to be moved - always to the right hand side.

rBRbrbrb-->RBrbrbbr-->rBRbbrrb --> rBBrrbbr-->rrrBBrbb-->rrrrbbbb

Anna can accomplish this in 6 moves.

Attachments