Cumberland Times-News

Bob Doyle - Astronomy

August 4, 2012

Here’s a math book that’s truly useful

One of the key foundations on which our civilization is built is mathematics. Math allows us to design and construct buildings and vehicles that we work in and transport freight and ourselves.

Mathematics, using a great amount of data allows prediction of weather (short term) and analysis of climate (long term). Math makes possible local, national and international businesses.

Our television, media, cell phones, computers and networks all rely on physical laws which are expressed mathematically.

In short, without mathematics, there would little be science and we all would be living as people did a thousand or more years ago.

There would be no electricity; we would only have mechanical energy provided by humans, horses, oxen, sails and wind mills.

One of saddest aspects of our American society is the widespread antipathy towards math. It’s so common to hear the phrase, “I’m not good at math.”

This doesn’t refer to calculus or differential equations. This outlook refers to basic math, such as simple problem solving as deciding what box of cereal is the best buy, or estimating how many gallons of gas it will take to make a round trip to the Pittsburgh, Baltimore or Washington airports.

  So many parents say this phrase to their children; this give a child a excuse not to learn or enjoy math. (A youngster will think, if my parents can’t do math (for they’re more experienced), how can I possibly do math?)

There is a wonderful book to help alleviate math difficulties and show in clear detail a number of math concepts and procedures. This 2010 paperback is “Help Your Kids With Math: A Unique Step by Step Visual Guide,” by DK Publishing with 4 authors (Vorderman, Lewis, Jeffrey and Weeks), with ISBN 978-0-7566-4979-1.

This book is printed in the U.S.A. and costs about $20. Look at any DK book, and you’ll realize they employ talented graphic designers to make ideas, events and people very appealing. DK has many other books in history and science.

The table of contents includes: Numbers (addition, subtraction, multiplication, powers, roots, decimals, fractions, round off, using a calculator, personal and business finances), then geometry (triangles, circles, volumes, surface area), trigonometry, algebra, statistics and probability, a reference section, glossary and index.

Although the book is designed for students from age 9 to 16, it allows adults who have taken their last math course decades ago (and forgotten nearly everything) to relearn some school math and even learn about math topics they never took in school.

The illustrations are very attractive, featuring multicolored stylized human figures, arrangements of blocks, pie charts, trees, candy, trucks, shirts, runners, bikes and airplanes — focusing on objects that we are quite familiar with.

 I do a lot of problem solving in my college physical science classes so my students can better understand the basic physical laws.

There is an absence of math in most other college classes (my students tell me this) so I am faced with having to teach or review basic math procedures as are illustrated in the above book.

Some students have good basic math skills and they enjoy finding answers to problems. But for the math fearing students, I do an example of each problem on the blackboard that they must solve in class. (Every student has different numbers to work with, eliminating copying.)

If a student can’t follow my worked out example (on display), I ask them to talk to their neighbor in class. If the neighbor can’t help a student, then I am glad to stay after class to work with individuals.

Naturally, their class work is graded (counts for a significant part of their final grade). In this way I can be sure students are using appropriate steps and their answers are close to what they should be.

Research tells us that the more mathematics courses a student takes in high school, the more likely they will graduate from college.

Taking more than the minimum number of math courses in college is also helpful. College students majoring in a STEM field (Science, Technology, Engineering or Math) have better prospects of getting a job after graduation, compared to other fields.

Math is like many subjects: “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” Taking a calculator to the grocery store allows you to keep track of current sales amount and help you decide whether to buy an extra box of something.

I suspect that many people who don’t feel comfortable with numbers are more likely to get into financial difficulties.

This includes the tragic number of people whose houses have been foreclosed and also the financial heavy weights who don’t grasp risk assessment, allowing their firms to lose many millions of dollars.

SKY SIGHTS THIS WEEK: Tonight and the next few evenings, the moon will be prominent in the late evening hours. In the early evening as it gets dark (9:30 p.m.), two planets can be seen low in the southwest.

Two bright points appear together; the higher point is Saturn (shining steadily) while the lower point is the star Spica.

To the right of Saturn and Spica is the planet Mars, not as bright as Saturn or Spica. Mars is slowly creeping to the left each night and will pass in between Saturn and Spica in mid August.

Next Sunday morning is the time to view the Perseid meteor shower. A meteor shower occurs when the Earth plows through a comet’s orbit, littered with comet grit.

When the comet grit (typically the size of a pea) impacts the Earth’s atmosphere at thousands of miles per hour, it is incinerated by air friction about 50 miles altitude. This is what causes a meteor or “shooting star.”

These meteors are called Perseids for they can be traced back to the star group Perseus in the northern sky.

You can see more meteors in the early morning hours as the meteors are then striking the Earth nearly head on and appear brighter. Possibly as many 50 meteors per hour may be seen. Lie flat on a tarp so you can see much of the sky.

Bob Doyle invites any readers comments and questions. E-mail him at rdoyle@frostburg.edu . He is available as a speaker on his column topics.

1
Text Only
Bob Doyle - Astronomy
  • It’s hotter here than in D.C. or Baltimore

    At this time of the year, the weather is a frequent subject of conversation, particularly the temperatures. We are now in the “Dog Days,” usually the hottest days of the year. The term comes from our sun appearing to be near the “Dog Star” (Sirius) and the “Little Dog Star” (Procyon). In reality, the sun is now about 94.5 million miles away while Sirius is 8.6 light years away with Procyon at 11 light years distance. Sunlight takes only 507 seconds to reach us, while the two dog stars’ light takes about a decade to travel to our eyes. So our sun is in the same direction (but not distance) as these two bright winter evening stars.

    July 20, 2014

  • Fronts, highs, lows determine weather

    Weather news on television and internet focus on violent weather, extreme temperatures and flooding.

    July 13, 2014

  • A long and winding road faces our food

    Last week’s column dealt with organs you can do without, our DNA (molecular blueprint for our bodies) and hair. My reference is “Body: Discover What’s Beneath Your Skin,” a Miles Kelly Book, written by John Farndon and Nicki Lampon and published in 2010. This column will consider finger and toe nails, breathing and coughing, saliva, mucus and your food’s long and torturous journey. Most cities and mid sized towns have nail shops where you can have your finger nails and toe nails adorned. Nail painting can be traced back 5,000 years.

    July 6, 2014

  • Here’s a look at what goes on inside you

    In high school, my favorite science course was biology. I can remember Mr. Munley in his wheelchair. Our class went on a field trip to the University of Miami Medical School where we saw the cadavers used by the medical students.

    June 28, 2014

  • Moon-watching easy when you know how

    Long before the first writing (scratches on clay tablets) appeared, our early ancestors noticed that the moon went through a regular cycle of shapes in about 30 days.

    June 21, 2014

  • Here’s how you can tell the stars, planets

    How can one tell one star from another at night? It’s a matter of knowing the sky areas (constellations).

    June 15, 2014

  • Smithsonian guide to stars is a good one

    At a local book store, I yielded to temptation and bought “Stars and Planets,” a Smithsonian Nature Guide written by four authors. Dinwoodie, Gater, Sparrow and Stott. It’s another Dorling Kindersley product with ISBN 978-0-7566-9040-3 and a 2012 copyright. “Stars and Planets” is a trade size paperback that is beautifully illustrated with appealing diagrams. “Stars and Planets” begins with the biggest topic, the Universe. There is a striking visual showing the known universe on the hugest scale, a delicate lacework of superclusters of galaxies with large voids. It resembles a bubble bath!

    June 8, 2014

  • Think a little more and be less frazzled

    Last Sunday’s column dealt with using technology carefully in education. What about technology in everyday life? There is a marvelous book “The Thinking Life,” by P.M. Forni, of The Johns Hopkins University which addresses this issue as well as timeless suggestions for living by Greek and Roman thinkers. “The Thinking Life: How To Thrive in the Age of Distraction” was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2011 with ISBN 978-0-312-62571-9. Dr. Forni also wrote “Choosing Civility” and “The Civility Solution”.

    May 25, 2014

  • Technology helps with learning, but take care

    Since I have been involved in teaching, two different technologies have been applied to learning at the secondary and collegiate level. The first was video (from videocassettes to DVDs) where a student or class might watch a presentation of some historical event, or a set of scientific principles or even a simulated exploration of the human body.

    May 18, 2014

  • Here are numbers that apply in our lives

    One of the best exercises is walking. Cardiologists suggest that each of us walk 10,000 steps per day. Assume each step is 0.5 meters or 19.7 inches. Then 10,000 steps would cover 5,000 meters or 3.11 miles. But studies find that the average American (from age 4 and up) takes only 2,000 steps/day or 1 kilometer.

    May 11, 2014

Latest news
Facebook
Must Read
House Ads