Children in the U.K. will be asked to work out the speed and distance sums by using examples from football and the speed and the distance of the ball that Beckam kicked to the goal. This is part of the GBP 4 million campaign to make mathematics more interesting for children.
Very interesting!! I am all for any effort that makes these speed sums interesting for children.
I have traumatic memories of speed related sums from my school days that have left me permanently scarred. There were this particular genre of sums where the tap was filling a tank at a certain rate of x litres per second and there was this horrible person who was draining the water at the rate of y litres per second and we had to calculate how much time it would take for the tank of a certain capacity to be filled. Every time I am faced with a situation of water scarcity, I have a desire to seek out these water drainers and decapitate them - for spoilng my arithmetic classes as well as being the single large cause of all the global water problem.

My math teacher had a particular penchant for making our lives miserable with such problems. Another of her favourites was:
The population of town A is 4800 more than town B. If 3100 people move from town B to town A, the population in town A will be 11 times that of town B. Find the original total population of the two towns.
Faced with this problem, some of my wizard colleagues would plunge into the problem and be ready in a minute with the answer and as a bonus huge smiles. While my mind would want more data such as "why were they migrating?" "was there an epidemic?' "in which case, what about the reduction in population because of the people dying?" "What about births during the period of migration?" etc...But since i could not muster enough courage to ask the teacher to furnish all the required information, I scribbled the answer 976 3/4 and was sent out of class for being inattentive and trying to act smart! Our educational system kills all creativity, don't you see?

I think it is important to make a child relate these numbers and calculations to reality to evoke interest and make it seem more than mere numbers and additions and subtractions.
Imagine giving the following problem to a child of today:
You are traveling 40 Km/h over a bridge that is 4260 ft. long. How long does it take to cross the bridge?
Wouldn't a smart child in bangalore immediately wonder about other dependencies such as traffic jams? Isn't unfair to let the child out into the big bad world thinking that distance and speed are the only factors involved in assessing the time required to travel between point A to point B.After all , is it not the primary goal of education to prepare a child for the world?
We need to make sums sound more real and true to life to see the real life application.
Sometimes you wonder if mathematicians are people who are so absorbed in numbers that they forget the human element to life. take this problem for example:
Two trains 200 miles apart are moving toward each other; each one is going at a speed of 50 miles per hour. A fly starting on the front of one of them flies back and forth between them at a rate of 75 miles per hour. It does this until the trains collide and crush the fly to death. What is the total distance the fly has flown?

Excuse me, we are talking of a major collision here causing a few hundred deaths perhaps. Who cares about the distance the fly has flown? Sympathetic though I am to the preservation of the earth's fauna, I think that hyperactive, maniacal freak of a fly deserved to die for running between the trains.Wonder if he caused the collision by distracting the drivers with his constant flight!

P.S.: Hehehe. there , that felt really good! My sweet revenge for all the knuckle raps that I suffered at school for being so numerically challenged.
I actually have great respect for mathematics and mathematicians - no offence intended. But I really used to find some of these sums highly amusing.
13 Responses
  1. Alapana Says:

    Amusing! ! ! For me it was beyond that,scary,nightmares aout the maths teacher,tests were like being through Hell and those sums "A works in 10hrs and if B joins blah blah blah..... used to make me crazy.And my maths teacher was anything but friendly,even more tough:(
    It made me hate maths,infact even after 90% and above i opted out of maths when i finished my schooling.It was only in PG when i heard our statistics professor teaching what seemed to be maths much later i realised how interesting the subject can be if taught properly. Infact we never felt we were in a stats class,he used to start with some news or statement which sent us into peels of laughter and after sometime we would be busy calculating some answers without any fear of numbers and their confusion. His class was not only of stats but more than that,he used to discuss anything which made sense and then add stats to it with an ease.
    It always makes a diff as to how we are taught.isnt it.

  2. Anu Says:

    Haha....I enjoyed it very much though Mathematics is a favourite subject. I remembered a joke: A mathematician took a driving theory test. One of the questions was something like this. 'A car 100m ahead of you is travelling at a speed of 60km/hr. If you want to overtake it just as it turns the corner 1 km ahead of you, how much should you accelerate? Your speed now is 50km/hr." The mathematician calculated and arrived at the correct answer, without worrying about the risk of overtaking at a bend. Needless to say he was failed :)

  3. Sunshine Says:

    Lol, this is an amusing post! Maths did send shivers down my spine most of my school life, and by the end of class 10 I realised that anything to with mathematical figures was not my cuppa tea.

    However, I would second at anything that would make learning maths an 'interesting' class.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Amusing, :)

    I wasn't very fond of Mathematics when I was in High School, but my reasons were slightly different. I always believed that a language like mathematics, with its well-defined codifications, rules & patterns, was something for machines to do while humans should dedicate themselves to the more absctract type problems.

    You must read that in the light of the fact that I was 17 then. :)

    I agree that Mathematics can & should be made more fun. I also think that we do not do a great job of defining what those real-life contexts are in which we apply some of the mathematical models. Sadly, I think that in daily-life there aren't too many such examples. A lot of differential calculus is indeed rocket science, quite literally.

    Also, in puzzles & in Mathematics, it is important to understand the concept of & think as a "Perfectly Logical Being"; a PLB takes the problem as given & solves it with nothing but logic without "creatively" rethinking the problem domain itself. PLB type puzzles are difficult only because we cannot do this very easily because we let our real-world experiences lace our cold & isolated logical capabilities.

    But ofcourse, there are other puzzles which expect the exact opposite of a PLB.

    So if I have to take a pill every half hour, how many minutes will I take to consume 3 pills? :) :)


  5. Visithra Says:

    was this horrible person who was draining the water at the rate of y litres per second
    - hehehehe lol this tickled me so much

    well we were never concerned about the maths ridiculousness we were more tickled by Morale studies - yeah we had to study that

    it was so ridiculous coz most of the answers were wrong when you consider the norm, humane rights and the law

    i remember arguing with a teacher on the stupidity of the subject and its so called morale values - n one time told her she was so wrong with one of the questions

    it was about donating kidney to a stranger - should he give it for free or for money - i argued theres no question at all according to our laws you can't donate to a stranger - you have to be a kin - of course she hated me ;p

  6. I love math, mathematicians, and the math teachers that I had in my school and college were uniformly my favorites. Einstein, Feynman, and Nash are my heroes, and I consider them the best and the brightest among humans.

    Too bad that you had a sadistic math teacher. I learnt the fly problem in a more humane version - the fly hopping between the handle bars of two bicycles moving in the opposite directions. No one died, not even the fly :)

    Other than that, my views on this topic are similar to those of S! (Anonymous), so I'll spare the bandtwidth.

    Here's a link that may help make math more universally palatable, from Science Friday. Please browse the related links in the sidebar for interesting and useful content.

  7. Raj Says:

    The best book on Maths that I have read was "Fun with mathematics" by a Russian author, Ya.Perelman. I picked it up from the Soviet Academy for a princely sum of Rs 5/-. It had fascinating stories woven around difficult mathematical concepts. Love for Maths must be triggered by such good backs or by good teachers.

  8. Mahadevan Says:

    Just in my previous comment I mentioned that "we cannot laugh at ourselves" and your writing about your being "numerically challenged" ( I appreciate the phrase)proves me wrong, atleast so far as it relates to you.

    Mathematics being pure logic, it often goes wrong when it deals with irrational animals like human beings. (Aristotle was irrational when he said that 'Man is a rational animal'). Pure maths is certainly worth pursuing, though often it becomes the butt end of wit. I recently read an article on Vedic Mathematics and it was quite interesting. Mathematical thinking sharpens one's brain.

    In academic studies, mathematics either take you to dizzy heights or becomes the monster, keeping you in your classes for years. You do well in Mathematics and go to IITs. If you are allergic to maths. you become a doctor and treat others' allergies.

    Your seeking out water drainers to decapacitate them for causing water problem and spoiling your arithematic classes, is worth discussing for years.

  9. Usha Says:

    alapana: I think my problem was also the teacher rather than maths itself. She just had no clue how to make it interesting for us - on top of it she did not like you to question her. You were just expected to accept everything as given. Everyone else in the house enjoys maths like the way I enjoy poetry and so I know it can be great if you understood it.

    Anu: Thanks. Hey that is a nice joke.

    Sunshine: Yes, I think too that math teachers need to get special training on making children see the magic of it all. Otherwise numbers can be quite daunting.

    Souvik: Are you saying tht most of the stuff we learn at school is just what machines could do and you learn the real fun math when you persist and go further into it? Hm. whatever. I wish I had persisted.And what is the use of solving problems applying perfectc logic, when the real world isnt perfect or logical. I agree it works when you are working with unchangeable truths of the universe.

    Visi: heheh. Oh yes, Moral science - that was another torture where everything was to be accepted without any question - else you were branded as the Devil's child or be the next target for the wrath of The gods who seem to be eternally waiting to poke the eyes of the next errant child!

    The rational fool: You know what, uniformly all my friends who are good at maths say that had a "good" math teacher in school. That matters a lot.
    as for the sadism of the teacher it extended beyond the content of the problems. She would take sand between her fingers before pinching the "bad" girls so the effect was better! Checking out the link and the sublinks! Thank you.

    Raj:Yes, I bought them too for my son. and they have similar ones for chemistry and physics too.

    Mahadevan:hehehehe. True maths does provoke this "love - hate" response from children. Beyond that I do not think i could discuss intelligently on the subject, as you might have already gathered. of course you also know the causes now!

  10. Swapnil Says:

    Oh how I loved mathematics!!!

    Learning, playing and teaching, All aspects of it.

    In fact I was supposed to be the expert facultry for Speed-Time-Distance problems at career forum.

    I always had a problem with languages. For years I struggled with TO is tu and GO is not Gu. I still am.

    Mathematics and Physics were two subjects that helped me break down the big bad ever-changing confusing world into simpler universal rules.

    Maths did to me what sports do for several kids. On a football field there are a few general simple rules. "Put the ball in the net" and that is GOAL. Simple.

    Maths it was "find the value of x", "balance the equation"; prove that "AB is parallel to PQ". The pleasure of bringing about rationality in a world where nothing makes sense. Gave me a sense of power I guess.

  11. Anonymous Says:

    I scribbled the answer 976 3/4


    Reminds me of an oft-quoted statistic about British families having "2.4 children."

  12. Anonymous Says:

    The Fly/train problem is used to distinguish mathematicians from physicists.

    Mathematicians typically find the solution as a sum of a convergent infinite series of distances flown by the fly between the two trains.

    Physicists would simply compute the time interval to crash and multiply that with the speed of the fly to determine the distance flown by the fly!

  13. Shashi Iyer Says:

    hahaha. the kids should appoint u for a cover :P