Last night my daughter brought home a math assignment that sort of stumped us. The problem was to take 5 flavors of ice cream (say, vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, orange, and lime) and combine them into triple dip cones.

Now, if the problem had been to find all the possible permutations, I have some idea how to diagram it systematically. However the rule was that, while you could have more than one scoop of the same flavor in a cone, or even all three the same, you were only supposed to have one version of each combination. That is, vanilla/chocolate/strawberry was to be considered the same as chocolate/vanilla/strawberry, etc.

We started by listing all the flavors three of the same at a time, then the combinations with two scoops the same, then the rest. I think we got them all, but it felt a bit random and we weren’t sure exactly what she was supposed to be getting out of all this.

Any ideas about a better approach that a 7-year-old could grasp?