Thursday, November 20, 2008

Remember, Math is Your Friend, or Math Ain't Everything

When I was a kid, I didn't have an affinity for Math. In fact, I satisfied my college math requirements by taking this series of Philosophy courses:

1. Logic. IF, there is an Option to Take Philosposhy instead of Math, THEN, I will not take math.

2. Ethics. Is it indeed ethical to allow students to take Philosophy instead of Math?


3. Philosophy of Sex and Love. Does Love exist? Does Sex Actually Exist? Does the existence of either have anything to do with math?

 And as a Communications and English Major, I was no worse for wear. I can, however, calculate "30% off", and feel fairly competent at basic computations, especially when It's some form of a riddle.  So when my cousin Cindy, whose emails I always enjoy, sent me an email entitled, "Remember, Math is Your Friend", I was up for the Challenge. Here is what the email said:

 Are you smarter than a 5th grader?


5th Grade Math Problem 
Good luck! 
This is a 5th grade math problem.  If you can open the spreadsheet, you'll see it's a very small list of people who have gotten the correct number. This is not a trick question. This is a real math problem so don't say that a bus has no legs.

There are 7 girls in a bus. 
Each girl has 7 backpacks. 
In each backpack, there are 7 big cats. 
For every big cat there are 7 little cats. 

Question: How many legs are there in the bus? 
(The number of legs is the password to unlock the Excel sheet.  If you open it, add your name and send it on.) 

Simple Enough. I got out a freshly sharpened no.2 pencil and Got to work. Here is how I went about it:

7 Girls x 7 Backpacks= 49 Total Back Packs

14 cats in each back pack(7 big,7 small) 14x49=686 total cats

each cat has 4 legs. 686 x 4=2744 cat legs

the seven girls each have two legs=14

2664 cat legs +14 girl legs=2758 legs all together, Right?


I recalculated it again. Nothin Doin! That Excel Spread Sheet aint openin' No Way, No How!

I decide there must be some form of hidden trick embedded deep within this 5th grade conundrum.

I shoot a reply email to My cousin that goes Like this:

Dear Cindy,

Ok ,That wasted an awful lot of time for this English Major, An awful lot, and no I did not get the pleasure of passing it on With a proud grin on my face.

 Did you count the bus driver too? Do cats have only two legs, but also two arms?

Has the World Gone Mad? Is there a Bus Driver indeed on the bus? Are  there indeed 49 back packs, each  with 14 terrified cats inside, ready to scratch the living daylights out of your eyes for keeping them in a backpack?

 Is 7x7 actually 49?

I think the Bus Driver is Drunk….

He’d have to be to let 7 screaming girls on the bus with a ridiculous quantity of  cat-laden backpacks, wouldn’t ya say?

 And, I’d like to add to that question, How many pieces of Cat crap does each back pack now hold, and do you really think teenage girls would be willing to clean it up?

Love, Glo

When My Daughter Avery comes home that night she happens to tell me that she was the only one in her math class who got a certain Math Challenge Problem Right. I'm Noticeably proud. I have three Children, and they are all Math Capable. I'm So Glad I married an Engineer! As you might expect, I really Do want to know how many legs are on that Bus. In fact, I've redone the problem so many times, that even my dog's head is spinning like a backpack full of angry cats trying desperately to get off a school bus. So I  march her to the Computer to show her the problem, which she eagerly tackles.

 Now, Dear Reader, use your 5th grade reading skills and predict what happens next.

Do you think that  Avery, math capable child that she is, got a spot on that coveted Excel Spread Sheet? .....

Good Question, Dear Reader. Good Question. The Answer is no, not on the first go 'round. She did, however, quickly see the error of her ways, and took her rightful spot on that hallowed Excel  spread Sheet of yore.

But, how did she do it? What is the Key? 

This is the answer as Best as I can Figure:

*First of All, She Quickly saw the error of her ways. Quickly. She didn't waste any time recalculating the problem in the same way as she did when she got the problem wrong.

 *Then, immediately she shifted gears, as kids are so capable of doing, and addressed the problem in a different way. 

Elementary My Dear Watson, Elementary! 

*The other thing she did was Simplify the Problem

Yes, she made it simpler. Simpler than I did.

She solved it as if there was just one girl with seven backpacks, and 14 cats per bag. She broke it down to its most simplistic form, and took it from there. And she got the problem right. 

She showed me what I  did wrong numerous times so I could write this little tale, but I still don't understand. Terrence and Lindsey have tried to teach me too. They get a real kick out of it. Any way, as I learned in college Logic class, If I had gotten it right, and told you the answer, then I would have robbed you of an opportunity to 

*See the Error of your Ways  *Shift Gears  and  *Simplify the Problem

And that just Wouldn't be Ethical.

So once again, my kids teach me something new: A Life Lesson about Problem Solving. And Me? What have I taught them this time? 

As long as Iphones have calculators, math ain't everything. 

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