I have recently posted about the study of both History and Geography, so though I would continue that theme with something I was not at all good at, Maths. Short for Mathematics, and simply called ‘Math’ in the USA, most of us in Britain know this school subject as ‘Maths’.

When I started school at the age of five, I was taught simple counting. Using blocks, toys, or any other accessory, I soon learned how to count up to ten and more, along with my classmates. Then easy addition, nothing too complex for my developing mind. By the time I went to Junior School, aged seven, rote learning was still popular, and we were soon getting to grips with our ‘times tables’, to form the foundations of simple multiplication. This was 1959 of course, so no calculators, and not a thought of the computers to come. Just a teacher writing numbers on a board, and conducting our recital like a band leader.
“Once five is five.
Two fives are ten.
Three fives are fifteen,
Four fives are twenty”.
And so on.

We went as far as the number thirteen, stopping there for reasons best known to the teacher. Division was also introduced, often helped along by the use of counters or visual aids, as I learned that four into twenty makes five. Then around the age of nine, that ‘Eureka’ moment, when I suddenly got the connection between multiplication and division. We also tackled currency, as at that time we still used pounds, shillings and pence, with twelve pence to a shilling, and twenty shillings in a pound. Not that I ever had much cash, but it was good to know what change to expect when I bought something. We were also using rulers, and learning how to measure short distances.

When I was eleven, it was time to go to secondary school, and begin the exam syllabus. I had a list of things I would need just for Maths lessons; this included a set of compasses, a protractor, a triangle and a ‘proper’ ruler, with measurements down to 1/16th of an inch. The first real lesson was a double period, (why was Maths always a double?) and it hit me like a whirlwind. Algebra? Geometry? Even something called Trigonometry. I thought the teacher must be talking a foreign language, but she assured us that was all to come. Meanwhile, we were hit with some serious long division. That alone was enough to make my brain ache, and I watched my ‘working out’ get further and further down the page as I struggled with something like 295 divided by 16. By the time the first month of the new school was over, I had decided that I really didn’t like Maths, and was sure I would never be good at it.

And I was right.

Then came ‘Problems’. Things like, “If a two hundred gallon water tank has a leak of a quarter of a pint a day for ten days, then half a pint a day for twelve days, how much water will be left after twenty-two days?” I didn’t even know where to start, and my hand was soon up, informing the teacher that I didn’t have a clue. Even when she showed me how to work out the solution, I still got the answer wrong. It all got worse once we started with Algebra. “If X = ? and Y = ?, what is XY squared? ” I just laughed. There was no chance I got any of that at all. The teacher later explained that X and Y had a value and it could be anything I wanted on that occasion. X could be 2 and Y 6, for example. My reply was not well-received. “Please Miss, then why don’t you just write a 2 and 6?” I was told in no uncertain terms that I was being deliberately ‘stupid’.

But I wasn’t.

Later, we were given a complex book of numbers, called ‘Logarithms’. This baffling table introduced us to decimal points and such, but might just as well have been Sanskrit, for all my brain could take it in. I wasn’t getting any better, and had to face the next year, when it was all going to get harder. Double Maths changed to a Monday morning when I was twelve, and I began to dread the walk to school,, shuffling with the reluctance of a condemned man about to be hanged. I still had the same teacher, the formidable Mrs Widdowson, who could freeze me with one of her signature glares, and had given me a terrible entry on my end of term report the previous year. Inside, I considered I was doing alright. All the other subjects were going great. I was in the top set for English, Geography, French, History, and even Religious Education, something I had little interest in. So what if I didn’t really ‘get’ Maths? It wasn’t the end of the world, as far as I was concerned.

So, I muddled along. Bad reports, bottom section of the class, and never truly understanding anything new. I did well at everything except Maths, and that was enough for me. When it came to the final exams, I just scraped though the Maths one with a Grade Four, a ‘just passed’ result. But it wasn’t all bad. That early learning left me able to recall the times table instantly, work out money without hesitation, and even able to calculate foreign currency exchanges, on my trips abroad. These days, i see young peope reach for a mobile phone, when faced with the most basic sum to work out.

Maybe we need to go back to chanting the times tables, and using a ruler?


58 thoughts on “Maths

  1. Great post πŸ™‚ I do not know If it is just me, but MATH seems to be the ultimate “Love It or Hate It” school subject. I could be wrong though? πŸ™‚ Anyway, keep up the great work as always πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I hated maths and was utterly useless at it. I was okay with simple arithmetic but once we into algebra and geometry I was lost. My parents even got a tutor to help me get through the exam. I scraped through and with a huge sense of relief never had to do any more. I do still remember my times tables. Did you see the film Hidden Figures about the African-American women who were mathematicians on the space programme? I was gob-smacked by what they could do with numbers and calculations.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved Maths! Until I was off school with mumps when I was 16 and when I returned they’d moved on to something else (Algebraic expressions) and I was totally lost. I love the logic of maths I think, I adore numbers and spreadsheets and calculations, but NOT trigonometry or algebra! I would have made an excellent accountant I think. My worst time with maths though was when I went to uni as a mature student having been told that I would easily cope with the maths. Oh, boy were they wrong! Boolean Algebra, Lambda calculus made my brain hurt! Personally I think they should just teach functional maths skills in school – the things you talk about – and then have applied maths and all the other stuff as a separate course for those who want to study it.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I managed to do ok in maths and still try and do as much in my head as I can, Gosia often enquires how I managed to work things out as quickly as I do (as she checks on the calculator). In saying that I’m often wrong πŸ™‚

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  5. I didn’t mind math but never took more of it than was required. I loved Algebra but didn’t get Geometry at all. ( Why do you have to “prove” triangles are equal to each other, when you can measure and find out for sure, I thought! ) I finally realized the math you learn to apply is the only math that matters. Now they have something here called ‘common core’ math which even makes addition hard! Pity the parents trying to help their kids with math today!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Your post echoes my math dilemmas in school. I did well in all other subjects except math. I remember one day in third grade when the teacher used a magnetic board and parts of an apple to explain fractions. Bingo! I got it. I’m a visual learner. All the explaining and flash cards left me clueless. I’ve never forgotten that apple, and I always use real objects to teach math to my students. Is spite of that tough math instruction, I find myself light years beyond many young people. They can’t even make change. I worry that my youngsters won’t be able to tell time because of digital displays. Yes, let’s take away the easy props and go back to the basics of math. Great post, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Oh Pete. Just sounds like my experience all over except for some reason I got Algebra. I was over the moon when my Maths teacher suggested I might prefer to help the gym master instead of looking blankly out the window the deal being all I had to do was show up at the start and end of the dreaded lesson. What could I do, gym here I come. Now I regret that perhaps the Maths teacher let me down. But was that the big turn in my life, if I succeeded in Maths would I have joined the LAS met some great people like yourself and ended up in NZ ? a question I will never know the answer to (oh my English and speling has never been that good ether)

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    1. Strange how ability in some subjects can alter the course of our lives mate. All very true of course. If we had been Maths wizards, we might never have met! πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.


    1. Ah, think about working out the size of a carpet you need to buy, total interest payments on a loan, how much you get paid, what percentage you can save, even how much your car does to a gallon of fuel. It’s all Maths, Michel. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.


  8. We are akin to this topic, Pete. Let me write. Just don’t ask me to solve an equation. I learned what you did and feel it’s more than enough. I have a tax preparer do my taxes and delegate to more talented people for number issues. I’m okay with that!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Luckily, we don’t have to do our own taxes, unless we are self-employed. But I am always amazed how so many young people cannot do the simplest sum, without resorting to a calculator on their phones. They also cannot even estimate the monthly equivalent of an annual salary in their heads, as in dividing by 12. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete. x


  9. Heehee – I was always considered one of those “bright” nerdy kids in school, having skipped the 8th grade completely, but I always just barely got by math. The end of math for me was the “fusion” class combining geometry and trig into one unit. I was done with math after that.

    Today I too see young people at cash registers – “That will be $4.06 sir.” I give the youngster a ten dollar bill and a few seconds later I find .06 cents in my pocket of loose change and hand it over.

    I am looked at with the terrified face of someone who has no clue why I handed over the .06 cents!


    Liked by 2 people

    1. Over here, they enter what you give them into the till (including ‘over’ change) and it tells them how much to give you back. I remember shopkeepers counting it out loud as they put the change into your hand, with the note you had given them propped on the till, in case you claimed it was a higher face value. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Pete, didn’t you also have a slide rule? πŸ™‚
    I suppose we each had our worst subject – mine was foreign languages, I didn’t get the point as no one I knew ever went abroad. It seems crazy that I’m now learning Spanish with some relish. Hasta luego, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I actually always loved math, probably because it was predictable, unlike my life! My grandchildren who are schooled at home still memorize tables. I think that it is invaluable to have those facts at the ready. My only stumbling block came in seventh grade when, in the space race with Russia, they decided to introduce “new math.” I still don’t know what it was about since our teacher didn’t understand it either.

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  12. I really hate to say this, but I always did well in math. And in the 1980’s, when I worked for an employee benefits company that employed an actuary, I decided to take evening classes, and try my hand at becoming an actuary, too. I didn’t quite make it, but for reasons that had nothing to do with math aptitude. In fact, I sailed through trigonometry, analytical geometry, and differential calculus. My last math class posed the biggest challenge: linear algebra. It got into matrices and vectors space, and gave me some trouble. Nevertheless, I got a passing grade, and was prepared to finally clinch my bachelor’s degree. But just a handful of college credits shy of my degree, I had to abandon everything for personal reasons. Now, these many years later, having failed to practice any of the math I learned, I’m back to 2+2=4. It is 4, right?

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  13. Our Constitution has a Tenth Amendment that prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. But we still insist upon inflicting math on our children. I keep waiting for a Supreme Court case to declare that unconstitutional. The Indiana Legislature passed a law making Pi =3 to make it easy on school children, but that law was ignored by the teachers. When you call for rote learning of multiplication tables and a ruler, the ruler conjures images of teachers using the ruler to swat children who got the numbers wrong. Oh, the torture never ended. 😊
    Warmest regards, Theo

    Liked by 2 people

  14. I failed 4th-grade math and nearly failed a grade of school because of it. Later, Math was my worst subject until I went to Business College and had to learn to deal with Accounting Principles. When I became a CEO, I no longer had to worry much about math because the accountants and lawyers contended with the small stuff. LOL

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  15. I took a Maths ‘O’ level, and was given grade ‘U’, which stood for ‘ungraded’ 🀣 I also used to keep score for Dad’s basketball team and darts matches, so can add and subtract in a nano second, but anything else is beyond me, and I don’t care πŸ˜€

    Liked by 3 people

  16. You just brought back some pretty bad memories, Pete. Who ever heard of giving a 7th grader computer math back in the early ’60’s? I could eventually do all the algebra, geography and trig – but boy was it a pain to do!! hated it!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Math was also my worst subject, followed by sciences,except for botany. My brother aced them all but then he’d wanted to be a doctor since he was 3 years old and today is an oncologist. But is the UK no longer using the same currency?? I thought you stayed away from the euro? And don’t you measure in liters, kilometers, (metric)? I thought we in the US were the last backwards measurements in inch, ounce, whatever…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. We changed to decimal currency, in 1971. No Euro, but 100 pence in one pound.
      We still use miles too, not kilometres, though races are run in kilometres at most events. (As in 200 metres, etc) The measurements were also changed, forced by the EU. So we now have milk and petrol in litres, no pints anymore. But beer is still sold in pints in a bar or pub!
      It’s a total mash up! πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

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