# Plateau of Mathematical Learning

by on January 23, 2012

When our 10-year old son comes to me for help with a math problem, I feel empowered. He’ll sidle up next to me, explain the problem, and then we’ll sit there together and solve it.

I love feeling like a hero. I love when he looks at me with amazement because I’m SO smart. And I love that he’s in absolute awe at my ability to swiftly determine just how many more apples Jane has in her basket than Bobby.

Believe me, the moment when you realize that everything is clicking in your child’s brain because of your tutoring is one of the seldom-publicized wonderments of parenthood.

Unlike the moment when your 16-year old realizes that you’re about as useful as the family cat when it comes to helping him solve his math problems.

For my father, helping us kids with math problems was easy. He majored in Mathematics at Ohio University and has always had an adept mind when it comes to working with numbers and using fancy symbols to do all kinds of manipulative things with them.

I could always sense that he was frustrated having to explain Algebra to me when I was in high school, but I think that’s because Algebra and Pre-Calculus were beneath him. Our conversations over an opened math book would typically go like this:

Me: “I’m totally not getting this. It says to ‘Compute the variance and standard deviation of the data 3, 5, 6, 7, and 9.’”

Dad: “Right. Okay. Well, we already know that the variance is equal to the mean of the squares of the deviations from x infinity, right?”

Me: “We do?”

Dad (continuing): “And that the standard deviation, as denoted by a symbol you’ll never again see in your lifetime is equal to the positive square root of the variance, right?”

Me (eyes glazing over): “Uh…”

Dad (not looking up): “So, since x infinity is the base of an integer, we’ll take the binomial coefficient and divide it by the convergent root square of the squiggly backwards E. Using a method you won’t learn until your senior year at college and a technique best left defined by Statistics 501, we can clearly see that the correlation coefficient for the data set would be the square root of 1.6847. I really don’t understand how you’re not following this. What’s the problem?”

Me: “Well, apparently the problem is that I’m a complete dumbass, Dad.”

I’ll admit that his assistance always led to correct answers, I just never understood how. It’s hard to grasp how to do something when you don’t even understand the words being used to describe a solution you weren’t even aware was given yet. So when he’d conclude one of his mathematic filibusters with “…and there’s your answer,” I’d always nod my head and say, “Ahhhh, okay,” and then make plans to repeat high school.

The reason I can still help Michael is because the questions he’s given are true life scenarios. Bobby and Jane each have some apples. Jane wants to have more apples than Bobby. So they come to some sort of arrangement and then you’re supposed to figure out the new tally.

Easy enough.

But when Andrew set his Advanced Math book down in front of me the other night, my first thought was that he was studying Egyptian Hieroglyphics.

This is what I like to refer to as WTF Math.

These aren’t math problems. They’re random arrangements of some foreign alphabet combined with unrecognizable symbols and funky text alignments. I can’t even comprehend the questions well enough to determine what in the world they want to know.

I know I’m not supposed to say this, but as my brain recoiled to find its happy place, I sputtered, “Why in the world do you have to know this? I mean, when will you EVER have to use this in real life?”

“I dunno. What if I write a math book someday?”

Ugh. The world has enough misery.

I realize they print these books in the off chance someone actually plans on using this kind of math, but for those not pursuing a career in time travel or wormholes, I think the Department of Education should establish what I call the “Plateau of Mathematical Learning.”

The way PML would work is simple. Depending on your major or anticipated career, you would be allowed to tap yourself out of math class once you’ve crossed the threshold of knowing everything you’ll ever need to know about working in that field. This would enable children to devote more time to relevant and applicable studies rather than a bunch of equations they’ll never again see in life unless they have kids of their own.

For example, someone pursuing a career in Accounting would have a far higher PML than someone who wanted to, say, be an author. Perhaps the following chart can help you visualize what I mean:

I’m 41 years old and I have yet to have the situation arise where I was expected to know or apply anything beyond the basic core of mathematics: Add, Subtract, Multiply, Divide, and Guess.

I’m sure there are people reading this who clearly see the point of being able to comprehend and explain the Axioms of Equality with sines and cosines and funked-out symbols, but I don’t. Why? Because I don’t have to. And I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure it stays that way.

I believe that once someone is capable of splitting a restaurant check without a calculator that they should be excused from learning additional math unless their life or someone else’s life hangs in the balance. And I say this with the complete understanding that I may eventually hear this conversation go down while I’m strapped to a gurney one day:

Doctor: “Sigh. I’m totally not getting this. I don’t know how to save him!”

Nurse: “Right, okay. Well, we already know that in order to save his life we need to know the Rhomboidal vector of his heart’s polar axis as based on the coflaguration of his artery’s hyperbolic trigonometric function.”

Doctor: “We do?”

Nurse (continuing): “And that the Rhomboidal vector is equal to the square root of pi minus his systolic blood pressure, right?”

Doctor (eyes glazing over): “Uh…”

Nurse (not looking up): “Never mind, Doctor. He’s dead.”

Doctor: “Yes, yes. I’m no longer seeing the squiggly lines on the monitor.”

Think about it this way. If the majority of humans were supposed to know how to do all this stuff then wouldn’t our computer keyboards display these functions? Personally, I think my computer would blow up if I asked it to solve these problems. And if my computer can’t do it, how on earth does my son expect me to be able to do it?

So when Andrew walked downstairs again today and asked, “Dad, can you help me with this math problem?”, I simply replied:

“Does it involve fruit?”

“Uh, no.”

________________________________________

Sarah Tishko January 23, 2012 at 7:34 pm

Holy heck fire! I am going through all of this stuff in college right now. Since I didn’t decide to really buckle down until age 28 I know FOR A FACT there are myriad software programs that do all of this math crap for you. They are only torturing me by forcing me to learn the actual accounting equations. I think that yeah okay the professors think “knowing how to do it” is important, but in REALITY software rules the world. You plug numbers into a bunch of holes and VOILA! there is your answer. \$10,000 refund. \$4,500 owed. Whatever.
I am not familiar with rocket science. The software engineer husband fall somewhere on the line and I’ll make him deal with homework. I’ll just take control of the wine.

Telling Dad January 23, 2012 at 9:49 pm

If software can do it, why not rely on it? It’s faster, more accurate, and far less taxing on our brains. It’s like being required to push our cars rather than drive them because we need to know how they move.

Melinda January 23, 2012 at 7:38 pm

ROFL!!! This is why I will have Skype access 24/7 to my math genius son when my daughter asks for help and he’s gone to college. I’m with you…my memory ends at fruit. Love the graph!!

Telling Dad January 23, 2012 at 9:50 pm

“Math genius” is a relative term in our household. I mean, my 16-year old looks like a genius when he solves these problems but this is the same kid who forgets he has a banana peel under his pillow.

meg January 23, 2012 at 7:39 pm

I’m glad I had finished my sip of ginger ale when I got to your chart.. because as I got to gerbil.. then Kardashian.. I would have lost it thru the nose. I was laughing so loud, I’m surprised my child did not come running down the stairs to find out why I was disturbing her all the way upstairs with my roar of laughter. Once my daughters finished 2nd grade, I was done helping with math. Yep, DONE. If I can’t add it in my head or quickly punch it in the calculator with + – * or /, it isn’t getting answered.

Telling Dad January 23, 2012 at 9:51 pm

Now THIS is what I love to hear about. Actual LOLing. Startled or awakened kids only sweetens the taste.

Dawn January 23, 2012 at 7:45 pm

The parts of my brain that still remember attending Accounting and Statistics classes started screaming ‘AAAAGGGHHHMAKEITGOAWAY’ when seeing those math equations.

That chart made the rest of my brain giggle insanely. (thanks!)

Telling Dad January 23, 2012 at 9:52 pm

Yes, as I read those questions my brain said “I give up” about halfway through. I don’t even want to spend the three years it would take to understand what they’re asking.

Marianne January 23, 2012 at 7:58 pm

Those look like fun to me!… I was a math major in undergrad. :>

I do use math pretty regularly, but I am a scientist.

I understand the frustration of having to learn something you feel like you’ll never learn, but just think – you might end up on Jeopardy one day…

Telling Dad January 23, 2012 at 9:54 pm

Contestants would pummel Trebeck with their hand buzzers if he asked questions like this.

Jennifer January 23, 2012 at 8:01 pm

PREACH ON BROTHER! PREACH ON! If only the Department of Education or other people in positions of making policy that feel qualified to tell me how bad educators suck at our jobs (but they haven’t been in a classroom since the 1960s)….oh sorry what were we talking about?

Telling Dad January 23, 2012 at 9:56 pm

I take it you’re a teacher? If you’re a math teacher, you have my sympathies. No other teacher in the history of schools sees more looks of total despair and confusion on the faces of students. Nor do they see the sheer quantity of after-school tutoring. Godspeed.

WilyGuy January 23, 2012 at 8:20 pm

So Bobby has apples and Jane wants more apples… Is she a Kardashian?

I remember a teacher I had gave us a test and at the end there was a very long word problem with “ancillary information” designed to confuse us into not seeing the easy answer in front of us.

I like to use the words “well, let’s see how they’re teaching it now” which is my way of saying, let’s look and figure it out together. I got through it…how hard can it be….ummm very.

WG

WilyGuy January 23, 2012 at 8:21 pm

And yes, I stopped being useful around 10th grade.

Telling Dad January 23, 2012 at 9:57 pm

I’d always make sure you asterisk this. You leave yourself WAY too vulnerable to crass “that’s what she said” jokes.

WilyGuy January 23, 2012 at 8:22 pm

The children’s 10th grade, I was worthless way before then in my own version of the high school horrorsical.

mark @ yelling near you January 23, 2012 at 8:26 pm

I got myself thrown out of Calculus when I took it in high school. Literally, the teacher threw my book bag into the hallway and told me not to come back until I changed my attitude. What precipitated this? I asked her: “Mrs. ____, when are we going to use this in real life?” She replied: “Well, if you go to med school they prefer a math background over science.” (Probably because of the example you provided above.) I didn’t hesitate to reply: “How would you know? You didn’t go to med school.” And she promptly removed me from the classroom.

Telling Dad January 23, 2012 at 9:58 pm

Did you go back? Are you doctor? If so, can you answer the nurse’s question assuming the patient’s systolic blood pressure was 87?

Jenifer January 23, 2012 at 9:18 pm

Love your PML graph and think that every principal in my child’s current school district needs a copy- STAT!!

Telling Dad January 23, 2012 at 10:00 pm

Spread it around. Together we can change the world.

And be heroes.

Jaime January 23, 2012 at 9:44 pm

I’ve taken enough math classes to technically have a minor in math… you should see some of the math we have to use for our physical chemistry class…. it boggles MY mind and I’m the one doing it.. LOL

basically what I’m saying.. is math sucks.

Telling Dad January 23, 2012 at 10:00 pm

Chemistry is another one. Sheesh. Another class devoted to the confusing arrangement of letters and numbers. I don’t need to know the molecules, just gimme the substance.

Karen January 23, 2012 at 10:09 pm

Being a preschool teacher for 30 years, I always joked that all I needed to know was how to count to 10. Goes right along with your theory, doesn’t it?

Telling Dad January 23, 2012 at 10:13 pm

Yes, you would settle in somewhere between Writer and Gerbil.

Understand that this chart isn’t indicative of intelligence. It simply tells the person when they can stop learning about math because anything over the plateau will just become unused filler.

Liz the Insane January 23, 2012 at 10:37 pm

Until the schools come around to your eminently reasonable point of view, may I recommend khanacademy.org? Either for yourself, your kids, or both. It’s GREAT stuff! If they need help, there are videos and neat stuff on just about every math scenario you can dream up. Or would that be nightmare up? Hehe.

Telling Dad January 23, 2012 at 10:52 pm

I don’t think I’ve ever dreamed up a math scenario. Aside from the time I dreamt that I won \$1,000,000 in the lottery and was left with \$187 after taxes. I was trying to figure out how New York State let me retain so much.

Liz the Insane January 23, 2012 at 10:58 pm

Scenario wasn’t the right word. I more meant…any kind of math scenario the schools can dream up to assign your kids for solving purposes. And for parental hair-tearing-out-purposes.

Sandy January 23, 2012 at 10:48 pm

since doing math has changed so much (you know 2+2 doesn’t always equal 4) since i was in school, i was teaching myself through my sons textbooks right alongside him. i was fine up till this year (8th grade) when they did away with textbooks. now they just make it up as they go along!

and you know that you are doing the world a disservice with your graph don’t you? like we need more people aspiring to be a kardashian!!!

Telling Dad January 23, 2012 at 10:50 pm

I thought about that but it’s not nearly as frightening as those aspiring to be gerbils.

Sandy January 23, 2012 at 10:56 pm

at least gerbils mate for life…ha! ha!

Telling Dad January 23, 2012 at 11:08 pm

The similarities are getting scary.

Amanda January 24, 2012 at 2:37 am

You lost me when you said your dad majored in math at OU. How the hell did anyone learn math there? I learned more math from my physics profs than I did the math dept. It was a common complaint among us students. Maybe it was better when he attended vs when I was there.

Telling Dad January 24, 2012 at 8:33 am

He went there in the 60′s. Math is easy to learn when you’re on ‘shrooms and weed.

Amanda January 24, 2012 at 8:57 am

Good point. It did make #1 party school this year, and was top 10 when I went. Not an alma mater I hope to pass on to my kids.

Karen C January 24, 2012 at 3:22 am

There’s one mathematical sign the Kardashians DO understand.
\$\$\$

Telling Dad January 24, 2012 at 8:32 am

Yes. Kim aced this test:

“If Kim Kardashian needed another \$17 million to add to her collection and she’d earn \$217,948 for every day of marriage, how long would she have to stay married to Kris Humphries?”

Jessica Meats January 24, 2012 at 5:11 am

This principle can be applied to most of school. When am I ever going to need to know about ancient Egyptian medicine? Or the metaphors explored in Lord of the Flies? Or exothermic reactions?

I actually did maths and computer science at university (in the UK, you do one or sometimes two subjects for your degree, not the major/minor system that you have in the US). I spent whole terms of lectures learning how to prove that 2 is bigger than 1, or figuring out how to differentiate functions in four-dimensional spaces. Once I got onto the Advanced Algebra module, there were more Greek letters than there were numbers.

Have I used any of that stuff since leaving university? Nope. Can I remember any of it now? Um… I remember that we had a poor guy who stuttered on the letter M giving us seminars on matrices.

Telling Dad January 24, 2012 at 8:30 am

I hope you videotaped the matrices speech because that would have finally made math entertaining.

I totally get what you mean about metaphors and breaking down literature. I consider myself a writer but I haven’t a clue how to dissect a sentence into all its nerdy little segments, rules, and designations.

Noelle February 3, 2012 at 10:03 am

Ha ha ha….you just reminded me of a guest lecturer in my Analytical Chem class saying “And then you have a warge, dewocawized cwowd of ewectwons.” (“large, delocalized cloud of electrons” a la Elmer Fudd) Sigh. Good times, good times. (I don’t remember anything else from that class, of course.)

Jenny January 24, 2012 at 6:17 am

I must have stopped being useful a long time ago. My kids don’t even ask for help anymore.

Telling Dad January 24, 2012 at 8:24 am

Hmmm. Maybe it’s a mom thing.

I stopped asking my mom for help when I said, “Mom, what’s a parabola?”

And she replied, “Um, what subject is that for?”

Michelle January 24, 2012 at 6:32 am

OMG, LOL! I love the chart! I busted out laughing when I got to gerbil and then saw Kardashians after that. Sooooo true.
Alas, I admited several years ago when my son hit 4th grade that that was the extent of my math knowledge, and sometimes that was stretching it. In fact, I specifically asked his 4th grade teacher if she would be holding tutoring classes for the parents in math because I knew I was getting out of my league.
I am thankful that he seems to understand math with no difficulty because he’s currently in the 7th grade and in pre-algebra. If he had questions I would be completely useless. As it is, I sometimes have to have him help my daughter with her math homework, and she is in the 4th grade. BUT! I am excellent at helping with social studies and english.

Michelle January 24, 2012 at 7:23 am

Forgot to add, son wants to be an engineer, so he’s going to be taking ALL the math classes. I’m in soooo much trouble.

Telling Dad January 24, 2012 at 8:27 am

My cousin’s husband is an engineer and I took a peek at his math book when he was a senior at M.I.T.

It may as well have been Latin. In fact, it very well might have been.

I was floored. You wait. You’re going to feel woefully inadequate as a human being. I just felt like babbling my fingers on my lips and sitting in the corner playing with baby toys.

Benjamin Venable January 24, 2012 at 7:07 am

If we don’t teach it to anyone except those who expect to need it, then we won’t ever teach it to anybody, and no one will learn it, and we won’t have any scientists anymore, and then where will we be? Neck-deep in wannabe Kardashians. Think about that for a moment… *shudder*

Telling Dad January 24, 2012 at 8:23 am

Well, no. Because those who need it WANT to learn it. My dad, for instance, LOVES math. My wife’s cousin actually liked it so much that she wanted to teach it to other people.

Oh, and if you go to LA, you’ll see that we’re already neck-deep in Kardashian wannabes.

Becky January 24, 2012 at 7:55 am

Your comment about the dr and not seeing the squiggly line anymore did me in. Love it.

Carrie January 24, 2012 at 8:08 am

LOL. Just had a long night of math with my 3rd grader. His teacher doesn’t want us to just figure out the answer. He has to write long sentences to explain why the answer is what it is. He has great number sense, but has trouble putting his thoughts into writing. This method is making him have a much harder time with his math. He is starting to hate it (I understand as numbers and I do not do well together–English major, ya know, but for this new WTF Math to take something he loves and make it suck, just sucks).

Telling Dad January 24, 2012 at 8:21 am

Yes! Our 10-year old has this issue in 5th grade. They asked a question and then said, “Explain how you got your answer.”

He simply wrote: I added the numbers.

Seriously, what more do they want?

Carrie January 24, 2012 at 8:16 pm

That was William’s first answer to the question, also. He won himself some red ink for that one. WTF, indeed!

Mark January 24, 2012 at 8:17 am

As a college professor in a math-related field, the part that really bothers me is that they try and teach this stuff that the students will never use (and that the teacher can’t solve without the answer book) and the students end up graduating without being able to do the basics (add, subtract, multiply, divide).

Telling Dad January 24, 2012 at 8:20 am

Until my son turned 16, I hadn’t seen or used this kind of math since my freshman year of college.

Emily January 24, 2012 at 10:23 am

Your PML chart is pure genius.

My kid is five, and can barely count to 10 without forgetting the numbers six and nine. So school math should be interesting.

Telling Dad January 24, 2012 at 10:28 am

It’ll be English for us with our 3-year old.

“A B C D E F G…H I J K AND A LEMON P…”

Lanie January 24, 2012 at 10:35 am

Somewhat off the topic of the blog, but I was excited to see your dad went to OU. My grandparents both taught there and my grandmother still teaches there and is set to retire this June. My grandfather taught there for over 40 years and my grandmother just over 30. He taught African-American and Native-American literature and she teaches Study Skills for freshmen. Always have a soft spot in my heart for OU and lovely, lovely Athens, OH.

Candice January 24, 2012 at 11:43 am

I’m with you in the math boat. The only reason I passed Algebra 2 in high school is because I took the watered down version they offered and my Dad, despite having only a 10th grade education, is some kind of math genius. In college, I tested into the lowest math class the school had to offer and, me deciding I knew more than the test, took College Algebra. I kid you not, when I sat down to take the final, I looked over the problems and glanced up to make sure I was in the right class with the right kids. Maybe that placement test knew more than I did, after all!! I am dreading the time when my son is in high school and taking Geometry.

Good luck to you and if you figure anything out, let me know how you did it!!

Lori January 24, 2012 at 12:46 pm

TOO funny. I absolutely love “WTF Math”. Oh my gosh, so true. I had the same experience with my son with Sophomore year Geometry. He asked for help and I wasn’t two minutes into trying to help him before he realized that I was going to be hopeless. Oh well.
Oh, and I think you’re giving accountants too much credit. I am one and I guarantee it doesn’t go beyond add, subtract, multiply and divide. When I can’t help my kids they’re all like “Buy you’re AN ACCOUNTANT” and I tell them what I just told you.
Thanks for the laugh

AnnieDubs January 24, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Have you seen this piece from Slate?: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/human_guinea_pig/2006/11/the_math_moron.html

It will make you feel better. Or maybe just confirm the mathematical capacity of writers. Or that math beyond fruit is a sham. Both work for me.

Charity January 24, 2012 at 1:42 pm

I’m slowly making my way through your past posts – I think I’m up to June 2011! I’m loving the way you and Heather care for your family. Your philosophies are very similar to ours.

Family is first. Family is second. Family is third. Everything else comes after that

Love the Calculus. No, wait! I DON’T actually love the calculus! I do however, love the way you handled it. It seems that my husband and I have completely forgotten the calculus lessons from college. When our teenagers ask for help we just sit there at the dinner table squinting and nodding until they just give up and ask their friends. I think of myself as fairly educated until the textbooks come out…

Shan @ Last Shreds Of Sanity January 24, 2012 at 2:37 pm

My dad used to call my high school math “the new math”. he couldn’t understand why they would make things so difficult when the way he learned to do Algebra would give the same answer and was simpler to accomplish.

Now that my 1st grader has math homework, including word problems and Algebra-like formulas, I know how my dad felt. And the ways they are teaching my child to solve these problems makes no sense at all. My husband and I both read and re-read the instructions and scratch our heads. If those could be written in plain English, that would be great. Our daughter is on 6 years old, after all!

MC January 24, 2012 at 4:22 pm

Did I mention ‘MC’ stands for MathChick?

The problem with “I’m never going to need this” is you often don’t see the dots connecting until you are way on the other side. And a lot of the math that is out there isn’t in order to use it every day, but so that you understand the next step. Gravity is an acceleration that you can see in the form of a parabola, telling you exactly why that basketball flew threw the living room right into the television, and how much force it had so that it did, or did not, break the screen. Voila! Successful application of math.

Sometimes it just comes down to understanding how something should work. Your calculator might tell you you have \$54000 left in your bank account after you THOUGHT you added \$20 to your current balance of \$1500, but you have to be smart enough to realize you fat fingered it somewhere. That’s especially true of statistics. It’s good to have enough of an understanding of how it works so your BS meter is calibrated. Otherwise you’ll fall for anything.

Telling Dad January 24, 2012 at 4:24 pm

Do I need to know parabolas and gravity equations to know that the reason the basketball flew threw the living room is because my children are void of logic?

The only reason math would come into play in that scenario is when I say, “You’re grounded for 4+3 days.”

Shan @ Last Shreds Of Sanity January 24, 2012 at 5:25 pm

Good comeback, Greg.

Nicole January 24, 2012 at 5:45 pm

I didn’t read all the comments, but I’m sure they’re awesome, too.

On a completely serious side (can we do that here? That cool?), I think you’re spot on with stopping when you have what you need. I am a teacher who runs a learning support program and I am always being asked “where am I going to use this?” I’m honest- I tell them they won’t sometimes. The only way I can get them to do it is to tell them that it helps them with critical thinking, blah, blah, blah. I’m a huge fan of doing math developmentally and stop when you don’t need more.

Amy January 24, 2012 at 5:48 pm

I am not a math person. I am an English lit person. I can recite reams of 18th century poetry, but put a math problem in front of me that has numbers AND letters and you’re better call an ambulence because my head is going to explode. Like “Scanners.” I once wrote a poem about algebra that started:
Numbers. Numbers.
On the page.
Make me want to scream with rage.
Letters. Letters.
Everywhere.
Make me want to tear my hair.

Terry Snyder January 24, 2012 at 6:15 pm

I’m much better at poetry (sad tho it is) than math. My poor daughter was in 7th grade and came to me with math homework and I was totally unable to help her. She went to bed crying that night and I wrote this poem for her. Poor kid. Bad math guidance-followed by bad poetry.

Numbers, numbers on the page-
Make me want to scream in rage-
Decimals, fractions, every where-
makes me want to tear my hair-.
Math teachers say “Math is so much fun”
I’d like to say “let’s get a gun”.-
Blow those brackets out the door,
then there won’t be no more!-
to homework done in a snit-.
Algebra, geometry, X, and plane-
all give me a great big pain! -
So please don’t tell me to figure unknowns,
the area of squares or height of a cone-
The cubic feet of a refrigerator?
Somebody give me a calculator!

Terry Snyder January 24, 2012 at 6:17 pm

By the way- the previous message was from my daughter who guided me to this website

Rachael January 24, 2012 at 9:06 pm

LOL, I totally feel your pain. While I somehow managed AP Calc and trig and calc for non-science majors in college, all that knowledge has COMPLETELY deserted me in the adjoining years of NEVER NEEDING TO USE IT AGAIN!

I thank God on a regular basis for my father who’s a PhD in Organic Chemistry who can help my 6th graders son with his algebra equations. I’m REALLY hoping he can still help when my son gets to what your eldest is struggling with.

Good luck!

Barbara Anne January 24, 2012 at 9:51 pm

Bless you, Greg. Just bless you.

Katie, RN January 25, 2012 at 8:17 am

I’m just happy that you cast the nurse as the hero in your scenario. Well, I guess the patient still died but the nurse knew what was up. Before I became a nurse I was a teacher. I would say everyone need math classes through about 8th grade. By then you have some basic algebra and that can get you through any kind of problems you mind find in real life. Because dividing fractions and finding an unknown are useful for cooking, sewing, woodworking, and going back to school to change careers.

Pamela D Hart January 25, 2012 at 10:39 am

So glad I only went into accounting, that was enough math to practically fry my brain! I wouldn’t have any brain cells left had I gone on to be a Rocket Scientist!

You should have a “Swallow-Your-Coffee-Before-Viewing-Graph” warning. I spit my coffee all over my computer screen at your chart when I saw a Gerbil had more brains than a Kardashian…never mind that it’s TRUE…its was just too darn funny seeing it in graph form!

Lynellekw January 25, 2012 at 11:37 am

My best maths teacher reduced every problem to fruit. I can still hear him explaining basic algebra: “a times b equals ab! A is apples and b is bananas, and you can’t multiply apples by bananas because they’re different fruit, so a times b equals ab!”.

It made more sense at the time, I promise.

Maths was the only class I ever failed. When I was 14, I got an E for maths. On one test I scored 2%. The following year, in the fruit guy’s class, I got an A. Now I work in pricing administration, planning to study for an accounting accreditation.

Danielle January 25, 2012 at 12:22 pm

It’s funny but almost all math is derived from a need to solve a real world problem. Each problem set your son is working on has an application which does not involve medicine. I used to drive my teachers nuts because I needed them to explain what the math was used for. Unlike some of my fellow readers I lucked out with great teachers who when they didn’t know found out. As an archaeologist I use calculus to graph human habitations over periods of time.

Julianna January 25, 2012 at 12:23 pm

Holy Moly! In college I made it to Calc III – THREE separate times – and I don’t remember seeing some of that stuff!

How amazing that your son is able to do that AND that he has these types of classes available to him in high school?

Talia January 25, 2012 at 12:36 pm

This had me laughing – hard! My girls go to Ohio University! Math is not my strong suit and so helping with math homework was not in the equation for me.

How great that your son has the ability!

Jen @ Jen Spends January 25, 2012 at 9:57 pm

Yeah. That will be me someday. I was pretty good at math back in the day, but I’ve forgotten everything I ever learned about calc. I still remember algebra and trig only because I used them regularly for architecture stuff.

Lesley January 26, 2012 at 1:10 am

I want to be a Gerbil when I grow up. Is that okay?

Also…I skimmed half of this because it makes no sense.

One more thing. My Moms sister and brother *she had many, but two of them were twins. Boy and girl. The boy…PERFECT and AWESOME at math. The girl. Art all the way. When she asked her twin for help…he would scream at her when she didn’t understand him. Ahhh…twins…*

Jessimus January 26, 2012 at 8:44 am

Wow…seriously thought I might have a panic attack trying to read the math in your kid’s book! I barely skated through algebra 1, algebra 2, and geometry in high school and was too stoned to care about algebra 101 in college…looking at it now, makes me want to crawl under the desk and hide. And it also makes me want to NOT have children, if only to escape the threat of having to help with math problems. Unless, that is, I marry a rich man who can afford tutoring for our child. Hopefully he takes after his father and completly understand numbers, then he would be fine (becuase if I ever do marry, he HAS to understand numbers…I understand English and literature and biology and art and history…together we must have a united front of all things smart and I am totally lacking in the math dept.) . But if he takes after me…and comes asking for help because how can you figure out the answer to a NUMBER problem by using LETTERS?? Then I’ll just give him a glass of whisky, write him a note to take to school saying his dog actually did eat his homework, and we will go watch Dr. Who instead.

Mark B January 26, 2012 at 9:56 am

I gotta agree with MC here. The reason that we get taught all of that math and teachers are so hardnosed on making sure we know how it all works is the BS Meter. I spent all my time in high school and most of my time in college working towards a music performance degree. Math helped only a little in this pursuit and therefore I didn’t think I really needed to take the calculus and statistics classes. I did em anyway, but never thought that I’d really need them. Right now however, I sure am glad that I did. This previously wannabe musician now is a data analyst that crunches numbers, all day, every day. While my managers can deal with just getting the results, I need to make sure the results aren’t the numerical equivalent of blowing sunshine up one’s derriere.

There’s almost no way of knowing in high school what you’re going to end up doing as a career. I’ll admit that Math as a subject is usually the most poorly taught subject there is, but don’t short-change yourself just because you don’t think you’ll need it.

Rai January 26, 2012 at 10:47 pm

Fruit: The ultimate mathematical yardstick.

Dylan January 27, 2012 at 11:32 am

I couldn’t agree more with your PML. I had math problems similar to what you showed here when I was in high school. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what the heck was going on, let alone when i was ever going to have to use it again.

Kokopuff January 27, 2012 at 2:22 pm

I’m in PR. I guarantee you I know less math than a gerbil. Still smarter than a Kardashian, but that’s not saying much.

Laurie C January 27, 2012 at 5:16 pm

This is why I, as an aspiring Epidemiologist (graduate in May, thank you Sweet Baby Jesus), love SAS. It’s a statistical package that will do this all for me. Because the two graduate-level statistics classes I took were BAD. But SAS saved me.

Lynellekw January 28, 2012 at 3:43 pm

We had to use SPSS for statistical analysis. Someone decided this was “the standard” for healthcare professionals (I’m a recovering speech therapist), so we had to demonstrate competence in using it for one of our final research units. My research project supervisor: “SPSS is a nightmare. Just show you can use it for this, and you’ll never have to touch it again. I use Excel.”

Roggey January 27, 2012 at 9:17 pm

English and diagramming a sentence? No problem! Foreign language? Covered! Band saw in shop? Not even breaking a sweat! Math? My retinas began to bleed when I saw the photo of the binomial theorem, then I had flashbacks of quadratic equation horrors. Then I think I passed out. I’m pretty sure I did, when I could see again, as it was ten minutes later than I remembered.

Lexi January 28, 2012 at 1:17 am

Oh dear god, math. The picture of your son’s math book nearly sent me in to a panic attack. I HATE MATH. And I have TWO KIDS, which means I have to help two people fail a class. Greaaaat.

valmg @ Mom Knows It All January 30, 2012 at 7:30 pm

Let me say just this. I graduated high school at 15. I did hate math, but did fine. When I recently decided to go back to college to get a degree one of the factors was if I would have to take math. Since I already passed one math course a lifetime ago, it met the requirement for the Associates I want and I don’t have to take any more math. Yes I did a happy dance, literally.

Meredith January 31, 2012 at 3:34 pm

I’m a stay-at-home mom who was, once upon a time, a mathematics major. Now I have a husband who is in college for the first time ever. Do I think he’s going to take Calculus? Never ever in a million years. Do I even use Calculus in my day to day life? Nope. The only reason I use Algebra daily is because I help my husband with his homework! In my opinion, math should never be forced upon people. I enjoyed it, but I barely passed my history classes. My best friend was a history major and couldn’t understand why names and dates just didn’t stick in my head. Everyone has a subject they enjoy, and so let them do what they enjoy. (Also, if kids are going to take Calculus in High School, give them some kind of computer program that will help them if they get stuck. Otherwise, they’ll just end up on wolframalpha.com. That’s how I figured out math problems I didn’t understand)

Shannon February 1, 2012 at 5:19 pm

I should know better by now not to read this while working. The laughing probably gives hints to coworkers that I am not really working. I am a college student studying business, the boyfriend studying engineering… I had to take statistics and had all these crazy formulas to look at, all I have to say is thank God for boyfriend. For humor, he finished Calc 3 with an A and said it was his easy class. HA.

gin June 12, 2012 at 11:57 am

Oh the memories! and LOL at work is not good!
My mother was a math teacher, unfortunalty mine. I told her one time that that she must be speaking Greek, thats why it made no sense to me.
I also asked to move out of Chemstry halfway through the year. The teacher said NO, stop being lazy. I went to the principal, when he asked why, I told hiim I didn’t want to be in a class I had to cheat in to pass! I was promptly moved to a study hall.

Erika July 5, 2012 at 4:45 am

oh ok that’s funny. I can run a household, 2 kids, sit the Bar, run a business, and write a 50,000 word Masters thesis on economic theory and international trade all simultaneously, but please PLEASE don’t ask me to do anything more complex than knowing what 15% of something is…. PLEASE. I nearly fainted after pic of math text. (note to husband: start saving for math tutors.) I then recall how we tortured math teachers for feeding us this horrid uselessness. (note to self: practice not laughing when both kids relay how they smart-mouth teachers).