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Tag Archive: pi

Sep 02

Can you still remember 8th grade math?

“Can you do Division? Divide a loaf by a knife – what’s the answer to that?” –Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

If you are a baby boomer, you may remember more about eighth grade math than you think, and you can probably do it without a calculator.

You can figure percentage, solve long division problems and know what a remainder is. You can recite quite a few multiplication tables, recall a little something about “casting out nines”, and know “pi” (3.14) the number that goes on forever.

Ask your kids and grandkids to sit down with a piece of paper and pencil and try to solve a square root problem or even a long division one without their calculators. Well, let us just say I am betting on you.

Boomers, can you remember the eighth grade math definition of “square root”? Answer–the square root of a number is another number that when multiplied by itself gives you the first number.

I thought I forgot that definition, but once I pondered it awhile, there it was. Perhaps it was because in my era, memorizing math definitions was akin to learning the Preamble to the Constitution by heart.

Required, no exceptions granted.

Of course you will remember the dreaded 8th grade word problems, such as the quisentential classic: “A passenger train leaves the Philadelphia train depot 2 hours after a freight train from Boston leaves the same depot. The freight train is traveling 20 mph slower than the passenger train. Find the rate of each train, if the passenger train overtakes the freight train in three hours”.

Eventually, I learned that where the freight train originated had absolutely nothing to do with solving the problem.

Occasionally in 8th grade math some trick, fun questions were interspersed with the serious ones: “How many times can you subtract 7 from 83, and what is left afterwards?” Answer: “You can subtract it as many times as you want, and it leaves 76 every time.”

Do you feel like saying the Three Stooges famed line about now? “N’yuk, N’yuk, N’yuk.

It is Ok, go ahead.

Today, simple math just doesn’t seem the same to me—too high tech and too convoluted.

The Dilbert cartoon series I think agreed when it once noted that our (math) problems today are “similar to our automated sadistic phone system…for tech support, press the exact value of 22 divided by 7”.

Say again?

Never mind, grab a piece of paper and a pencil as I leave you with this problem to ponder. No calculators allowed.

Problem: 5.5 squared is between 16 and 25, less than 16, greater than 36, or between 25 and 36.

Answer: N’yuk, N’yuk, N’yuk.

Mar 24

Baby Boomers can do math without calculators

The memory of Baby Boomers may be the only thing that saves the lost art of manually finding a square root. Some of us remember how. Some of us could care less. I am in the latter group.

Regardless of whether you like math or not, Baby Boomers remember how to do it.

You may remember more about eighth grade math than you think, and you can probably do it without a calculator. You can figure percentage, solve long division problems and know what a remainder is. You can recite quite a few multiplication tables, recall a little something about “casting out nines”, and know “pi” (3.14) the number that goes on forever.

Ask your kids and grandkids to sit down with a piece of paper and pencil and try and to solve a square root problem or even a long division one without their calculators. Well, let us just say I am betting on you.

Do not get me wrong, I am not waxing poetic or becoming romantic about numbers although many folks do. Granted, there is a certain beauty in numbers.

However, as I recall from my college days, budding journalists like myself were notorious for disliking math and avoiding it at all costs. Therefore, it did my heart good recently to hear a college dean mention that journalism students have not changed much. Apparently, they still function best on the language side of their brains where no math problems abide nor are wanted by we writer types.

I must confess though that I can actually remember an eighth grade math definition of “square root”, which is this: “the square root of a number is another number that when multiplied by itself gives you the first number.

Do not get too impressed here because I am merely talking about finding the square root of a simple number such as “16”. That is easy enough; the answer is 4 because 4 times itself gives you the first number, 16. One can do this with any number one wants, but I hate to tell you the bad news–only a few numbers like 16 work out so nicely. To find the square root of most numbers, one can keep the decimal places going for as long as one likes, but I cannot imagine why one would want to do that.

There are those among us though who love math so much that they celebrate math holidays such as March 14, also know to “pi” lovers as 3.14. Get it?

That is over the top for me as I still have horrific memories of eighth-grade math word problems.

By the time I finished reading those long word problems back then, I was positively worn out and ready for PE over “pi” any day.

You remember those tricky problems of which I speak:

A passenger train leaves the Philadelphia train depot 2 hours after a freight train from Boston leaves the same depot. The freight train is traveling 20 mph slower than the passenger train. Find the rate of each train, if the passenger train overtakes the freight train in three hours.

No!

My brain does not work this way.

Eventually, I learned that where the freight train originally came from had absolutely nothing to do with solving the problem.

I am afraid I am like the chef who said to his helper, “You take two thirds of water, one third of cream, one third of broth…”

The apprentice replied, “But that makes four thirds already!”

“Well,” said the chef, “Just get a bigger pot!”

Makes perfect sense to me.

Who needs a calculator?