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Math is all the rage this week

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Back when child the elder was in Grade 4 and I was trying to help him with his homework, I went to the parent night with the Winnipeg School Division math consultant at Robert H. so I could find out what on earth a Venn diagram is.

I’m not one of those people who puts myself down in math. I didn’t take it in university beyond one statistics course, but I did quite well in algebra and geometry in high school, and I’m comfortable dealing with numbers, fractions, and percentages.

But I didn’t have a clue what a Venn diagram was, so off I went to the school to learn.

This has been math week in education news coverage, Manitoba kids having done poorly overall in math in the 2010 national tests conducted by the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada.

You can read all kinds of stuff in the dead trees edition tomorrow about how parents can find out how their kids are doing in math, and what parents can do to help their kids.

I often found when helping our kids with math homework that I didn’t recognize what they were learning, and that was true long before they took precal in senior high.

I recall helping child the younger with problem-solving, and I came up with the answer, but not the way she did. Fair enough.

We learned far too much by rote when I was in school, and not just in math. But even though our kids are smarter than I am, I can do things with multiplication and division and figuring percentages and such on paper and in my head faster than they can.

As always, I have a story, and mirabile dictu — yes, Mrs. Glynn, I remember my Latin I learned by rote — it involves refereeing youth soccer.

Kids often ask in outdoor soccer how much time is left in the half. In soccer, unlike other sports, the referee decides how long a half lasts, taking into account injuries and substitutions and discipline. So I never tell kids how much is left, I tell them how much we’ve played.

And then come the predictable howls of, "What do you mean 32 minutes played?!?! How much time is left?"

And sometimes, with kids aged 15 or so, I tell them, "40 minus 32, guys — come on guys, how much is that? I learned to do that in my head in the 1950s. What are you going to do when the last calculator dies?"

Math reading galore tomorrow in the paper — I hope you can sleep tonight, despite your eager anticipation.

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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