Math = Love: Two Buckets Task

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Two Buckets Task

I was inspired to pose the two buckets task to my physical science students based on this inspiring #Teach180 tweet:

I prepared a task card to give to my students.

My students found this task to be a lot more confusing than I expected.  Most groups read the task and wanted to declare it impossible without even attempting it.  Several groups suggested that they use a one gallon jug to remove a gallon from the five gallon jug.  This, according to them, would leave four gallons in the jug.  I had to remind them that they only have access to a three gallon bucket and a five gallon bucket.

The other thing that students really struggled with was realizing that they couldn't just eyeball "half" of a bucket.  One of my students had seen this puzzle before, so her group whizzed right through it.

Here are the posters my groups came up with.  I am a bit disappointed with the quality of the posters, but I believe that is my fault because I didn't set out clear expectations for what I wanted.  I'm always learning every day.

All of my groups did eventually get there, even if it did take a little prompting from me to get them started.

Files for this activity can be found here.  


  1. Thank you Sarah, This is a great activity to get students talking.
    A couple questions if you have time:
    1. What concept were you working on in conceptual physics?
    2. What would you have done if all of your students had already done this activity before?
    3. Do you have another activity that you will use and refer back to the buckets?

    1. We did this during the first week before jumping into any physical science content. It was a activity to help them practice working together in groups.

      I'm not sure what I would have done if all my students had done it before. Good question! No plans of yet to reference this activity again. It was intended as a one-off activity.

      Great food for thought!

  2. hi! your blog is a treasure trove! i'm a first year teacher, and i love your enthusiasm and creativity, and love of puzzles... :) could you pretty please post the task card and reflection card as pdfs? thank you!!!

    1. Done! :)

  3. Hi Sarah, I have been using this activity every year during first week of school. I have seen same level of engagement among 7th graders and Algebra students. This activity is a must for kids to start thinking outside the box. Many of them get stuck on the fact that there are no measurements and they can not estimate either. Thank you!!