Math on the Brain

On this morning’s run to Priest Point Park, I was thinking of Ms. Z’s Marysville Middle School mathematicians. More specifically, I came up with a real world word problem for them. Maybe a “do not proceed to high school” until passing problem of sorts.

In Olympia, Washington there’s a beautiful little waterfront community called Boston Harbor. Visit it sometime. Rent a kayak, eat an ice cream bar at the marina, meditate on the Puget Sound. BH is 7 miles from downtown Oly. Traveling from BH to town on BH Rd. the first 5 miles are 40mph and the last two are 30mph. However, it just so happens that Thurston County doesn’t patrol North Olympia’s rural roads. Therefore, half the residents, the Rule Followers, do 40 and 30, but for the other half of Deplorables, like myself, the only deterrent is occasional deer on the road (for the record, I do 45 and 35).

On Monday’s run, a van passed me doing approximately 70mph, today a white Volvo wagon doing 65mph (yes, I am a speed estimating savant). Which got me thinking. How much time does a BH driver save on their way to town if they drive 60mph for the 5 miles designated 40mph, and then stuck behind a Rule Follower, 30mph for the last 2 miles?

I’ll wait.

Here’s my peabrain calculation. Sorry in advance to Ms. Z. for my unconventional approach. First, we need to calculate the Law Obiders travel time. As a cyclist that tends to ride around 18-20mph, I know that at 20mph, it takes 3 minutes to travel 1 mile. Therefore, if we double the speed, we can halve the time, so 40mph = 1:30/mile. So multiply 1:30/mile x 5 = 7:30. At 30mph it obviously takes 2 minutes to travel 1 mile, so 4 more minutes, so BH to downtown Oly in 11 minutes, 30 seconds.


Now what about The No Regarders for the Law? 60mph is 1 minute/mile, so 5 minutes. Then our 4 minutes to cover the 2 mile stretch for a grand total of 9 minutes.

Here’s the tricky part, keep your columns straight people! 11:30 – 9:00 equals a grand total savings of 2 minutes and 30 seconds.

Now a message for my BH friends. If you’re so efficient with your time that you never waste two and a half minutes once you get to your destination, go ahead and speed away, just don’t look for any sympathy when your car is totaled by Bambi. Or leave for work 2-3 minutes earlier?

All good math lessons have extensions, so here’s mine for Ms. Z. Based on available government statistics, calculate the increased likelihood of an accident as a result of increasing one’s speed by 20mph. Then take that increased likelihood and calculate the approximate negative effect on the speeding driver’s life expectancy. I’m guessing it’s greater than 2 or 3 minutes.

Class dismissed.


Continuous Learning

In the United States, students attend school six hours a day, 180 days a year. At most schools many of those 1,080 hours are lost to assemblies, frazzled teachers trying to get students’ attention, and myriad other miscellaneous distractions. Some researchers suggest that at some schools as much as half of that time is lost.

Conventional thinking about student learning, that it takes place almost entirely in schools, is terribly limited because students spend the vast majority of their time outside of school. How can we promote informal, natural, day-to-day learning over the other 185 days?

Here are some suggestions:

1) Spend time together outside. And pose questions about the natural world. About plants, animals, insects, the weather, the natural world more generally. Watch Animal Planet. Plant a garden. Ride bikes. Continually ask questions that defy simple yes or no answers. Why do teens swear so much? What purpose does it serve? Why do people litter? What’s the best way to prevent people from littering? Why?

2) Go to the closest public library and check out whatever books strike your fancy. And then read. Tell others about the books you most enjoy. Right now I’m digging The Little Way of Ruthie Leming by Rod Dreher. And I’m excited about what’s next in the queue, Nate in Venice by Richard Russo. My students often tell me they like to read, but not what’s assigned in school. Remind young people that the summer is a golden opportunity to decide for themselves what to read.

3) Encourage young people to write about what they’re doing or reading in a diary or in letters to extended family members. Or to write poems, stories, whatever’s most fun.

4) Plan a camping trip and thereby combine one and two—unplug and read in a natural setting.

5) Work some of what’s going on in the world into dinner conversations. Talk about Nelson Mandela’s fragile health, why young adults are cycling more and driving less, and the pros and cons of the evolving immigration bill.

6) Pose word problems in the car. The total distance of our trip is x, we’ve gone y, how much further do we have to go. If gas is $3.70 and we get 40 mpg, how much is this trip costing in gas? What if maintenance adds 10% more, then what’s the total? If I make $18/hour, how much time will it take me to pay for this car trip? Of course, adjust for age. The kitchen is a primo place for informal math learning too. Teach fractions while baking. Ask a young helper to write down what the recipe would look like if it was doubled. Or halved.

What other ideas do you have for promoting continuous learning that is a natural part of day-to-day life?

Of course the other option is to continue delegating teaching and learning to credentialed teachers. In which case you can just count down the days to the start of school in September.