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?

Just newly qualified as a maths teacher, and I get a lot of what you’re saying. Current methods/ themes are around losing the memorising a method in favour of investigating the quality of the logic and the relationship between numbers. Historically, the invention of a numerical system was to solve problems, not to produce a system purely for academic purposes; this naturally falls to learning this subject in whole as a solution to a complex problem, rather than oh look, lets learn fractions today – because a young brain would simply think “Why?” and you’ve lost them.

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Thanks, Jason. It’s good to know that the modern approach is different, even if it’s too late for me. 🙂

Best wishes, Pete.

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I rather read than sorry about math!😀

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I preferred books to sums too. xx

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My experience of being taught Maths was probably somewhere in between your version and modern Maths teaching. We did learn times tables but we had calculators for trigonometry. I was actually fairly good at Maths as well as enjoying it. In South Africa you can do your subjects at normal or advanced level. Maths is usually the one subject everyone does at normal level but I was one of the 20 or so in my year group of 180 who went to advanced level and passed… although only with a C. I was fine with Algebra and trig but bog standard geometry floored me… and it was a third of the paper. I can’t say I have used much complex Maths in my post school life. I do do a fair bit of statistical analysis at work with percentages and probability and having some basic numerical skills is helpful. I really don’t understand imperial measurements though.

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It’s good that you were in the advanced group. I did that with English, French, and History, but I was very much in the ‘normal’ set where Maths was concerned. 🙂

Best wishes, Pete.

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Great post 🙂 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? 🙂 Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

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I think you are right, John, a real love or hate one.

Best wishes, Pete.

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very honest confess. thank you so much because of informing me about this interesting post. I red from the first word to the last point of the essay. but so much comments starting with “I hated math…” so I red just half of them, I suppose.

by the way, I have had similar experience when I was a middle school student. You know math teachers at Iran were mostly like horror movie characters: bad-tempered, hard problems, very sensitive about the home work, the cleanness of book, and the absolute silence of students all during the class. you were supposed to know the answer of any given problem, when you were addressed to go to the board. If any other case unless the standards happened the punishment was very dreadful. so much stress ans physical punishments. but generally teachers were also very talented and smart, motivated and knowledgeable. the common thing that students tried to do was be silent and organised to try be far from the punishment time. and there were few math genius at class. they were discovered up to the end of the 2nd session. from the 3rd, it was like this: everybody silent writing what is being written on board by teacher or those 3 – 4 genius. two separated part in the class, the genius and teacher part and the stupid part (as teachers call those students). so yes I was in the light part of the class. I was so much better than any body else. but it’s not the complete story. I started math major at high school and I was lucky enough to face with some inspiring teachers whom were kind and very patients with students. then I changed very fast. I have had this experience in my all teaches from the first of teaching so far that the problem is not to be dumb! the problem is not be successful in make communication with math! math is not a bunch of pure contents, but also is a language, is a way of thinking and it’s like 3 dimensional glass in a world that people can see only 2 dimensional. any way I have always tried to inspire my students and to learn them the logic of the math. this the solution.

I share your post in my blog, if you don’t mind.

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Thanks for your personal story, and the interesting background, Samuel. I am happy for you to share this post, and send my thanks for doing so.

Best wishes, Pete.

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you’re welcome. sharing such information help us to improve ourselves. this is why I love blogging.

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I must interrupt here for, when I see someone saying it’s a love it or hate it subject, I can’t agree and I’d like to think that I can get anyone to love maths 🙂

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Good luck with that, Jason. 🙂

Best wishes, Pete.

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I couldn’t stand maths. Probably because most of my teachers weren’t exactly the best.

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I just couldn’t do it, but I agree that Maths teachers were often the grumpiest as well. 🙂

Best wishes, Pete.

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I struggled so much with it.

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One of my few ‘bad memories’ of school. Double Maths! 🙂

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I dreaded that lesson.

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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.

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I never fancied that film, Mary, but if you say it’s good, I will look out for it.

Glads to hear that I wasn’t the only one flummoxed by Maths! 🙂

Best wishes, Pete.

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I enjoyed it. I thought it very telling one of the women (name just slipped away) was finally acknowledged with an award just before the film was released.

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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.

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Your conclusion gets my vote, Jude! 🙂

Best wishes, Pete.

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I don’t like Algebra but I liked Math a little. It’s really funny because I majored in Economics, lots of Calculus there and Statistics.

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You did better than me, Arlene. Most of it went straight over my head. 🙂

Best wishes, Pete.

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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 🙂

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I can usually beat Julie using a calculator. Not exact all the time, but ‘close enough’. 🙂

Best wishes, Pete.

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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!

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They have a passion for fixing things that aren’t broke. Al that results in is 99%without a clue, and 1% of ‘geniuses’ that get the best jobs. 🙂

Best wishes, Pete.

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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.

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Thanks, Jennie. The ‘singing’ of those times tables should never have been done away with. 🙂

Best wishes, Pete.

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Exactly! Singing solidifies learning. Remember the Disney movie Pinocchio? Jiminy Cricket sang as he spelled “encyclopedia” and it stuck. So, sing those times tables!

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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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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! 🙂

Best wishes, Pete.

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I always wondered why on earth I needed maths in my life. To this day…that question still hasn’t been answered 😂😂

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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. 🙂

Best wishes, Pete.

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Haha…yeah I guess that is true. Still never cared for it much lol 😂😂

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As I have said before, cel phones or other hand held devices are utilized for virtually all knowledge…will be a pity to have a power outage and no one will be able to do much of anything!

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True, John. They would be lost! 🙂

Best wishes, Pete.

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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!

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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. 🙂

Best wishes, Pete. x

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Tis true. I see it in the classroom all the time. 😉

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Math. The bane of my existence!🙇🏻♀️🤦🏻♀️

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The basic stuff actually got embedded in my brain, but as for the rest… 🙂

Best wishes, Pete.

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I have Dyscalculia, otherwise known as “math dyslexia “. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was a Junior in high school after I failed Algebra twice.😔

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I wish I had known the name of that when I was 11, Kim! 🙂

Best wishes, Pete.

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I hear you Pete!🙇🏻♀️

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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!

Besties.

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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. 🙂

Best wishes, Pete.

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Pete, didn’t you also have a slide rule? 🙂

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.

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I never needed a slide rule, BF. I wouldn’t have known how to work one anyway, and didn’t get to any level where I ever even saw one. 🙂

Best wishes, Pete.

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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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‘Old Math’ was hard enough for me. Just as well I never heard of ‘New Math’. 🙂

Best wishes, Pete.

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My apologies for not writing any comments. Our internet is down and I depend on others to maintain the bare minimum in blogging. Sorry!

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No problem, Peter. I will look forward to your fully-connected return. 🙂

Best wishes, Pete.

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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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No need to hate saying it, David. Well done, if you were good at Maths. Even now, your examples start to make my brain ache just thinking about it. 🙂

Best wishes,Pete.

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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

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Our teachers had a proper ‘cane’, Theo. I got it a few times when I was young. 🙂

Best wishes, Pete.

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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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That’s the best way, John. Pay someone else to do the hard sums! 🙂

Best wishes, Pete.

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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 😀

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We can both get to grips with F-stops, FR, so that’s something. 🙂

Best wishes, Pete.

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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!!!

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You did better than me, GP!. 🙂

Best wishes, Pete.

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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…

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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! 🙂

Best wishes, Pete.

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And horses are still sold in guineas!

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Indeed they are, Mary. (And I still think in old money, and weights. 🙂 )

Best wishes, Pete.

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