Who Knew Coffee Orders Could Be So Complicated?

It all started with an email that I put into Memos to All Staff on the weekend.

I was doing some planning with AJ on Thursday around multiplication, and he had a great idea! Is it possible for everyone to send me a coffee, tea, or hot chocolate order on Monday or Tuesday (between before school and period 2 on each day)? I need to know the drink that you want, what you take in it, and the size of the drink. The more data, the better! I’m going to tell my students that I’m running out on my prep on Wednesday, period 2, to pick up these drinks for the staff, and so people are sending me their orders. (I’m not really, but I will really come through with a great treat for the staff if you’ll help me out! Multiple orders work as well. Hey, even collect the orders from your student teachers, volunteers, etc.). The hope is that this will help give some real meaning to multiplication! (I also plan on trying a little “deal” extension that will help us with proportional reasoning — fingers crossed! :-))

Thanks for helping me out with this plan! Just let me know if you have any questions about it!


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I thought that this was a great idea! I told my students of my coffee buying plan, and I explained that I was going to keep my email minimized in case an order came in. The students eagerly awaited the “ding” of new mail and were thrilled to record the orders. But this is when the amazing thing happened: even with all of the orders, not one is the same! 

2014-02-03_19-48-07By the end of the day today, we had 16 orders, and they were still all different. Now I’m up to 22 orders, and I thankfully got one repeat order … but that’s it! Who knew that there would be so many different ways to order coffee?

The truth is that this is TOTALLY my fault. 

  • I didn’t tell the staff where I was going. Many assumed that it would be Starbucks, as I’m an avid Starbucks coffee drinker, but some thought that it would be Tim Horton’s. Both are in the area, along with Second Cup, so all options were real possibilities.
  • I did ask for “the more data, the better.” I was thinking of data in terms of number of coffee orders, but I think that some people thought of data in terms of complexity of coffee orders.
  • I forgot how many various coffee options there are nowadays. Between flavour shots, speciality drinks, and sugar choices, there are an infinite number of coffee possibilities.
  • I made a very wrongful assumption: I thought that since it was for a fake “coffee run,” the staff would just give me simple orders, but instead they gave me their actual orders. One should never assume … 🙂

So what should I do now? It was actually a student that gave me the idea. As he added another order to the list this afternoon, he said, “Miss Dunsiger, if people continue giving you these different orders, you’ll never get all of the drinks ordered and back to the school on your prep. You’ll have to order one at a time. It will take too long!” What good math thinking … and in this case, based on “time” instead of on “multiplication.” If the data is fake anyway, why not alter it to fit our needs? I’m going to tell the students that I’m going to Tim Horton’s, and that some of the orders will have to change based on the menu choices. I’m going to leave it to the students to help alter the orders, and help discuss other time saving factors when it comes to milk, cream, sugar, and sweeteners (hopefully getting to the idea of putting everything on the side). Then, if all goes according to plan, we’ll have our meaningful multiplication problem. 

Yes, the issue with today’s problem was mine, but maybe the varied data is what makes it so real world. Ordering coffee is complicated, and ordering it for a staff of almost 50 people is near impossible. I could give the staff a chart of options and have them go back and update their order, but maybe creating our own solutions will add a whole new thinking element. What would you do? I may need an extra coffee or two to make my way through all of this data! 🙂



4 thoughts on “Who Knew Coffee Orders Could Be So Complicated?

  1. Great problem! I love how you were trying to bring in a real life example of multiplication. Funny how it worked out. It makes me think about tree diagrams. How many different types of coffee orders could you get at Timmy’s? What about Starbucks? If you happen to be coming to Peterborough- I’ll take a Venti, extra hot, soy chai!

    • Thanks for the comment, Kerry! It’s funny as I think that this problem had so many other math connections — just not multiplication! 🙂 (It made me chuckle as even your coffee order is different than the other 22. :))


  2. Too funny. An attempt to be spontaneous, fun and (somewhat) meaningful for the kids can only be thwarted by Murphy and his “laws”!!!
    It seems there’s opportunity for highlighting some proportional reasoning as well. If we compare the cost of a Timmies “take 10″…..
    Just a thought.
    Can’t wait to hear the results as I’m sure the plan is hoping to have to adapt and be flexible (like anything in teaching really!)

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