Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Math Skills Needed

I was in high potential everything when I was a kid, including math. Note to parents: just because a child excels in one area, doesn't mean they're smart across the board. I'm not blaming my parents - I think back then it was kind of a novelty, so they hadn't worked out the kinks.

My math program meant I took the post test at the end of a chapter before actually studying the chapter. If I did well, I skipped the chapter. I distinctly remember staring at a question about mean, median, and mode without a clue. It was multiple choice, so I guessed and passed. To this day, I don't know the difference between those three. I could point to this moment in my history as the defining moment on which my consequent lack of math confidence hangs, but that would be a bit dramatic don't you think?

Regardless, I'm not good at math. I often felt like it was purposeless. How was I going to use this in the real world? I decided to pursue liberal arts, where we like to sit around and talk and dream, and avoid numbers.

But lately I've been reminded that math skills are actually necessary. It comes to mind when, within the span of a month, I was required to convert Singaporean dollars to Ringgit (Malaysia - RYR 3.8 to US$1), then to Thai baht (40 baht to US$1) a few weeks later at a different exchange rate, and back to Sing dollars (US$1 to $1.65 Sing or thereabouts). It came to mind this morning when I watched my fruit vendor calculate the cost for my fruit at a dizzying pace. I had 3 plums which are $6 Sing/kilo, but I had only 460 grams, plus grapes at $8 Sing/kilo of which I had 900 grams. Everything else was set price, like 40c per apple, $1 Sing for a pineapple. This happened in China too, but everything had a different price - better prices too, like apples at 2.5 kuai/kilo (35c). Ah, the cheap old days.

Imagine weighing everything at different costs and different weights, and I picture the minds of these vendors as finely tuned machines. Either that or they're just guessing and ripping me off. My fruit man added up my $14 worth of fruit in about 15 seconds. I have learned a valuable lesson. I should restrict my travel to places with a 2 to 1 exchange rate, and avoid produce vending as a profession. And I should brush up on mean, median, and mode.


Anonymous said...

Mean is the average. Median is the middle number in a list of numbers when you list them in order from least to greatest and cross off one number at the front of the list and one number from the end of the list and keep crossing off from each end until you get to the number that is located in the middle. If you happen to have an even number of numbers in your list, I believe you use the average of your remaining two numbers to come up with the median. Mode is the number that occurs most often in your list of numbers. It is possible to have a tie and have two modes. To remember median is the middle number, I think of clothes sizes. MEDian is generally the MIDDLE size.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry Gina, but I am responsible for your math gene. You actually tested very high in math. I think it is a case of lack of confidence rather than lack of competency. You are good with things that are important to you and involve math. I am great at percentage and fractions (shopping and recipe reduction). The second one would obviously not happen very often as cooking doesn't happen very frequently.

Gina Marie said...

I don't think it's a lack of confidence mom so much as it is a complete lack of interest.

Having to convert Sing dollars to US has helped me with percentages. So has sales. They do sales different here - they usually advertise the percentage you have to pay, rather than the percentage off.