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Bon Crowder, another math evangelist

Bon Crowder, another math evangelist

 couple of weeks ago, a fellow freelance writer wrote me about her foray into graduate school.  She needed to brush up on some math skills, and she wasn’t sure how.  I have a feeling that her questions weren’t unique.  Whether you need to learn a little extra to help your kid with his homework or you need to take a math class to further your education, learning math again (or for the first time) can be daunting.  

Luckily, my friend and fellow math blogger, Bon Crowder offered to write a guest post on this very topic.  I swear, Bon and I were separated at graduation or something, because we approach math education in very similar ways.  Plus she’s fun.  (See? Math folks aren’t always boring and difficult to understand!)

I wanted to title this “Being a Great Adult Learner.”

But that’s dumb. All adults are great learners. If we weren’t, we’d be stumbling around, bumping into doors, starving and naked. We know how to learn, and the proof is that we’re still alive.

And dressed.

The question is “What makes you learn?”

1) You need confidence.

Confidence involves two things: feeling worthy and knowing you have the ability.

When people feel they’re entitled to something, they’re more likely to feel confident in getting it. Hang around any Best Buy service desk and you’ll see this in action. People say all kinds of strange things when trying to return a broken product, and these things are said with a sense of entitlement. BY GOLLY they’re going to get their way!

So how do you gain worthiness and ability? You’re worthy of it because you already have it. And you’re able to do it because you already do.

You have it all. It’s just hidden behind a wall of words you or someone else (or both) has told you for years. Now’s the time to ignore everybody, even yourself.

Because here’s the gosh-honest truth: There is not a single thing within a mathematician that is not within you.

You’ve done math since you were a kid. Even before you were in school. You knew at a deep level that if there was one toy and there was another kid around, you’d better run like the dickens to get it. There’s no dividing that toy evenly between kids.

You balance your checkbook (or you would be in jail right now), you probably have some rough idea of your gas mileage, and you know that if you have 12 people coming over, you’re going to have to double or triple that recipe for shepherds pie. You know math. Now’s the time to admit it.

So say this every night before your prayers. If you don’t pray at night, say it twice:

I do math. Today I woke up on time because I calculated how long it would take to get dressed. I knew how much money to spend because balanced my checkbook. I figured out how much weight I needed to lose – and I used math to do it.

Modify this statement to fit your lifestyle and run with it. Every night.

2) You need the right environment.

Once you’ve tapped in to the realization that you’re inherently good at math, you need the right learning environment.

This includes location, timing and the other people involved. If you have to drive too far away after working all day and all you get is a lousy quarter-pounder-with-cheese, you’re going to be tired, grumpy and irritable. If your class is full of teenagers fresh out of high school and the professor is 400 years old and believes in death by PowerPoint, things are not going to go well.

How do you know the right environment?

Look at all the learning experiences you’ve had through the years. List out the good ones and the bad ones. And then dig deep – what made the good ones good? Why were the bad ones so detrimental?

Include timing, location, student body, temperature in the room and details of the instructor. List out the attitude of the instructor, his/her teaching style, voice intonations – even how he wrote on the board.

Pick out the deal-breakers and the nice-to-haves and write them on a special piece of paper. This is your official “Environment Requirement” page. Laminate it, put it in Evernote, tatoo it to your bottom – whatever you do to keep it close so you can refer to it often.

How do you make sure your Environment Requirements are honored?

Here’s where that sense of entitlement comes back into play. If your class has a deal-breaker environment element, do something about it. Think, “If this were a faulty remote control that I bought at Best Buy, how would I handle it?”

Ask the instructor to manage the loud students better. Ask building maintenance to change the temp of the room (or bring a sweater). Don’t sign up for a class during a time when you’ll be tired, hungry and irritable.

And if you can’t change the environment – leave. Drop the class. Get your money back.

If it were a crappy remote control, that’s what you’d do, right?

You’re dressed…

And fed. You learn all the time. And you do math.

Now go find a class that fits and have fun!

Bon Crowder publishes www.MathFour.com, a math education site for parents. But that’s not all!  Bon has launched a really, really, really cool initiative called Count 10, Read 10.  While parents are encouraged to read to their infants, toddlers and preschoolers, we’re rarely encouraged to inject a little bit of math into the day.  Bon will show you how.  Take a look at her blog for more information on developing math literacy (or numeracy).  I’ll be writing about this more in the coming months.

Photo courtesy of jez.atkinson

I’m on vacation this week, so I thought I’d do a quick round up of Math Secrets to date:

Math Secret #1: There’s More than One Way to Skin a Math Problem:

Most math teachers teach that that there’s one process for solving math problems, but this approach just isn’t very practical.  Now that you’re a grownup, you can find your own way to the answer.  I promise.

Math Secret #2: You Were Born This Way:

Think you don’t have any math sense?  Think again.

Math Secret #3: You Can Skip the Love:

Knowing how to do math ≠ loving math.  You really only need two things: acceptance and tolerance.

What to share your own secrets?  Post a comment.

Ron Doyle

Ron S. Doyle is both a web designer and a freelance writer.  In fact, he’s found a particular niche in developing web sites for other freelance writers.  He’s also got a wicked sense of humor and uses math in his work.

Can you explain what you do for a living?

The highfaluting answer: I help clients build or restructure their online presence through web development and design, business analysis, project management, strategic brand management, consultation and training.

The mundane answer: I make websites!

When do you use basic math in your job?

I use proportions, algebra and basic geometric concepts at work every day. Most of what I’m doing involves simple addition, counting pixels. For example, if a website’s main container is 960 pixels wide, I have to make sure that all the margins, padding, borders and boxes inside add up.

The Health*Conscious*Travel homepage above  is 960 pixels wide, but here’s what I see:

2px border + 21px padding + 1px border + 555px feature box + 1px border + 21px padding + 1px border +

334px subscribe box +1px border + 21px padding + 2px border = 960 pixels wide!

This basic addition turns into algebra when a client comes to me and says “I have this 300 pixel wide advertisement that must go here” or
“I want to embed this YouTube video there.” Then all the other elements become variables—and I change them to make everything balance with the ad or video.

It gets even more complicated when I start adding things like drop shadows or glowing edges to an object, which have a specific radius from the edge. A 3px drop shadow spreads 1.5 px past the edge of the object, etc.

Certain objects, like videos, also must appear in specific proportions, e.g., 16:9. For example, if I know I must fit a high-definition video into a space that’s 500 pixels wide, I know that the video will be a little more than 281 pixels tall.

[pmath]16/9  =  500/x[/pmath]

[pmath]16x  =  4,500[/pmath]

[pmath]x  =  281.25[/pmath]

I also use proportions for my favorite design element: The Golden Ratio, 1: 1.618. It’s a proportion that naturally occurs in nature and is used widely in design and architecture. I agree with the ancient Greeks that it’s a beautiful shape and I try, whenever possible, to use it in my designs. Sometimes, it’s a fun little secret for me. For example, Ann Logue’s website doesn’t seem to have many boxes or rectangles at all:

But there are actually seven golden rectangles coded into the layout:

Do you use any technology (like calculators or computers) to help with this math? Why or why not?

I use paper to draw initial designs, a calculator to figure out proportions and design software like Adobe Creative Suite to help with measurements and placement of objects before I write any code. I suppose I could do it all while I’m writing the code, but I like to keep costs low for my clients—and I like going outside from time to time.

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

Math doesn’t just help me do my job better, it makes it possible.

How comfortable with math do you feel? 

None of this math feels uncomfortable to me. All web designers use math, whether they realize it or not, but some have a natural ability to see things like the golden proportion without picking up a calculator. I don’t know if I have that innate aesthetic skill—so the numbers make me feel more confident in my design decisions.

What kind of math did you take in high school? Did you like it/feel like you were good at it?

I didn’t develop a relationship with math until the seventh grade. That year, I had a great algebra teacher; things just clicked and I’ve loved mathematics ever since. I took Geometry, Algebra II, Trigonometry, PreCalculus and AP Calculus in high school. I always felt confident in math class, except Calculus; my teacher struggled teaching the subject and I had a bad case of graduation fever.

As a psychology major in college, I didn’t love research but I enjoyed the statistical part of the work (and I took Calculus for Engineers even though it wasn’t required). Before I started my current business, I was a high school teacher. Trigonometry was one of my favorite subjects to teach.

Did you have to learn new skills in order to do this math? Or was it something that you could pick up using the skills you learned in school?

School definitely helped me feel confident with math, but I learned the skills I use today from building things with my father when I was younger. I spent a lot of my childhood with a tape measure with my father rattling off fractions at me—I understood 5/8 and 3/4 and 9/16 on a visual level long before I learned them in school.

Everything else I learned from Donald Duck in Mathemagic Land:

Do you have questions for Ron?  If so, ask them in the comments section below.