Yesterday, I came across a troubling news item. Did you know that 50% of Ontario Grade 6 children failed to meet the math standard? The article provided a link to the actual standardized test questions, so I took it. I wondered whether I might be smarter than a 6th grader.

I haven’t taken math in many many years–some of us study the soft sciences rather than the hard (read: real) sciences for a reason–so I’ve forgotten a lot. Still, I’ve never bounced a cheque (do you young’uns need me to define “cheque”?) and I can get from point A to point B without solving for X.

I already know I’m not as smart as a 5th grader, so what would make me think I’d stand a chance against a 6th grader? Plus my multiple hospital stays have likely decimated all my math-reasoning brain cells. I forget my wallet every few days, so how could I ever be expected to remember algebra? I don’t stand a chance, do I?

Still, I decided to make the test harder. Since I am eons older than a 6th grader, I handicapped myself by not using a calculator on the questions allowing one. How arrogant to think I might need to even out the playing field. In retrospect, a calculator wouldn’t have helped because I’d still have to know the correct formula to use. I tried foregoing pencil and paper also, but needed both by Question #2.

I consider my 80% grade respectable, given my handicaps and personal shortcomings. The solutions to the two errors I made would not deter me from making them again. Need I also confess that one of my correct answers was a wild guess? Not knowing how to derive the thickness of a round table from its volume, I looked at the options, and eliminated two choices because no table is *that* thin. Then I guessed from the remaining two choices. Is that flawed or insightful reasoning?

What did I gain from this exercise? I learned that I remember almost nothing about geometry. Makes sense. A psychologist does not often need to concern herself with the hypotenuse of a triangle or the area of a circle.

Maybe I could regain some of these skills if I started using them more often in my work. Geometry might help me estimate more accurately the height of my clients when they are standing. In the past I’ve categorized them into three broad groups: short, tall, and too tall for our low basement ceiling. If I could recognize the third category sooner, I could preemptively holler: “Watch your head!”

If I understood volume, I could determine how many round glasses I could fill for clients from one pitcher of chilled water. This would come in handy on hot days.

Also, if I knew how to calculate the area of a circle–it has something to do with pi, or is that pie?–I could determine how many of those glasses would fit on my little round table. From this, I could extrapolate how large a family I could work with, and refer on the larger ones.

Scratch that. Who cares if my clients are adequately hydrated? Better to consider the number of seats I have. Thank goodness I still know how to count.

“what a wonderful world this would be” – even though it’s geography, not geometry. What about trigonometry?

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Dear Lisa: I would have kept the words as they are in the song except the lyrics did not include my area of weakness. So I had to make it my own. i don’t remember having a problem with trig, although I wouldn’t recall any of the formulas without reviewing them. I did fail calculus, however. XO

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I have to find that test to see what I remember. I started out in university as a math major but switched to the ‘softer’ geography major. That was a LONG time ago. The only time I think of geometry now is when I play pool (or should it be physics?).

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Pat K: Wow! You were a math major! I’m very impressed, even if you did transfer out. I had no idea you played pool either. So many sides to you I do not know.

I’d like to believe sinking a ball would involve geometry (getting the angle right) and physics (determining the right speed to hit the ball at) but I’d have to get my math expert follower to confirm that. Oh, and I couldn’t respond to your comment before looking up what physics is, of course. Physics was right up there with calculus. Thanks for writing. XO

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Hi Annie, I think you’re 80% score is very admirable!. I look at some of the grade 6 provincial exam questions and realize that I remember very little of either trig and geometry:) Well done!!

I would love to see the pie table if you get around to it!!

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pjhill: An esteemed teacher who is impressed with my performance–I am glowing with pride. I’ve never understood the intersection of trigonometry and geometry. (That was a bad math joke.) As for the pie table, I wouldn’t hold your breath. I am a crust-making failure. XO

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