Adventures in teaching–why 5th graders are smarter than grown-ups

A small bag is lying on the floor.  The room is big – with high ceilings. Yet, no one can jump over the bag. Why?

I posed this to several grown-ups. No one got it. Next, I posed it to my 5th grade class. They spent exactly two minutes – trying different answers – before one girl said ‘I know – the bag is against the wall’

She was right of course, but what is more important is why most adults don’t get the answer.

We grown-ups overcomplicate the problem.

It’s just a bag on the floor. There has to be a simple explanation as to why no one can jump over it. Nothing fancy inside the bag (nails sticking out), nothing wrong with the people (legs are fractured), nothing wrong with the room – just a regular room and a regular bag and regular people to jump over it.

This wasn’t the end of it.

I posed some harder riddles to the 5th graders.

This is something that comes before or after – but never in-between

It cannot be heard, seen. felt, smelled or touched.

What is it?

Additional clue – it also hides in caves and behind stars.

Most grown-ups spend hours and still cannot answer this one. Another 5th grader in my class (not the same one who got the first riddle), suddenly blurted out ‘Dark’! And she looked at me expectantly. I replied ‘Who said Dark?’ – She raised her hand. I congratulated her – she had somehow arrived at the correct answer.

The answers that grown-ups give for this puzzle range from just plain wrong to ridiculous. When grown-ups tackle the question, they expect – nay – DEMAND – that their brain come up with the answer! With kids, they have no just expectations. They know it has to be figured out – and they get right to it. 


Is it true that kids are better problem solvers than grown-ups? In some sense, yes. They have an unobstructed view of the problem – whereas grown-ups ‘insert’ too many obstructions of their own.

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