…those who can count
and those who can’t.
(That’s my second favorite bumper sticker ever. But, since I won’t put more than one at a time on my car, I’m posting it here instead of on my bumper.)
Along that lines, there was a funny little interchange between Henry Neufield and a reader who had pointed out that the date on one of Henry’s posts was a month behind. Henry replied that here in Florida we can’t count votes, either. He’s right, of course (although every cloud has a silver lining–Dave Barry’s reporting on that fiasco kept me laughing hard during some of my darkest, most depressing days, as a result of circumstances unrelated to the elections.)
As a Floridian who loves this state in spite of hurricanes, mosquitos and some pretty intense heat and humidity, all I can say is that the sun probably gets to our brains after a while. Surely too much vitamin D garbles numbers up in our brains. As for the month mistake, it’s easy to understand once you realize that all of our months look the same. Looking outside my window right now, it could be November, or is it March, or maybe July?
From our earliest days, our educational experienced is compromised by the sun. You know those weather charts that are so important in kindergarten for teaching, um, well, for teaching something? While the rest of the country’s children get to make decisions and actually think about the weather, noticing differences, etc., our kids, day after day, just keep putting up the sun. A couple of times a year they can put the cloud up (yes, we have a rainy season here, but the sun still shines for most of the day, before and after the rain). And, sure they COULD put the wind picture up, except that we don’t actually go to school when there is a hurricane. This must have some effect on our pre-math skills. (But we may never discover what it is, because the state government stays so busy grappling with really important issues, like what the state pie should be. Unfortunately, this is not a joke or spoof.)
But my theory that too much sun may affect our math skills, had some serious holes punched in it when I read about a recent “math in the news” report from England, where they certainly can’t blame math incompetency on too much sun.
A lottery game was recently withdrawn from the market in England, because the math was getting a bit complicated for some of the lottery players. A temperature was written at the top of each lottery ticket. When you scraped off the silver squares, you would win if you uncovered a number that was lower then the temperature at the top. The problem was, it was a winter game. So, most of the temperatures were below zero.
And figuring out which numbers were lower than a given negative number proved to be too much for several people. One person was adamant that -6 and -7 were both lower numbers than -8. The store clerk was also stumped as to why the machine wouldn’t accept the card as a winner. So the person who bought the card called the company to complain. Despite repeated explanations, she didn’t get it:
…they fobbed me off with some story that -6 is higher – not lower – than -8 but I’m not having it.
Here’s a “benefit of the doubt” explanation from a representative of the Association of Teachers of Mathematics:
The concept of smaller numbers is something that some people do seem to struggle with. Seven is clearly smaller than eight, so they focus on that and don’t really see the minus sign. There is also a subtle difference in language between smaller – or lower – and colder. The number zero feels lower.
Now, I’m all for making more space for feelings. I, after all, have made the statement that I reason emotionally. And it is also true that unless I “feel” a math concept, I probably won’t remember it. HOWEVER, let me emphatically say that the statement “the number zero feels lower” is not a good justification for not being able to identify whether a given number is lower or higher than -6.
I decided to test my two oldest children with their sun-fried brains to see if they could do this math (they were at a distinct disadvantage, I might add, as their math experience to date has occurred entirely in temperatures above zero). Both looked at me a little strangely, probably wondering why on earth I was asking such a ridiculous question out of nowhere. Fortunately, they both answered correctly.
My kids are used to my turning any situation into a learning experience, fitting with my philosophy that all of life is school. In hindsight, though, I should go back and verify what lesson they thought I was trying to get across. As I was writing this, I realized that they might have gone away thinking, “Wow, Mom thinks we’re smart enough to play the lottery!”
(Thanks to Conversational Theology for pointing me to the lottery story.)