Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Real maths?

I did maths for 14 years at school without ever really knowing why. At home, my chartered accountant stepdad involved me in some of his work and explained how basic arithmetic enables people to organise their financial affairs. This was pre-computers and even pre- the age of electronic calculators. Everything was done by pen and paper. My stepdad would buy new clients a huge red Cathedral Analysis book and teach them the basics of rudimentary double-entry bookkeeping. I was amazed by how easy this was and I still follow a similar system for our household accounts.

Maths made sense at home, but it didn't at school. There, it just seemed like one long stream of hoop-jumping to no end whatsoever. I think that's yet another reason why I prefer to educate my children at home. It wasn't until I was 25, having done A level maths, and stats as part of a business management college course (and I was shocked to learn that mathematically manipulating figures to fit political arguments has spawned its own professional field) that I finally found a maths course to inspire me. It was the Open University's Open Maths course, and I'm glad to see it's still running, because I'd recommend it to anyone who wanted to be excited about real maths, whatever their background in the subject.

In our house we had some real, applied mathematics taking place last night. I'd done some to help me decide whether we could afford to tax our car this month, or whether we'd need to make a SORN declaration and use public transport instead. I realised that if we could halve our usual spending at the supermarket for the next six shopping sessions, we could afford to tax the car.

Zara and Lyddie are the two who most want us to have a car to use. The boys and I don't mind either way, really. And the girls are the ones who love to come supermarket shopping with me and decide what we're buying. So I gave them the last three till receipts and told them that if they could find 50% of the bill total in items we didn't really need and could avoid buying for the next few weeks, we'd tax the car.

Quite a challenge, involving a lot of sums, calculator-stabbing, and peering at the abbreviated names of things to try and identify them, but they managed it in the end. If they really do save the money when we shop, I'll buy the tax disc at the end of the month.


Blogger Lisa G said...

Maths never made any sense to me in school either and it never made any sense to my dd, so much so that she has a complete phobia of the subject and i try and find gentle ways to introduce real life maths concepts to her.
As for the manipulation of figures and stats, I work as a data analyst for the ONS so you might say that I couldn't possibly!

6:58 pm, February 13, 2008  
Blogger Jenny said...

Nowe some would call the real life maths, some would call it coercion or 'tough love'...

Id call it being savvy and facing your responsibilities head on! well done you... Maybe I should try it with mine!
I hated maths with a passion too.My maths teacher said "You'll never get anywhere without GCSE maths" and I believed her... now I have a degree and yes, still no GCSE in Maths!

10:34 pm, February 13, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

LOL Lisa! I often wonder about the ONS. They're the good guys, right? Or at least, impartial. Is there such a thing as an impartial statistician?! I like the fact that I can access their stuff easily anyway.

Jenny, tough love maybe. Necessary for me though. I don't want to be arguing over every little item in the supermarket with them not understanding why. Or getting into financial trouble because I let them overspend. Coercive? No, I'd dispute that. They get to choose how the money is spent, but they need all the facts to be able to make that choice.

And it occured to me when they were doing it: oh, they're doing maths! It wasn't a contrived maths lesson. If it had been, I'd have asked them to save 49.628% of the mean average sum of the three bills! *groan*

Oh thanks, facing the responsibilities head on - yes it probably is that. It's the way we've always done things around here to varying degrees depending on the ages of the children. My parents have that Victorian 'Never discuss personal finances in front of the children' ethic even now and I can understand the reasons for that but wanted to be much more open about them with my own children.

That's funny about your maths teacher :-)

7:10 am, February 14, 2008  
Blogger ruth said...

I was so bad at maths at school I was labelled with dyscalculia and put in the "no hopers" class. It wasn't true cos I can do any maths now. It was just badly taught. I hate supermarket shopping with the girls cos we end up with a trolley full of yum yums and little "real food" I might try this with them and give a different incentive cos we don't have a car anyway. It might induce them to put the Frubes, giant cookies and other rubbish back :)

10:45 am, February 14, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

Those yogurts that your girls drink, Ruth? (Is that what Frubes are..?) My lot have been buying something similar I think, anyway. A load of rubbish! (Which also creates a load of rubbish in the kitchen bin, which links back to the previous subject.)

Anyway, yes, time for some yogurt-making here I reckon. I might do some anyway, if I get time.

8:49 pm, February 14, 2008  
Blogger ruth said...

Yes those are the ones Gill. I also get fed up of picking up the empty packets:(

2:38 pm, February 15, 2008  
Blogger Elaine said...

I love mental arithmatic I spend my time at night in bed doing the hundred questions on the NDS brain training its just simple maths and blimey I am so glad I learnt my times tables off by heart .
Great ego boost when you get to the end an the rocket takes off

9:18 pm, February 15, 2008  
Blogger shukr said...

hmm, we're having the same mental maths here, only it's the rent that's going to suffer./

12:44 pm, February 21, 2008  
Blogger shukr said...

hmm, we're having the same mental maths here, only it's the rent that's going to suffer./

12:44 pm, February 21, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...


What a horrible feeling to have. I'm very familiar with it, so you have my utmost sympathy.

There comes a point when we can't do anything else but trust that we'll somehow be ok, doesn't there?

I'm sure you've explored all alternatives, but am very happy to brainstorm with you in emails if you think it might help.

Much love to you at this difficult time xxx

7:57 am, February 22, 2008  

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