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Review: 101 Things Everyone Should Know About Math

A friend, who later started a home organization business, once told me that she believed everything we own should be beautiful or useful. That pretty well sums up my feelings about Math. 101 Things Everyone Should Know About Math provides a compilation of problems in the realm of "useful."

"101 Things" has questions in eight areas:

  1. Facts, Just Math Facts
  2. Health, Food and Nutrition
  3. Travel
  4. Recreation and Sports
  5. Economics
  6. Nature, Music and Art
  7. Miscellaneous
  8. Bonus Questions

Here's one problem from the "Health, Food & Nutrition" section:

A cake recipe says to put batter into two 8" round pans, but you don't have any. Of the following, which combination of pans will work best?
   A. Two 8" square pans
   B. One 9" square pan
   C. One 9" x 13" rectangular pan
   D. Three 8" x 4" rectangular pans

This is a great and realistic problem that any of us might face in the kitchen. Solving the problem requires that we understand what area means and it nicely ties in pi and the area formula for a circle. Plus, it involves the addition (or multiplication) of areas. Adults and children alike need these basic skills when working with recipes and needing to make substitutions.

Here's an "Economics" question:

Giles notices an advertisement in the newspaper for an in-store discount of 50% off Woodchuck Chuckin' Wood. This is good news for Giles, who knows precisely how much wood his woodchuck Chuck chucks, since his woodchuck can chuck wood. At the store, Giles notes that Chuck's favorite flavor of Chuckin' Wood (maple, of course) has a coupon for an additional 50% off the lowest marked price. The cashier says that 50% + 50% = 100%, so the bag is free. Is the cashier correct?

A lot of people have trouble with percent problems so this kind of problem is very practical. If 50% + 50% isn't 100% then what is it, and why?

People who like sports benefit greatly from being good with mathematical ideas:

Joe Slugger is on the Mudville Nine baseball team. With 200 times at bat, Joe has a batting average of .250. Batting average is equal to the number of hits divided by the total number of times at bat. Of his next 100 times at bat, how many hits does Joe need to bring his batting average up to .300?

I like this kind of problem because, while someone might not see the value of algebra, in the context of sports and batting averages they may very well care enough to solve the problem.

I like "101 Things." It gets us thinking about how prevalent Math is. Math really is everywhere, although it's often so subtly woven into the fabric of everyday life that those of us who are very comfortable with Math may not appreciate that many people struggle with this "everyday" Math. "101 Things" does a great job of helping kids (and parents too) to get more comfortable with the Math all around us.

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  1. This is the sort of thing that everyone needs to read. Math folks need to be reminded of the kinds of math that are really useful, while non-math folks need to see how math can solve real problems.

    I’d especially like to see every teacher read this. Students should see real-life problems that math can help them solve.

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