Monday, July 8, 2013

Unintentional Math Encounters of the Non-Mathy

If you are a math teacher, this has probably happened to you . . . Someone you know has come across a problem involving math and they ask you for the solution because, hey, a math teacher must know how to figure it out.

First, a little background story:

I grew up on a farm in Kansas. (So that's what me and Superman have in common.)

Over the years, my Dad's specialty has been modifying the equipment he uses to make it more efficient, user-friendly, and/or comfortable for the farmer. Several manufacturers have visited our family farm and utilized his ideas in their designs. I am proud of him, if you can tell.

On the fourth of July, after grilled hamburgers and before the small town fireworks show, my 73-year-old Dad pulled out a yellow notepad and sketched this:


He has been working on a piece of planting equipment, and he needed to know the length of x in order to form interior angles of 11 degrees and 6 degrees. It is a pretty simple right triangle trig calculation, but he didn't remember how to do it. I figured it out for him and we discussed the feasibility of my answer (x was smaller than he expected).

Since then I have been holding onto this sketch. It has me thinking about other times that I have been asked these types of questions . . . A former student building a garage with his Dad, another farmer calculating a complex feed ratio for her cow herd, and others.

It seems like these should be some of the best problems to put in front of our students because they are from non-mathematicians, unintentionally encountering math as a part of daily life. This, for lack of a better phrase, is "real life math".

I'll put this sketch in a folder and start collecting other questions as non-mathy people corner me for answers. But I am afraid my collection is not going to grow very quickly. And even if it did, the scenarios from the rural community in which I live are limited. I am always looking for ways to expand my students' perspectives.

I'd love to have help here. What math have your non-mathy friends asked you to solve?

12 comments:

  1. I love this! And I have to admit that I get nervous when someone asks for help with a problem... I'm always afraid I'll get it wrong. :)

    A friend of mine asked me this spewing to help him figure out the correct setting on his treadmill to help him prepare for a big hill in an upcoming race. It, too, was some right-triangle trig, and I was so excited about figuring out the answer that I presented it to my Precalc classes the next day. I'm happy to say that we all ended up at the same answer.

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    1. I remember that post. Good problem!

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  2. Lol. It was this spring, not this spewing. I'm horrible at typing on my ipad!

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    1. Ha Ha. I have the same problem. :)

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  3. A former student once called and asked me for "that formula for right triangles". She was laying out the lines for a patio, and wanted right angles. I suggested checking whether the diagonals were equal instead.

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    1. The worst is when a former student asks something basic that they should have learned in your class. And instead of answering their question, you want to beat your head on the desk. Maybe that only happens to me.

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  4. I love this story, Amy!

    The most recent story happened 2 Saturdays ago when Nathan Kraft and I were sitting at a fountain park in Philadelphia. Nathan wrote about it here: http://nathankraft.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-oasis-of-troy.html

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    1. I read that one. Adorable story! Thanks for the reminder.

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  5. Thank you for the cool ideas, Amy!!

    I, too, have had people come to me with math questions. Other than the usual brain-teasers, there have been: What is the length of the diagonal for a quilt block; What is the volume of a silo(from an accountant calculating inventory); How much water needs to be added to a bottle of wine to reduce the alcohol content to a certain percent; how much gravel needs to be ordered for a driveway; etc.

    I wish I was more organized and thought to put these ideas into a folder like you are doing. :)

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    1. Thanks for the suggestions. I especially like the wine one . . . I wonder if I could pull that off without getting any parent phone calls?

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  6. btw...I like the name of your blog. :) Check out mine at http://cdelvecchio.blogspot.com/2013/06/at-starting-line.html

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  7. Sounds interesting! As a teacher, I often find these problems amusing. Last time I saw an intriguing problem: an attempt to prove that 1 = 2. Haha. Also, the picture of the looseleaves reminded me of an ed tech tool that I've been using. It's called ClassroomIQ (https://classroom-iq.com) --- very helpful in grading homework, tests, and assignments. I found it be to really useful and convenient. Do you use any tech products for your class? Can you recommend some? Enjoy your summer.

    Thanks again for this great post.

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