New Math

Struggling with Math

“Takoda and Wesley are collecting shells on the beach in identical pails. Takoda estimates she has filled 7/12 of her pail. Wesley estimates he has filled 4/10 of his pail. Suppose the children combine their shells. Will one pail be full? Explain.” — from Math Makes Sense 7 published by Pearson Education.

Before we tackle this maths problem, let me just talk for a moment about the gross misstatement apparent in the title of this textbook. Maths does NOT make sense. If maths made sense, we wouldn’t need great huge textbooks full of obscure and insensible phrases like “write an algebraic expression for the number of pieces of garbage picked up by students”. First, it’s completely insensitive to refer to a group of students as “n”s. That’s discrimination. And we all know that discrimination is evil. We learned that from the presentation we had from the people in pink shirts. Or maybe it was purple shirts. Anyway, someone wearing a shirt told us that stuff is, like, bad. And whatever.

Second, what kind of name is Takoda? It’s like a weird spoonerism for “Dakota”, which itself is an odd name. I mean, that’s a dialect. And a tribe, I think. But I could be wrong about that, because I was sick the day we learned about First Nations. It’s just weird to be named after a whole language. It’s like having someone called “Welsh” or “Italian” or “Drawl” in your class. So I don’t believe for a minute that “Takoda” is a real person.

Likewise, Wesley is a character in a science fiction programme. I doubt that two fake people would be hanging out on a beach collecting shells. I mean, maybe in fiction, but this is supposed to be basic maths, and not Advanced Applied Theoretical Mathematics for Use in Propulsion and Predictive Statistical Research. That’s a four-hundred-level class, I think. Anyway, the question itself doesn’t even make sense.

Third, what kind of child runs up the beach and hollers, “Look, Ma! I’ve collected seven-twelfths of a pail of shells!”

Fourth, how do we know the pails are IDENTICAL? Was there an accurate measurement made before the commencement of the exercise? You can’t just go claiming your variables are standardized if you haven’t applied rigorous testing. That’s not how science works. I know that because I have read books about people who claim to know scientists. And the people in those books say that their scientist friends MAKE SURE that the conditions under which they collect data are the same each time. Or else their research does not stand up to rigorous challenge, and cannot be replicated.

Fifth, how could a child tell the difference between 4/10 and 5/10? Are there measurements indicated on the sides of the pail? And if so, are Takoda’s measurements in increments of twelfths and Wesley’s in increments of tenths? And if so, their pails are NOT IDENTICAL. And if not, how does Wesley know he has 4/10 and not half a pail? Takoda and Wesley might not actually be children. And if that’s the case, the basic statements of fact are incorrect. And therefore, any conclusions drawn from the experiment will be fallacies.

Sixth, what kind of child would willingly give up nearly half a pail (or just over half a pail) of shells to their buddy? A weird child, that’s who. Not that there’s anything wrong with being weird.

Explanation complete.

And this is why I failed grade nine maths.

cenobyte is a writer, editor, blogger, and super genius from Saskatchewan, Canada.


  1. I would TOTALLY measure and see if I had 4/10 of a pail of shells. And if we could have a full pail if we combined efforts, I would totally give up my shells for the greater good.

  2. Sorry. I headed straight for my pencil and paper before I got through the first paragraph, and figured out that you will have 59/60ths of a pail full, and so, no, you won’t have a full pail. Closer than somewhere around 2%, but no cigar.

    Then I read the rest of the post.

    My fault for having math brain.

    I love math: it’s the only place you can actually get an answer.

    I’m weird. I also write fiction.

i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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