“Petals Around the Rose” – Problem Solving

I believe that problem solving is one of the most important skills that our students can acquire in our classrooms today. In a recent post, entitled “Problem Solving with ‘Aunt Emma’”, I described an engaging activity which helps students look at problems from a variety of different perspectives. Today, I want to share with you a similar problem solving classroom activity that you can use to challenge your students to think laterally.

Petals Around the Rose – Instructions
All one needs to demonstrate this activity is five dice which you roll following these three basic rules:

  1. The name of this activity is “Petals Around the Rose” and the name is important.
  2. The answer will always be an even number including zero.
  3. The facilitator can always tell you the number after any roll of the five dice.

The facilitator cannot tell you anything else. You must continue rolling and attempting to guess the number of “Petals Around the Rose” associated with each roll.

To get you started thinking, I will show you an image of four rolls with their respective even numbers:

Petals Around the Rose - 450 x 334

If you are like me, the four sample rolls above did not provide sufficient information to solve the “Petals Around the Rose” puzzle. However, I was not the only one having difficulty solving this challenge. In fact, I understand that in 1977, Bill Gates was also quite frustrated with this activity. I recommend readers review the following article “Bill Gates and Petals Around the Rose” to gain a better perspective on the challenge and how different individuals need a different number of rolls to formulate the answer.

If you are still unsure of the solution, I encourage you to initially play the simpler, online version of “Petals Around the Rose”.  More repetition may help you to formulate a rule. Once you have an idea as to how the number of petals are determined, you may wish to visit this second web site to “Play Petals Around the Rose”. Here you can test your guess to determine if you, indeed, have solved the puzzle.

However, like your students, do not be tempted, when you connect online, to visit any other sites that might divulge the secret solution. Even though this second interactive web site has a  “Search” field at the top of the page, do not use it to find an “easy solution”. I can assure you that once you have received that “shot of adrenalin” when you have honestly approached and solved this problem, you’ll thank me for being patient and not cheating. Furthermore, you will be so much more enlightened, that you will present this activity to your students in a much more powerful lesson. So take time to fully engage yourself in the learning process in a manner that you would want your students to use.

Teacher Tips
Like the previous “Aunt Emma” activity, it is very important to set the proper tone in your classroom for his problem solving activity. If you have struggled and have finally predicted the correct number, for six successive rolls, then you know how it feels to experience that “Eureka moment”. You do not want to deprive any student of this same excitement.

For this reason it is very important that all your students switch-off all Internet-connected devices so that they are not tempted to take the “easy way out” and search online for a solution.

Furthermore, it is very important that when a student thinks s/he has figured out the solution, s/he does not blurt it out in class. Rather, have that student identify the number of petals for the rest of the class or ask her/him to roll the dice for the class.

I’d also avoid introducing this activity in the last 10 minutes of class. Unfortunately, it will be too tempting for students, who have not yet solved the problem, to exit your class, seek out a friend on the playground, or “Google” the solution before next class. Such important learning opportunities should not be destroyed because your students did not have sufficient time to exercise their problem solving skills.

Readers who are looking for additionl ideas as to how best to introduce this activity to a class, are encouraged to explore this “Petals Around the Rose” lesson plan.

In my day, in the classroom, I would have rolled clear dice on an overhead projector so that the entire class could be engaged in the thinking process. Today, I’m sure some readers will have interactive white boards that will have a dice application that can be modified to randomly roll five dice to illustrate the “Petals Around the Rose” activity. For example, this YouTube video showcases how a teacher might incorporate “Dice in Smart Notebook”.

Another thought that you may wish to investigate involves renaming this problem solving activity. For example, if you know that some of your students will be tempted to go online and search for the solution to “Petals Around the Rose”, perhaps you might intoduce this activity under a new name. I’m sure that students will have a much more difficult time finding solutions to a dice activity called “Fish Around the Food” or “Planets Around the Sun”. That is, unless they find this blog post and exercise their lateral thinkiing to realize that either of the previous two activities can be solved in a similar way as “Petals Around the Rose”. The challenge for you is to come up with a new name for this activity.

In that I am retired and am unaware of the creative ways that teachers night project the roll of five dice for the entire class, I encouage readers to provide suggestions and tips regarding this problem solving activity in the comments below so that others may benefit.

Additional Resource
Scam School – The Secrets of Petals Around the Rose
Note: This YouTube video may not be appropporiate for student viewing.

The Back Story
I believe in giving credit where credit is due. It was Alan Levine (a.k.a. @cogdog) who motivated me to write about this problem solving activity. Several years ago, when I first enrolled in DS106, an online digital storytelling course, I found out, to my delight, that Alan Levine was one of the facilitators. Although Alan’s fame had preceded him as an educator, who shared so much through his “CogDogBlog”, I was eager to find out more about this dedicated educator. As the course progressed, I was so impressed with his talents in providing a creative face-lift to the DS106 web site and his skill in “tweaking” software to make it do his bidding. Wanting to learn more about his background, I “Googled” Alan and found out that, as an instructional technologist at the Maricopa Community College, Alan had developed a powerful online tutorial entitled “Writing HTML – A Tutorial for Creating WWW Pages”. What was even more amazing was that approximately 20 years ago, I had used this same tutorial when I was learning and perfecting HTML to showcase my school division’s online newsletter.

Upon further research, I chanced upon “alan’s no java shop” where Alan shared a number innovative programming creations and an interesting dice activity called “Petals Around the Rose”. I was intrigued by the name and, although his program fails to run today (as it needs a plug-in), I explored his dice rolling simulation for many, many rolls until I discovered the rule. At that moment, I knew I had found an awesome activity to share with educators who wanted to challenge their students. I bought five dice and, over the past year or so, I entertained friends with the “Petals Around the Rose” to see how they tackled the problem. Unfortunately, I never got around to writing about this problem solving activity.

One might ask “What prompted you to write about it today?” Well, today is Alan Levine’s birthday, and I thought that I’d send Alan a virtual gift of recognition, but more important, I’d share Alan’s gift of “Petals Around the Rose” with my readers.

Take care & keep smiling 🙂

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5 Responses to “Petals Around the Rose” – Problem Solving

  1. I’m honored and humbled almost beyond words by your generous post, Brian. You bring so much pure giving to everything I have seen you do in and beyond ds106, clearly visible here how you weave a rich message.

    I smiled when I saw that you mentioned Petals Around the Rose, it’s a little thing I almost forgot about. I learned it (the dice game) on a professional development retreat in Colorado. The frustration of trying to figure out the “method” while others seemed to see it so easily, and then like a thunderclap, when your own brain revealed the way.

    The Shockwave seems to still run in the Safari browser, here are some screenshots. I was pretty proud of figuring out how to animate the dice and place the dots all via code in Shockwave.


    My version let you study it, and once you saw how you think it works, you could then “declare” where you had to get it 3 more times to win…. nothing.

    Thanks again Brian, a blog post can be a most fantastic gift.

  2. Pingback: “Petals Around the Rose” – Pr...

  3. admin says:

    Alan … Thank you so much for your kind words and inspiration. I love that the web allows people like yourself to create, share (and sometimes forget about) resources and ideas, that many years later may be found and inspire other “seekers of knowledge”.

    I confess that when I wrote the post yesterday, I didn’t spend time figuring out why your old “Petals Around the Rose” interactive puzzle did not display in Firefox, Chrome or IE. However, I thank you so much for sharing, through your comments, the two images of your inspiring activity. In fact, as I was writing the post yesterday, I “Googled” to no avail, “Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery ‘Petals Around the Rose’” because I knew I had read somewhere how he challenged his officers with this puzzle. Now with your sharing, I know where I read this interesting historical perspective.

    Furthermore, in checking out Safari on my son’s laptop this morning, I came across another of your treasures entitled “Alan’s Wacked Out Virtual Bicycle Compute”. Needless-to-say, your story resonated with me, as I virtually rode side-by-side with you on your 11 mile ride to work. Like you, I often enjoy being “two tired” and your story motivated me to get my bike down from the garage rafters and get out on the trails for another season.

    All the best.

    Take care & keep smiling 🙂 Brian

  4. Al McRorie says:

    This is challenging! Posted this on FB, still trying to figure out the secret, obviously looking at it the wrong way!

    All the best Brian,


  5. admin says:

    Thanks Al for your feedback regarding this challenge. To help you out, I want you to focus on the name “Petals Around the Rose” which is a key to the solution. As much as you may be tempted to search for the solution online, I urge you to refrain from doing so. You will indeed feel much more satisfaction, by working through the detailed information in the “Bill Gates and Petals Around the Rose” story, and arriving at your own solution.

    Lastly, I suggest that you should look at this puzzle “through the eyes of a child”. Often, as adults, we tend to look for complex solutions because our mature brains look at a myriad of possibilities. On the other hand, the child looks for a more simplistic solution because s/he has less experience. Often simpler … is, indeed, better.

    Take care & keep smiling 🙂 Brian

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