Monday, November 28, 2016

What Is The Big Deal With This Math Problem?

For at least a year now, I've seen this math problem being floated about the various new websites. And I don't understand why it is such a big deal.

The problem involves a simple math problem that many students first learned in an intro algebra class:

Now, any child learning something like this would have to also learn about the SEQUENCE of operations that one has to perform to do this correctly. If you simply start to enter this into your calculator in order that it is written, you'll get the wrong answer.

And of course, you have to know that dividing by 1/3 is equivalent to multiplying by 3.

There are many mnemonic guides that one can use to know which one to perform first. In this case, you first perform the division, thus simplifying the equation into:

9 - 9 + 1 = ?

which will obviously leave you with the answer of 1.

This problem is getting rather a lot of publicity because it claims that a lot of people didn't get the right answer for something that seemingly looks very simple. My response to that is: Yeah, so?

When one learns this rule in school, one is given many similar problems of this type. This is not an unusual problem, and certainly something a lot of people will get wrong if they don't remember what the rule is. This is not surprising.

But why is it getting this much publicity?



Nicholas Hyatt-Steel said...

I suspect it is being used to comment upon the dismal standard of the teaching of basic arithmetic in the western world. I am a qualified industrial chemist and was never taught the sequence despite my UK grammar school and university education in the 1960s and 70s.

Hamish Johnston said...

BODMAS -- we were taught that in Canada in the 1970s and it stuck.