Photo courtesy of luca pedrotti

As I announced earlier this week, I’m retiring Film Friday.  While I had a lot of fun looking for videos to share with you, the posts didn’t get a lot of traffic.  Remembering that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results, I’ve decided to get off this merry-go-round.

That doesn’t mean I’ll never include videos again.  In fact, I’d like to do video posts where I’m actually on screen to teach you a few things.  But for now, I’m taking a different route.  (Get the details here.)

So for today, we bid adieu to Film Friday here at Math for Grownups.  And as a parting gift, I share my favorite videos with you!

This video is so gorgeous.  I could watch it over and over again. (And I have.)

Ursus Wehrli is both infuriatingly precise and hilarious.

Do you remember the difference between the deficit and the debt ceiling?

Jennifer Cassara

Merchandise at your favorite store doesn’t magically appear on the store shelves.  In fact, there’s a lot of planning that goes into the number and types of candy bars that fill checkout-line racks. And that’s where Jennifer Cassara comes in.  As a retail buyer, she helps stores decide which (and how many) products are sold in stores.  And — surprise! — there’s math involved.

Can you explain what you do for a living?

I have a very cool job. I am a retail buyer. This means that I select and purchase merchandise that will be sold in the stores that I work for. I get to travel to trade shows, review catalogs and meet with manufacturers to look at different products in order to decide what to order. I have bought almost every different type of product — clothing, gifts and even candy! In fact, I strongly suggest going to the candy trade show; it’s delicious! And while this sounds like a lot of fun, the decisions I make have a strong impact on the success of my company. In order to make the correct selections, I need to base my decisions on multiple factors including price, function, visual appeal, gross margin/profitability and the sales history of similar products (not just because I like it). I rely a lot on math to help me with this analysis.

When do you use basic math in your job?

I use basic math all of the time. I use addition, subtraction, multiplication and division daily to understand how products and product classifications are selling. Right now, owls and cupcakes are two hot trends. Every week I look at how many owl and cupcake products have sold and I calculate which of these products are selling the best. Once I have identified the best products, I need to decide if I have enough to achieve my sales plan or if I need to order more. I do this by looking at the average number of units we are selling in a week and I project out how many I will need for a specific amount of time. For example, if I want to keep this product for 8 weeks and I am selling 100 a week, I know that I need a total of 800 units. If I only have 200 units in inventory then I know that I need to order 600 more. If I order too little, I don’t make my sales plan and if I order too many, I may need to mark them down.

Do you use any technology to help with this math?

Although I use basic math, many of the calculations are too difficult to do in my head so I depend a lot on calculators and computers to help me. I never go anywhere without my calculator. Seriously. One of the calculations I am always running is markup percentage. The markup of an item is the percentage of sales of that item that is profit. The higher the markup percentage, the greater the profit. When I am at a trade show and I am negotiating a price, I need to be able to calculate what the markup of the item will be – quickly. This is why I always carry my calculator. If the markup is not high enough, I need to negotiate for a better price, and I need to know what the ideal price is on the spot.

Jennifer with the “Peep Mobile”

How do you think math helps you do your job better?

It would be impossible to do my job without math. When I first started in the Lord & Taylorretail training program, the first class they gave us was in retail math. They showed us how to apply simple math equations to sales data in order to make sense of it. Today, I use retail math to look at sell-through to see which styles are selling the most rapidly. I also compare the percentage of a product we have on hand to the percentage of sales it produces to understand which products have the greatest impact on sales. I try to find commonalities across my best-selling styles to help identify trends. Once I know that something is trending, I can buy into with confidence. Math enables me to make better buying decisions because I am able to analyze sales more effectively. The better I am at understanding what is selling and why, the better I am at selecting what styles will sell best in the future.

How comfortable with math do you feel?

I am actually very comfortable with math. In school I was definitely what you would call a “math geek,” but there are many buyers who never had any confidence with math at all. Since the calculations we use are relatively simple and we repeat them often, buyers quickly learn to master them and rely on them to make sense of their inventory. It’s always exciting to review selling each week and to see what the best-selling styles are. We are always looking for the next new thing. I remember when Smencils (scented pencils) first hit the stores. I could tell in the first week of sales that this was going to be a trend. Boy did we sell a lot of scented pencils!

Does this math feel different to you?

Even though I am usually confident with my math skills, there is definitely a greater comfort in the math I use everyday. It is much easier for me than a lot of the more complicated equations we used to do in school — thankfully! This is because I understand each component of the equations I am performing. I know how to best use them to get the answers I am looking for. For me, it’s no longer just about memorizing a calculation.

What kind of math did you take in high school?

I took trigonometry, computer science and AP calculus in high school. Like I said, I’m kind of a math geek. It didn’t all come easy to me, though, and some classes were more enjoyable than others. For some reason, I really liked calculus. I had a great teacher and I loved the challenge of solving a difficult equation. It really felt like I had accomplished something when I got the right answer. This is similar to the accomplishment I feel today when I buy a great seller or discover a hot trend. It’s the most exciting part of my job.

Did you have to learn new skills in order to do this math?

The retail math itself was easy to pick up from the skills I had learned in school, but what I really needed to learn was how to apply the right equations to best analyze the information I was looking at. Sometimes it’s really hard to understand what the numbers are telling you. Do I look at sell-through, sales as a percent to total, gross margin or the variance to last year? Maybe it’s all of the above. It’s my job to find the best way to make sense of the numbers.

Anything else you want to mention?

A couple of years ago, my company converted to a new retail software system. For the buyers, it was like starting over. We didn’t have the same old reports to rely on and noone was able to navigate through the new system to create the reports we needed. This is when the computer science skills I had learned in school came in handy. I dug in and spent many hours of trial and error to try to create the new reports that the buyers needed. My hard work paid off. Today, every report that the buyers use was created by me. I feel a tremendous sense of satisfaction knowing that I was able to use my math skills to help move my company forward. They allowed me to turn a difficult situation into a rewarding experience.

Thanks so much to Jennifer for giving us a peek into the mysterious world of retail buying.  If you have questions for Jennifer, be sure to ask them in the comments section!

Dr. Josh Sharfstein

Ooooh!  We have a big-wig here at Math for Grownups today!  Dr. Joshua Sharfstein is a pediatrician and the Secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.  Before taking this position, he served as the Principal Deputy Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). And before that, he was the Commissioner of Health in Baltimore.

I met Dr. Sharfstein when he was Health Commissioner of Baltimore.  He and I talked about having an epidemiologist on staff to help track (and therefore prevent the spread) of infections and diseases in the city.  I remember being fascinated by the statistics involved in his job.  Read on for more details.

Can you explain what you do for a living?

I run the health department in Maryland.  Our goal is to improve the health of Marylanders through health insurance for low-income individuals and families, services, community support, and education.

When do you use basic math in your job?

I often use math to understand the health of Maryland.  We are now tracking 39 specific measures of health, such as the rate of smoking and the number of children who are poisoned by lead paint. You can see these measures at the Maryland Department of Health website.  In addition to using math to understand each of these numbers, I often use statistics to see if Maryland is moving in the right direction, the wrong direction, or just staying the same.  I also use statistics to identify specific groups of people who are facing the greatest health challenges in our state.

Math is also involved in setting budgets.  Our Department’s budget is about $9 billion each year. That’s a lot of money to be responsible for.  I need math to identify the areas where costs are growing beyond what we anticipated.

How do you think math helps you do your job better?

Math is essential to my job. If I did not feel comfortable with math, I could not be responsible for the funding of our Department or the health of the people in Maryland.

How comfortable with math do you feel?

I have always loved math. It was my favorite subject in school.  I like surprising people at work by showing them my own calculations.  My children are now taking math, and I really enjoy learning along with them and teaching them math tricks from my days as a student.

What kind of math did you take in high school?

I took calculus and advanced calculus in high school.  I took a special math class at the University of Maryland in College Park when I was in high school.

Did you have to learn new skills in order to do this math?

In college and afterwards, I took classes in statistics.  I use math from high school and statistics from college and beyond to do my job.

Do you have questions about Dr. Sharfstein’s job?  If so, post them in the comments section.

And while you’re at it, if you have special requests for Math at Work Monday features, drop me a line at llaing-at-comcast-dot-net.  Also feel free to send the names and contact info for those who might be willing to be interviewed!

When I was a teenager in the 1980s, I wanted a pair of tan Dr. Scholl’s sandals so badly I could taste it.  Each time my mother took us to the Eckerd drug store, I made sure to stroll down that aisle to check them out.

“Those are the dumbest shoes I’ve ever seen in my life,” Mom said, and she flat out refused to buy them for me.

Today, I’d have to agree.  With hard, wooden soles and an adjustable strap that featured a gold buckle and grommets, these were not what Tim Gunn would consider classic fashion pieces.

But I wanted those shoes dearly.

They cost $14.95—pricy for a kid with no job and a $1 a week allowance.  My mom suggested I save up my own money for them.  But savings from my February birthday was long gone, and by the time I saved enough allowance, summer would be over.  These shoes were definitely not fall footwear.

So, my mother came up with another idea: to ask my father for a loan. And that’s exactly what I did.

Both of my parents were educators—my mother an elementary school librarian and my father a division chair and sometimes-teacher at the local community college.  It’s fair to say that the man never missed an opportunity to give me a lesson about money management.  And these lessons also often included a little bit of math.

The Dr. Scholl’s loan was no different.

Instead of giving me the money outright and keeping my allowance for the next 15 weeks, I got a simple-interest loan that was to be paid within a certain time period.  I don’t remember how long the term or what the interest rate was. But I did continue to receive my weekly allowance and paid a portion of that amount each week for the loan.  Dad even helped me calculate how much more I’d be paying for the sandals with the interest.

As a kid who only wanted her hands on a pair of fad sandals, I thought this was overly complex.  But my desire for those shoes was great, and this was the only way I’d get them.  So I agreed.  I signed the contract he wrote out by hand and paid off that loan, plus the interest, bit by bit.

Today, as the parent of an 11-year-old daughter, I’m amazed by my father’s foresight.  It really is a brilliant little trick, and one that has served me very, very well.

Six years later, my dad took me down to the Bank of Speedwell to get a loan for my first car—a 1984 Toyota Camry that I bought from my aunt for $2,000.   This time he explained compound interest, just before he cosigned for the loan.

And that lesson didn’t stop with me.  Two years later, my sister gave me the most amazing gift when I graduated from college—an upright piano that she purchased from a neighbor.  She paid Bud and Ginia Cabell $20 a month for I don’t know how long.  (And now my daughter plays Mozart waltzes on that very instrument.)

Dad with my niece Addison in 2006

The thing that I know about my dad is that he wasn’t afraid to delve into the tough stuff with us—including managing our money.  That often required a few calculations, and I often resisted his lessons.

When it came to these little real-world lessons, I’m sure I was a royal pain in the you-know-where, but in the end, those experiences were much more meaningful than anything I learned in school—and they were less expensive than anything I could learn on my own.

My daughter hasn’t asked for her version of ugly, wooden sandals, but I’m waiting for that moment.  And when she does, I’ll be ready with a contract and a little lesson in simple interest and regular payments.

Did you get any surprise lessons like this one when you were little?  Or do you have plans to do something similar with your own kids — or grandkids, nieces, nephews, neighborhood kids?  Share your stories in the comments sections below.

Julie Norin

For many of us, math is like hearing — something we take for granted on a daily basis.  As an audiologist, Julie Norin pays close attention to both on a day-to-day basis.  Here’s how she uses math in her work and what she thinks of it. 

What do you do for your living?

I work as a clinical audiologist which means I help people who have hearing loss and other related ear problems. Essentially, I measure a patient’s ability to hear and distinguish between sounds. After analyzing the test results along with other medical data, I make a diagnosis and determine a course of treatment. Most often, the course of treatment involves fitting a patient with hearing aids, which I then program according to their hearing needs, but I may also refer my patients for continued medical care by their primary care physician, an ear, nose, and throat physician, a cochlear implant specialist, or a neurologist. I also spend a great deal of time counseling my patients and the family members of my patients regarding the diagnosis of hearing loss and treatment plan.

When do you use basic math in your job?

I use basic math daily. When testing a patient, I use simple addition and subtraction to determine differences between the ears, as well as to determine the presentation levels of the various test signals. When testing a patient’s speech discrimination abilities, I use division and calculate percentages, and with other tests I rely on a formula of ratios and statistics to determine whether results are normal or not. I also make buying decisions for the clinic where I work.  I use math to calculate clinic expense and net revenue. Our clinic provides a sliding-scale reduced fee, which is based on a person’s financial standing. This can vary between a 20% and 80% discount, so I am always applying basic math to calculate those patients’ fees.

Do you use any technology to help with this math?

My diagnostic equipment is computerized and has some technology built in, so the math can be calculated during speech discrimination testing, as long as I am tracking patient responses using the computer. But every so often, I wind up doing the caluclations myself. Hearing aids are typically programmed using a designated fitting formula, which is calculated based on age, size of the ear canal and degree of hearing loss. In terms of factoring clinic expenses and net revenue, I will pretty much always rely on a calculator if there is one close by. I like to be absolutely sure about the numbers. Especially since I work for a non-profit agency.

How do you think math helps you do your job better?

I wouldn’t be able to do my job if I didn’t have an understanding of math, especially when I’m testing, because the equipment is not able to determine differences between the ears or calculate presentation levels. It also helps me to understand test results, and determine what instruments are suitable to accomodate a patient’s needs.

How comfortable with math do you feel?

I have never really felt comfortable with math. I still don’t. Hearing science and the study of acoustics are both incredibly math based, so during my studies I had to learn how to do complicated algebra and logarithic equations, which I had never understood. I was fortunate to have the most amazing professor when I went back to earn my second bachelor’s before pursing my doctorate in audiology. I could not have made it through without her.

What kind of math did you take in high school?

I actually made it all the way to 7th grade before my teacher at the time recognized that I did not know how to do long division or fractions. I could usually solve the equations, but I had my own bizarre way of doing it. By the end of that year, I was able to do the math correctly, but I never considered myself a strong math student. I remember taking algebra, geometry, and trigonometry in high school, but I know I never really learned or understood any of it. I’m not sure how I managed to pass any of those classes. I remember taking a basic math class my first semester of college and being so glad that would be the last math class I would ever have to take. Little did I know I would go back to school years later and wind up doing more math than ever.

I still have a recurring nightmare about that college math class I took as a freshman. It’s the end of the semester, time for the final exam, and either I never went to the class or I did, but never learned anything, and now I have to take the exam!

Did you have to learn new skills in order to do the math you do at work?

I don’t think I had to learn new skills for the math I use day to day, but I definitely had to learn new skills in order to get through my grad school programs. I feel much more confident about my skills now than I did back in high school. Especially when it comes to algebra. I actually enjoy it, now that I know how to do it.

Thanks so much to Julie for visitin Math for Grownups today.  If you have questions for her, ask them in the comments section

Photo courtesy of .raindrops

It’s the No. 1 question asked of math teachers: “When will I ever use this stuff?”

And in terms of upper-level math — conic sections, radicals, differentiation and the quadratic formula — the answer may very well be, “Not much.”  (Unless you’re in one of those jobs with top-paying degrees.)

As I hope you know by now, basic math is ubiquitous.  We encounter percents, fractions, formulas, the order of operations (Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally) and geometry pretty regularly.  But algebra?  When was the last time you solved for x?

Algebra describes the relationships between values, and how those values change when we introduce variables.  In short, algebra is based on equations or expressions:




(Are your hands sweating or have your eyes glazed over? Hang in there.  I promise this won’t be overwhelming.)

In its simplest form, algebra can be described as the process of solving for a variable.  And you probably did that with random equations for a good portion of your high school math education.


Except for word problems, none of the equations had much to do with real life, which is one way that we math educators have sucked all of the life out of math.

But I’m guessing that at least some of you use algebra pretty darned regularly–without even knowing it.  Let me show you how.

As a freelance writer, I’m responsible for maintaining my business records, which for me include expected and actual income, invoices and goals.  I could purchase accounting software for this or hire someone to do the work for me, but to be honest, my business is pretty small.  I have a lot of experience with spreadsheets, and so six years ago, I built one that I still use to track all of my business finances and goals.

Why does this work?  Formulas.  One formula gives me the total of all of my invoices for each month and and another spits out the percent those are of my monthly goal.  I have created formulas that give the percent of my income that is generated from each of my revenue streams.  And because of formulas, I can instantly see how much income has been invoiced but not received.

But maybe this isn’t such a great example.  Most small businesses or self-employed folks use ready-made accounting programs for these tasks.

Meet my good friend, Rebecca.  Like many of us in my neighborhood, Rebecca’s family gets milk delivered once a week by a local dairy.  (I know!  Cool, right?)  But unlike me, she shares her delivery with her next-door neighbor.  And that requires a little bit of math.  Here’s how she explains it:

As you know there are bottle deposits, bottle charges, delivery charges and of course milk (or other product) charges. The charges go to only one credit card. Keeping track of these is a challenge if you don’t want to have to write a check to your neighbor every week – and who wants that? So we have worked out a “kitty” (nice, eh, milk – kitty. ha ha) system where we pay a lump sum to the person whose credit card is being charged. But then we have to know when the kitty is running out.

In other words, each of the families contributes to the kitty, and those funds are used to pay the milk bill on one family’s credit card account.  Rebecca uses a spreadsheet to keep up with how much money is in the kitty at any given time.  When the kitty runs low, she knows to ask her neighbor for a contribution.

Rebecca’s milk delivery spreadsheet

Why doesn’t Rebecca ask for the same monthly payment in the kitty?  Well, this is where the algebra comes in.  Not only can we order milk, but also yogurt, meats, eggs and cheese. That means the weekly orders vary.  And — here’s where you can use that English degree — when elements vary, they’re called variables.

Ta-da!  Algebra in real life.  (Gosh, I’m so proud!)

These spreadsheet formulas are so useful that algebra teachers are using them to demonstrate how algebra is indeed useful in everyday situations.

So, when was the last time you used a spreadsheet?  Did you create a formula?  Did you know you were using algebra?  Tell us about it in the comments section.

Photo courtesy of Ollie Crayfoord

On Friday, I was guest poster at The Cheerful Caregiver, a great blog for folks who are serving as caregivers for ill family members and friends.  

Every caregiving situation is unique, filled with distinctive obstacles and one-of-a-kind blessings. But one thing is for sure: No matter how simple your situation, caregiving is stressful, emotional and sometimes overwhelming.

Trouble is it’s often in the middle of those difficult emotions that you have to make the toughest decisions. And that’s also when the strain of caregiving starts to affect the rest of your life—making it doubly difficult to take care of yourself.

Believe it or not, math can be your best friend here. Yes, I said math.

Because, while math is not always black-and-white, it can help you tap into the practical, logical side of your brain that you need to make solid decision—and lower your stress.

Trust me: you only need the simple stuff, and you only need to do what works for you. Here are some examples.

Read the rest of the post at The Cheerful Caregiver.  (She’s giving away a copy of my book, too!)

So let’s get one thing straight right away: men are not inherently better at math than women. And as our mothers and grandmothers and daughters have shown, women are not inherently bad at managing their finances.

But there are some ways that men and women experience and perhaps think about math differently. And those differences may affect how they approach financial decisions.

Read the rest of my guest post on Susan Weiner’s Investment Blog.  And comment!

Would you like me to guest post at your blog?  Or do you know of a blog that I would fit right in with? I’ve got lots of ideas to share with anyone who will listen! And I promise I’m a good guest.  I wipe out the sink after I brush my teeth and don’t mind if the cat sleeps on my pillow.  Get the details here.

Ursula Marcum

Ursula Marcum practices an amazing artform called kilnformed glass, which she can explain better than I.  Her pieces are layered and rich, unlike any other glass I’ve ever seen.  Like most artists, Ursula does quite of bit of basic math in her work, and she shares the details here.

What do you do for your living?

I’m an artist who works in kilnformed glass. Rather than blowing glass, which people may be familiar with, I cut up and compose individual pieces of glass, then I fire it all in a specialized kiln to get the result I’m after. Each piece may take several firings. I then sell the completed works at art fairs and to shops as well as show at galleries. I also teach kilnformed glass classes at Vitrum Studio, which specializes in this medium.

When do you use basic math in your job?

Because I’m self-employed, and therefore wear many hats, I use math ALL the time, for all kinds of reasons. Most of the time it’s basic computation, but I work with fractions quite often because of all of the measuring I have to do. For example, if I’m making a glass patter, I need to measure all the pieces of glass so that they fit together and, ultimately, fit into a ceramic mold that guides the glass into a particular shape. Or, I need to center a piece of hardware that’s going to go on the back of a hanging panel.

Sometimes, though, I need to refer to specific formulas. Let’s say I’m doing a sculptural piece. When I put the glass in the kiln, at a certain point the heat will turn the glass from a solid into a liquid and, if I’ve made the correct calculations, it will fill a void that is in a plaster mold. I need to figure out the volume of the void so that I know how much glass, by weight, to use. This is one of several formulas that I have in a notebook which I refer to again and again.

Do you use any technology (like calculators or computers) to help with this math?

I use both calculators and computers to help me, because I know that when used correctly they are accurate! In order to do something like the volume formula that I spoke of earlier, I will first use a calculator to convert the numbers to the metric system. It makes it so much easier. I also use the computer to help me keep track of things like inventory and finances. It’s much faster than using a pencil and paper, though I use those tools, too.

drawer #4 from Marcum’s collections series

How do you think math helps you do your job better?

Accuracy is very important, and a piece of artwork looks professional because of the details. If my corners aren’t square, or my hardware is off center, or I don’t have enough glass to completely fill the mold, that is sloppy work. If I can’t keep the financial books in order, or I don’t know what inventory I have on hand, I will be out of business pretty quickly.

How comfortable with math do you feel?

The work that I do helped me to become comfortable with math. I am the sole proprietor, so if I don’t do it, there isn’t anyone else to take up the slack! Practice, practice, practice made it feel less scary. Eventually, I got to the point where I had enough confidence to feel comfortable with the math I was doing, as well as believe that I could figure out something new that came my way.

Bird Feathers

What kind of math did you take in high school?

I really, really struggled with math in school once I got past basic arithmetic. The exception was geometry, which I aced. In hindsight I understand that I did well in this class because I was (and still am) a strong visual learner. Because there were shapes that I could draw and relate to, geometry made sense to me in a way that algebra never did. I got through trigonometry with the help of a very, very patient teacher who stayed after school two days a week to tutor me. It was so frustrating for me though – and I’m sure it was for her, too! At the time I thought, “Well, I’ll just get through this and then I’ll NEVER use math again.” Admittedly, it was a bit short-sighted. Not only does my job require math, LIFE requires math.

Did you have to learn new skills in order to do this math?

Mostly, I had to learn to confront my fear of math. I had been taught all of the skills that I needed for my work, I just didn’t believe that I knew how to use them. But I loved working with the glass, and I had the desire to make my work to the best of my ability, and that meant that I had to brush up on those dusty old math skills.

If math makes you nervous, see if you can apply it to something you love. It’s a great motivator!

Do you have questions for Ursula?  Post them below.  And visit her at her facebook page and website

Gina Foringer

Those suits in the corner office–what do they do anyway?  Well, they manage employees, set budgets and goals and plan for growth.  Oh, and some math.

Gina Foringer is an executive vice president for Versar, a publicly held, departement of defense contracting company in environmental, construction management, engineering and emergency response.  She heads up the Professional Services Group (PSG), a division that provides professional services for government, private and non-profit entities throughout the world.

I also feel obligated to tell you that Gina doesn’t have a corner office.  

Can you explain what you do for a living? My division is responsible for marketing our environmental contracting expertise, which means I spend a lot of time estimating the costs of projects.  Then I help my team manage the projects we already have.

When do you use basic math in your job?  Always!  Part of my work involves writing proposals for work that is estimated in hours.  I use estimation, then drill down to the details by adding varying fees to an hourly rate.  At the end, I have to “reality check” the bottom line.

Do you use any technology (like calculators or computers) to help with this math?   While on the phone with customers, I use mental math to approximate percents for labor.  That gives me a ballpark figure.  When I do the estimate, I use Microsoft Excel with linked tabs rolling into a master spreadsheet.  It’s fun!

How do you think math helps you do your job better?  If I didn’t know the basics of percentages and applying them, I’d be lost.  I’ve done it so much, I do it in my off-time, too.  If someone tells me an annual number (salary, car insurance premium or groceries), I have to stop myself from generating an hourly rate in my mind that has nothing to do with the conversation.  Crazy, I know.

How comfortable with math do you feel? I feel comfortable with it now.  I still have to check myself because the rates we use change.  Basically, I calibrate my math skills every fiscal year.

What kind of math did you take in high school?   I didn’t take much in high school, maybe basic trigonometry.  I had low self esteem in high school.  I think math actually made me feel better.  It’s how I think, and was probably the beginning of discovering my self.  I ended up getting a degree in math, and when I got my MBA, I was surprised by how much calculus I got to use.

Did you have to learn new skills in order to do this math?  I developed the process.  The hardest part for me is guiding others between estimating, calculating, then coming back to estimating for cost quotes.  Oftentimes, the calculation comes in too high or low, and we have to change things that don’t make sense.  The numbers are not right or wrong, but have to come to an intuitive place where we know it’s just right for that particular situation.

Do you have a question for Gina? Ask it in the comments section. (I can tell you that she has some really interesting ways to figure out percents!)  

Turn “Goodnight Moon” into a math book by counting selected items on each page.

When my daughter was born more than 11 years ago, I knew a few things: Physically connecting with her would help us bond, breastfeeding is best, and reading to her—even at a very young age—was critical for later language development.

Even when she was a mere four months old, she had an established bedtime ritual, which included at least 10 minutes of reading.  But no one mentioned math.  Apparently, infants can appreciate Goodnight Moon, but not Euclid.

My kid was lucky, though.  With a math educator for a mom, she got a great foundation in math well before she could even walk.  I didn’t have special plans to introduce math early; I just did it.But what’s a non-mathy parent to do?Find out in my guest post at One Mama’s Daily Drama. (Psst… it’s not hard at all!)Would you like me to guest post at your blog?  Or do you know of a blog that I would fit right in with? I’ve got lots of ideas to share with anyone who will listen! And I promise I’m a good guest.  I wipe out the sink after I brush my teeth and don’t mind if the cat sleeps on my pillow.  Get the details here.What kinds of math activities have you done with your kids?  Share your ideas in the comments section!

If you’re even the least bit vain, like I am, you know that finding a talented hair stylist is worth its weight in gold.  Like many other careers, that talent is part science and part art, as Nikki Verdecchia of NV Salon Collective in Baltimore can attest.  Nikki is an award-winning stylist who opened her own salon a few years ago.  Now, along with figuring the ratios for a custom color, she also does a lot of business math.  

Meet Nikki!

For Honfest, Nikki gives a young girl a traditional Baltimore beehive.

What kinds of things do you do each day at work?  I am a hair stylist and salon owner.  My job as a hair stylist on a daily basis is to make people look and feel their best.  As a salon owner I have to make sure that the business is running smoothly and that there is more money coming into the bank than there is going out.

When do you use basic math in your job?  As a salon owner I use simple addition and subtraction to make sure the salon’s income supports the checks I write each month.  I also need math for payroll.  For this I use percentages since our stylists are paid a commission, or a percentage of the money they bring into the salon.

As a hair stylist, I use fractions to mix custom color formulas for our clients.  In order to make each formula special, we mix color tones together in 2 ounce formulations to create unique looks.  For instance, I may use 1 oz of dark golden blonde, 1/2 oz of dark neutral blonde, and 1/2 oz of light golden blonde to create a warm, buttery blonde for a client.

Nikki is also a makeup artist and works closely with Baltimore’s most notable burlesque duo, Trixie Little and the Evil Hate Monkey

Do you use any technology to help with this math?  As a business owner, all of those tasks are done using computers and calculators so that I have records of everything I do.  Since I am often dealing with large numbers, it makes my job easier to use technology.  As a stylist I am a creative person first and foremost, and the computations I do to mix color are done with mental math.

How do you think math helps you do your job better?  I would never get the paychecks right or be able to create beautiful color without math!  It keeps me consistent.

How comfortable with math do you feel?  I have always been comfortable using math to create hair color.  When I opened my business and had to start using math more often I was very uncomfortable and sure that I wouldn’t be able to do it well.  I have surprised myself that I am much better at it than I ever thought I was.  Technology definitely makes it so much easier!

What kind of math did you take in high school?  I took algebra, geometry and calculus in high school.  My grades in those classes were dramatically lower than language-based classes that I took.   I never liked math before, but every time I balance my check book to the penny at the end of the month I get this secret thrill that I have managed to overcome a fear I had and learn how to perform a new task that I never thought I could do well.

Did you have to learn new skills in order to do this math? Most of the math I do every day is so simple that I’m sure I learned it in grade school.

Questions for Nikki?  Please post them below, and I’ll make sure she sees them.