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Wednesday, 24 February 2016


You can learn how to add and minus, multiply and divide.  You can learn the process to figure these out.  You can learn how to look at a maths problem and find the answer.

These things don't mean anything if you can't figure out how to create the maths problem in the first place.

Life isn't going to go around handing us maths problems to figure out.  We are not going to be given maths questions to answer.  We need to know how to create the maths for ourselves.  We need to know how to figure out how much our shopping will cost us.  Sometimes we need to know how long something will take to finish.  But we can't figure these things out if we don't know what to add to what, or what to multiply by what.

Having a calculator doesn't help you either.

The Monster bought himself a $2 calculator the other day.  He loves maths and he loves electronics, so a calculator was worth it in his opinion, worth giving up his usual lollies that he buys with his allowance.  Don't stress, I was nice, it is a "school thing" so I paid for it for him and he got his lollies.  He has since been inputting random numbers and getting random answers to non-existent problems.

On a lazy afternoon this week we sat down to watch some Adventure Time.  Not on TV but DVD, 52 episodes!  The Monster, amazed that a single season of a TV show could have so many episodes, was curious as to how long it would take to watch them all.  Would we finish them before dinner time?  Would we have to finish them another day?

I told him that he could use his new calculator to figure that out if he wanted to.

He had no idea how that could be done so I told him what to type in.  He got the answer and was ecstatic.   And I sat there thinking, realising, it's all well and good to teach the kids how to answer maths questions, but they won't learn very much of value if they can't figure out how to create those questions for themselves.

I don't expect my Monster to know such a thing of course.  It simply made me think about what maths really is, or, what is important within maths.  Sure, addition, subtraction, multiplication and division are all very good things to learn.  But there are other things that are just as important.

It is a simple process if you know anything about maths. For this problem you need to multiply the number of episodes by the length of the episodes (assuming they are of the same length). Then you need to divide the answer (total minutes) by minutes in an hour, to find the number of hours.

In this problem, it was 52x11, since the episodes go for approximately 11 minutes each.  572 minutes, divide by 60 (minutes) and we have approximately 9 hours and 30 minutes.

52 x 11 / 60 = 9.533333333.  Episodes x Length / Minutes in an hour = total hours.
Or... X x Y / Z = A.

Yes.  It's the dreaded and largely misunderstood algebra.  You know, the thing that nobody actually uses in their everyday life?  Yeh. That thing.

It's funny isn't it?  We use it so easily, we don't even realise we are using it.  We don't usually go around thinking, what is X x Y? So of course we forget that the process of figuring out how to find an answer to a question like, "how long will this TV Season take," is actually algebra.  And then we think we don't need algebra at all, so why do we need to teach it to our kids?

The answer is simple.  If we don't teach it to our kids, all that recitation of times tables will be completely and utterly useless.  Because no one hands you random maths questions for no reason.  No one is going to magically give you the numbers to use to figure out how long something will take to finish.  You have to do it yourself, your kids will have to do it themselves.

If your kids can't figure out how to find X, Y and Z they will never know what the A is.  And they will never be able to figure out how long season 5 of Adventure Time runs for, unless they count the minutes and hours as they watch.

And who wants to do that when they could be enjoying the addiction that is Adventure Time?

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