Monday, March 22, 2010

The Art of Sums

I don't like Maths. I don't really care for algebra. I don't like anything involving a mathematical concept, really. Especially calculus. Hated it. Really, really hated it.

I didn't mind simultaneous equations because I could actually do those. Sadly I never worked out HOW. This put me at a big disadvantage because I would do them by the Staring-At-Them method. "Daphne, you must show your working". How could I? I just stared at them for a bit and then the answer came into my head and I never knew how.

Sadly that was the only bit of mathematical aptitude that I had, really. Wouldn't you think that a maths teacher would want to know how I might be getting the answer? - - but I didn't know and she didn't investigate. She just told me to steer clear of them in the O-level exam if I couldn't show my working.

No, I may not have much aptitude or liking for Maths. But I'm pretty good at Sums. I spent years of my primary-school life doing Sums. Pounds, shillings and pence. Long multiplication. Long division. If three men take half an hour to fill a bath with water, what time does the train from Normanton arrive? That kind of thing.

Every bit of maths that I have ever needed in adult life, I learned before the age of eleven. We even did decimals, though they were a strange and alien concept in those days.

I was happy with my Sums though, and when I was given a Slide Rule to use, I thought this was great. You had to do a rough estimate so you didn't get the decimal point in the wrong place, and then you were away. I thought my Slide Rule was magic. I still have it, of course, with my name written on it in ink, and a bit of graffiti drawn by my friend Sarah.

In exams I always went for the Slide Rule questions because once you knew how to use it, and how to do a rough estimate, there was no further thinking involved, and I liked that.

Then they invented calculators, Not whilst I was at school, though.

(Really, the more I write this the older I feel. I've got to feeling about a hundred and thirty-eight now.)

After calculators, the ability to do Sums, with working or without, in your head or on paper, with a slide rule or without one - - well, it just wasn't so important.

I have a deeply suspicious mind, though, and for years I never trusted calculators. What if the battery was flat? So I used to check everything afterwards, by doing Sums, on a piece of paper, with a pencil. Everyone laughed at me.

Today in our office, I've been doing invoices all day. I quite like doing invoices - - they are like bait you send out to catch money.

And I realised, as I added up each invoice, that I still don't believe the calculator. I add it up with the calculator - - and then, very quietly, telling nobody, I check it using Sums, and often counting on my fingers. And then if I agree with the calculator, then that's fine. And if I don't agree, then I add the whole thing up again, and check it. If I didn't, then I'd feel I was being disloyal to my eleven-plus teacher. Old habits die very hard with me.


Anonymous Ruth said...

Of course old habits die hard with you, you're 138 - no, hang on, I added that up wrong. Where's my calculator?

8:07 pm  
Anonymous jo cuz said...

sounds to me from second para that your brain works in a special way that the teachers could not work out. i haven't read the rest! jo second cousin once removed or summat

8:55 pm  
Blogger Yorkshire Pudding said...

Pleased to discover that we share a healthy suspicion about things mathematical. Of course all Maths teachers are secretly shipped into secondary schools from Broadmoor. This has been going on for decades. It's a way of shepherding them back into society but you can still see the craziness in their eyes.

1:40 am  
Blogger Jan Blawat said...

I have never understood higher mathematics. I barely made it out of Geometry with a sympathetic C from the teacher. I scored second highest in my graduating class of 300 students on the college entrance math test, though, using the eeeny-meeny-miny-moe method. Luckily we didn't have to show our work. It's supposed to be statistically impossible to score well by guessing. And I agree, I learned everything I needed to know by age 11, too. I can balance my bank book and manipulate picas and points (print shop math). I've never needed to know a hypotenuse, have you?

2:52 am  
Blogger Dfo said...

Now you've made me feel more than 138 - we didn't have slide rules - just logarithm books - I think I still have mine lurking somewhere!
I was fine with calculus until someone explained it to me 'properly', since when it has become total gibberish.
I too rely on sums rather than my fingers hitting the correct button on the calculator - it's fun flummoxing Saturday sales assistants with an instant knowledge of total spent and change due.
I think my useful maths finished at about age 14; I do use algebra and geometry for diy projects, and do have hazy memories of inflicting my workings out on G & J to show them how useful maths can be. (cringe) I wonder if they remember?

7:23 am  
Blogger Jennyta said...

I agree with YP, based on my experiences with maths lessons and the accompanying teachers! I became a maths phobic in my last year of primary school thanks to a paranoid schipzophrenic teacher. ;)

9:24 am  
Blogger WendyCarole said...

maths was never my thing either I never understood how numbers worked. But the modern methods for addition have helped enormously. Although I don't like the way multiplying and division is taught, howver the children do
The only thing I was good at was multiplying because we learnt out tables by rote.

I wa staught at school tha when adding up I had to start at the top and work down nver occured to me to find all the same numbers and multiply then or find all the ones that made a whole ten.

But boy was I good at grammmar!

6:34 pm  

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