# When the Math Doesn’t Add Up

|Math never really added up for me. I was one of the worst math students my teachers ever experienced; one actually told me this.

Many years later, the math still doesn’t add up. My son brought home a math worksheet with this problem on it:

Clue 1: I am greater than 15 and less than 40.

Clue 2: If you double me, I become a number that ends in 0.

Clue 3: 1/5 of me is equal to 5.

This might be a fun group game, but I’m not sure of the value of this worksheet or the significance of the math problem.

I’m am greater than 15 but not less than 40 (as much as it pains me to admit this). My son is less than 15 and less than 40.

I can’t think of anyone who would want to double me, and if you doubled my son, we’d need a bigger house and a case of melatonin. No math can help with these issues.

Clue 3 is so nonsensical I can’t even come up with an attempt at humor (you’re undoubtedly excited about this).

So, this is a plea to anyone who gets math. Why would my son or anyone else ever need to know the answer to this problem?

Please share your thoughts, so maybe just once, the math will add up.

#### Mark Barnes

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Twitter: scott_oosterom

I teach senior high math- right now, 4 different courses, although I have taught some junior high math as well.

My experience with students and math is that it is often the feared subject area. Word problems of any kind are typicallty impossible for some to figure out without some guidance.

At each, grade 10 and 11, I have a course that is entirely word problem-based (Workplace and apprenticeship math) , and one that is not (Foundations for pre-calculus). I found that students in the workplace math initially struggled with the wording. They need to know what is being asked of them before they can even attempt to do the calculation. I had to spend several weeks to get students understanding the language of math or else the problems would be gibberishand they would get the calculation wrong -not something you want your future carpenter or architect to be doing,

The simple problem you mentionedin the post, was very likely what Ken said, a stepping stone. Students need to become more familiar with the language of mathematics so that they can succeed at it. Every great mathematician has to start somewhere.

Twitter: markbarnes19

Scott, I was terrified of math throughout my school years and still hate it as an adult. No one ever made sense of it for me. Indeed, it didn’t add up. Probably why I became a writer. Thanks for your thoughts on this.

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Twitter: tiltonsalgebra

My guess? I think they were trying to make it more fun than just saying 1/5 * 25 = ________ (or may 5 / 1/5 was the alternative).

Looked at one way, a math problem is a puzzle. I think that is why I enjoyed math.

I see also they threw unnecessary information at you, to make the puzzle tougher. ie, first you have to sort through the noise to discover the need to do 5 * 5 or 5 / 1/5.

Come to think of it, my uncertainty may be the point: how do we get from (somewhat) natural language to the arithmetic? A valid CCSS concern is the many kids who can do procedural math out the wazoo but come up empty on word problems (meaning they cannot really use math in the real world — they do not even know what to bang into a calculator when they have one).

I taught eighth grade math and had them doing great on procedural math. Then came the bit on word problems. Not only was it a disaster, but I could not even figure out how to help them make that leap.

Perhaps word problems like these where the natural language is quite close to being straight arithmetic are a stepping stone?

Twitter: markbarnes19

Hey Ken, you may be on to something here. I think I was troubled by the fact that this was a homework assignment that my son only saw as nonsense. If it were done in class and presented in your terms, it might actually make math more enjoyable. Thanks for the insight. I wonder if anyone else has a similar reaction.

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