Amy Tries Again

In Which I Learn Long Division
January 20, 2011, 11:04 PM
Filed under: In Which I Try Again, Things I Do Not Like

It’s been a while since I actually conducted one of the experiments that I had in mind when I started this blog. With that in mind, I thought it was about damn time to Try Again – again. But what to do? Sitting at home on a Thursday night swatting mosquitos doesn’t exactly lend itself to life-changing experiences.

It was then, with a heavy heart, that I remembered one of my earliest rants on Things I Do Not Like. Maths. Specifically, long division. My heart sank further as I recalled that my beloved, when not striding around town scaring children with his powerful, powerful jaw, has been gainfully employed as a maths tutor. He owns flashcards and stuff. It was destiny.

I am not one to fight destiny. I sat down with Ash and resumed my study of mathematics for the first time since Year 10 (I discovered that you didn’t technically have to do senior maths at my school, and took full advantage). To be honest, whilst I had to sit in maths class in Year 10, I probably hadn’t paid any attention since about Year 4, which lead to the rather shameful fact that at 27 I was incapable of long division.

As you can see, though, I am VERY good at art.

We started with some of the aforementioned flashcards. These were just basic division (short division?). These were alarmingly similar to times tables, but I could do them, albeit in my own roundabout sort of way (okay, if this number is double that number, and I know that that number goes into that one this number of times, well, I think that one is about a quarter of that – is that right? Yeah, I think it’s right – well, then if I minus that from that – hang on, no, that’s not right. I think it’s this. Is it this? This is horrible. Oh! Wait! I know this one!) – you get the general idea. Suffice it to say, I was never fond of times tables either.

(At this point, I would like to pause for a moment to reflect on the wisdom of my Year 6 teacher, Mrs Yeates. Mrs Yeates had, at some point in the past, grown very frustrated that children never seemed to know one particular part of the times tables. For this reason, she would have us chant ‘six eights are forty-eight’ after she said good morning. This happened daily. She told us that we would never, never forget this, and she was right.)

As you can see, even writing about maths sends me rambling. Clearly, I will try anything to get away from it. When the proper long division started, I did exactly that. Patiently, Ash explained the mechanics. My brain refused to accept the information. It leapt sideways. It wrote off necessary steps because PAH! I ALREADY KNEW THAT! I had the distinct feeling that mathematics was making fun of me.

It all came back. I’m not referring to the ability to do basic mathematics – that I never managed to fully acquire. I’m talking about the barrier of my own creation to the part of my brain that needed to sit quietly and follow instructions. Was the whole point of this to make me feel stupid? Quick! Distract the numbers! Tell them a joke! PROVE THAT I’M ALREADY SMART! I knew that it was a process, a simple set of rules to follow, but I felt like something within me was actively rejecting the information. I was back in class, writing in my Year 2 journal for hours and hours because I didn’t want to have to do maths afterwards. I was sitting through hours of exercises at after-school maths practise. I remembered composing stilted messages to friends on upside-down calculators instead of paying attention (and thinking how cool it would be if we could send proper messages to each other on our calculators. Yeah, I invented text messaging in 1994. You’re welcome). I even flashed back to the soroban (Japanese abacus) classes that my mother enrolled me in, thinking that it might spark an interest in maths – after all, I loved learning Japanese (it didn’t work). It was all back. I felt insulted and powerless.

Happily, I am now, at least officially, a grown woman. With heroic effort, I dragged my attention back to the hated digits. I was amazed at how often I kept wandering off. Maybe the teachers had been right back then – maybe I’d just been really, really determined NOT to learn maths. Using my super adult powers of concentration, it slowly began to seep through the layers of resistance. A glimmer of light appeared.

‘Ash, this is all just reversed times tables!’
‘Oh! Seriously, that’s it! That’s all it is!’

I still didn’t like the notion of times tables, but it did render things less mysterious. As we got to remainders and the like, I baulked again. Why did that number have to be put there? Hang on.

‘Ash, this is like when you carry a number in multiplication, isn’t it? It’s just reversed! Instead of moving it up, you move it down!’

The idea of venturing beyond remainders into decimal places terrified me. Soon enough, though, another (very definitely non-energy efficient) lightbulb sparked.

‘Ash, the dot doesn’t really mean anything, does it? The numbers just sort of keep going forever, don’t they?’
‘Oh! Give me another problem.’

As soon as it seemed like something I might be able to do, that was it. I was determined. It was a puzzle, a game I hadn’t played before. I was learning a new trick!

Long story short – we practised and practised. I did it. I did it several times. He even gave me problems and left me to my own device, and I am proud to say I got them right. I divided 40,1836 by 16, and, damn it, I got it right. Obviously, I am feeling very pleased with this evening’s efforts.

Long division = successfully Tried Again. I am making great strides towards basic numeracy.

At this point, I am wondering if I will ever encounter anything that is actually as bad as I thought. I suppose there’s only one way to find out.


5 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Next, get him to teach you about the Fibonacci set.

Comment by DNABeast

Oddly enough, the Fibonacci sequence I already know. It must have been deemed interesting enough.

Comment by Amy

Fluxions! Learn about Fluxions! I mean Calculus! Learn about Calculus

Differentiate that bitch and then integrate it til begs for mercy!


Comment by The Wah

Hey, I made it to 43 before my buddy taught me how to divide. In retrospect, it pisses me off that there are no books or any materials that take you step by step through how to solve a division problem. Apparently 99% of us are born with calculators in our heads and are born knowing this stuff, but I’m in the other 1%. In return, I taught him basic organic chem… things even out. 😛

Anyhow, that’s probably why I became such a badass English major and wrote fiction instead…

Comment by Dr. Smartass

Interestingly, text-messaging was indeed made available to the public around 1994. Coincidence? =D

Also, apologies for the necro comment but whatever.

Comment by Alex Pace

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