Math in the Comics – part 1

I saw a poignant comic strip in the newspaper today, and thought it was illustrative to mention here:

Foxtrot / Bill Mend / 2009 01 25

Paige has no clue what to do with 2x+y=60 and x+2y=75 or how to solve that set of equations.  Her brother then asks her “if two shirts and a sweater costs $60, and a shirt and two sweaters cost $75, what does each item cost?”, which she can solve without difficulty.  In the last panel, she is still desperate about how to solve 2x+y=60 and x+2y=75.  Of course, this is only a comic strip.  But it touches on something I suspect all math teachers have encountered in their classes: (1) the total disconnect between the perceived world of math class and the outside world; and, almost in spite of that, (2) glimpses of real mathematical thinking from students who don’t do well in class.

In many a traditional math class, those glimpses of real mathematical thinking from students are irrelevant.  They are a distraction, they are a hurdle on the way to having children open their mouths and swallow.  For those children, all this (to mathematicians) beautiful machinery we adduce to help them solve problems in real life, is simply one of a set of bitter pills to be swallowed so they can finally get cured from a disease called school.

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6 Responses to Math in the Comics – part 1

  1. Pingback: Groupings, Shopping Lists, Vectors: part 17 « Learning and Unlearning Math

  2. Pingback: Groupings, Shopping Lists, Vectors: part 18 « Learning and Unlearning Math

  3. Pingback: Math in the Comics: The Series « Learning and Unlearning Math

  4. Brandon mabe says:

    Soultion= (15,30)

    • Bert Speelpenning says:

      Hey Brandon,
      Thank you for bringing the standard math class and math book notation into this. I do have some further questions for you: do you find the (15,30) notation helpful? What does it help you see? And what does it help you communicate to others?
      And these questions have counterparts: What does the notation (15,30) hide? And what does it obscure?

  5. Our Busy Life says:

    I was looking for this comic after seeing this story.

    If you’re going to shop, you need to know math unless money is not object. I’ve always loved this particular strip. I have the opposite problem of Paige. I could solve the math problem but turn into Peter’s word problem and I’d be lost. I never could figure out any kind of word problem. My daughter (11) is really good at math if she has a paper and pencil. She isn’t too good at mental math so she’s not any help figuring out the sale prices at the store.

    (Oh, my husband used to work for HP!)

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