Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Rounded to the Nearest 10

I was quickly losing my patience. Our voices were rising and could now be heard outside through the screen door. My daughter threw her pencil down on the table. The cat took refuge under the chair. “Mom! What are you doing?” she yelled at me in frustration. “That doesn’t make any sense. We do it a different way at school!”

“What do you mean you do it a different way? It’s division! There is only one way!”

I have painfully learned firsthand that in much of today’s math curriculum, the teaching and learning are done very differently than when I was in school. It’s been referred to as New-New Math, Whole Math, MTV Math, Mickey Mouse Math, Fuzzy Math and even Fuzzy Crap. While I still long for the days when two plus two was always four, I have realized there is some value in learning math the way my children are. Two plus two doesn’t always equal four, there is more than one way to do long division and, as I now agree, understanding the process can be as valuable as actually getting the right answer.

While this approach to math does have many advantages in a school setting, it would be a very different world if the New-New Math way of thinking spilled outside of the school walls and into our everyday lives.

All debit and credit card transaction amounts would be rounded to the nearest 10’s place. After all, it’s easier and faster to use rounded numbers and it still gives an accurate enough impression of how much money was spent.

Doctors wouldn’t be able to give us a precise, scientific diagnosis. They would be able to make an educated guess after they had developed a good conceptual understanding of the problem and discovered all of the clues using their higher order thinking.

Airplane manufacturers wouldn’t worry too much about the exact measurements of the airplane parts. The company would be more concerned that their employees understood the process of how they made airplanes and were familiar with each step. The exact measurement of each specific part would be a secondary consideration.

Taxpayers would congregate every April 15th. They’d gather in a circle, each holding a mini white board. They would write down on their white board the amount of tax they think they should pay, rounded to the nearest 10 dollars, and hold it up for an IRS agent to see. The IRS agent, standing at the head of the circle, would review each answer. “No, I’m sorry Mr. Jones. I can see that you tried very hard today, but you owe more money than that. Erase that number and try again.” Or “Mrs. Johnson, I can see that you forgot to use your thinking brain. You have to remember the deduction for your medical bills. “

Drivers caught speeding would be able to get out of receiving a ticket if they were able to tell the police officer how much they were going over the speed limit. This would be a one page story problem. Each step of the speeding process would be listed and written out in complete sentences. The conclusion would be proven using two different mathematical functions. Final answers could be rounded to the nearest 10 mph, of course.

Buying a car would involve a team problem solving session between the purchaser, the salesman, the dealership owner, the mechanic, an oil company executive, a bank loan officer, a Department of Licensing representative and a Starbucks drive thru employee. Each would take turns giving their opinion on the car to be purchased using their best group sharing and problem solving skills. It would be most important that everyone get along and feel good about themselves.

Checking out at the grocery store would require you to place your items on the conveyer belt in one of three ways: largest to smallest, most expensive to least expensive, or most perishable to least perishable. You would then have to give a brief oral report explaining to the other shoppers standing in your line why you chose to group your items that way. Your fellow line #5 shoppers would then be required to ask one well thought out question afterward in order to proceed forward in the checkout line. You would be required to be respectful to your fellow line #5 shoppers and exhibit a real team spirit or you would have to go to the back of the line. Your total bill would be an estimate and would be rounded to the nearest 10 dollars, of course. It’s just easier that way.

Check This Out!

Combine in a food processor-4 cloves mashed garlic, 2 15oz cans garbanzo beans-drained and rinsed, 2/3 cup roasted tahini, 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, 1/2 cup water, 1/4 cup olive oil, and salt to taste(start with 1/2 tsp).

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