## Monday, January 31, 2011

### Where DON'T you use math?

I keep thinking about where we use math, and why learning math is important for grade-school kids, and why we go to all the effort to produce and sell a math curriculum. That's the core of this blog - explaining how math we learn when we are young can be used later, when we mature (get old).

So I thought I'd reflect a conversation with myself about places I might NOT use math:

1. Body-surfing in the Pacific is a place to forget math, right? Sadly, NO.  As I sit out there in the surf, I often think I'm seeing a new set of waves coming in on 10 second intervals, about 3 feet high. About a third of those are "significant waves" one-third higher than the average; about one tenth of the total are "set waves" five-thirds the size of an average wave; and one out of a thousand waves are twice the average. Math. Click here.

2. My wife and I are pulling weeds in the back yard. No time for math, right? Alas, NO. We need to know how to check a calendar, we need to know the climatic zone we are in, and we need to know the speed at which weeds grow. I read recently that weed control is dependent on pulling them at the right time, and if you plan on applying chemical weed killers (we don't) the timing depends upon the growth rate of the individual weed species. We have some weeds that are taller than we are.  Click here.

3. I think I'll do a little maintenance on my car. Grease and grime - but for math, no time. Right? NO. I have to check the tires (air pressure in lbs/sq in or bar), check the oil (one quart low), replace a light bulb (a long catalog search tells me it's an H4 in the USA), etc. etc. Nothing but math, it seems. Click here.

4. Maybe I will just read a book. No math there? Whoops. My mistake. I choose a science fiction book by Jules Verne - From the Earth to the Moon. It's filled with math about planets and speed of light, and tons of gunpowder and diameter of projectiles being shot to the moon ....  Click here.

5. How about a healthy snack? Wrong - there are ingredients on the label, calories of the food, price tags on the package, serving size (to be exceeded), number of items. It's all math. So I grab a tangerine instead. But there's a tiny little label on the back with a code number so the distributor can track it back to the origin. As I peel off the skin I toss the label in the trash. But later I discover there is a website just for fruit label identification and decoding. Ouch. More math. Click here.

6. Looking around my office, I think maybe I will ride my 15-speed bike. Oh no, I made a mistake just in describing it. And I'd have to pump up the tires to 100 psi. At least there's no shift indicator, trip computer or other electronic gadget on my old-school bike. But it is a 57 cm frame with 700 mm wheels and 25 mm tires. And so on. Click here.

I give up. I'm just going home. I'm not going to look at the odometer or speedometer or fuel gauge. I'll avoid math. Although I already know the distance is between 20.6 and 26.0 miles, depending on how I go. And 31-37 minutes. How do I know? Math. Click here.