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Make Your Daughter Practice Math. She’ll Thank You Later (nytimes.com)
33 points by alanwong 4 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 25 comments



Is the average reader of NYTimes really so well-versed with Latin that they'd know phrases such as "sine qua non"? I've typically seen such phrases used when the context makes the meaning clear, but this was a real stumper, and my guess is it was for others too. Why is it considered good UX to make your readers switch context to do a google search and then return to reading the article? I'm not a native English speaker, and perhaps this speaks more about my non-elite education.


It's not really something that comes from knowing Latin per se, (see what I did there) but just the sort of Latin phrases that were typically used in English writing of the 20th century.

Due to the explosion of the Internet, I think there are a lot more people who speak and write fluent English without much experience reading books in English. It used to be that the average reader of the NY Times did read books, I would think, but maybe not so much any more.


Also due to the internet I don't think using a latin phrase like this is an issue. If the reader doesn't recognize it, the definition is only a couple of clicks away.


Hence the question: Why is it considered good UX to make your readers switch context to do a google search and then return to reading the article?


It's a matter of the expected audience. The NY Times is known for a supplement called the New York Times Book Review. Although it may be anachronistic today, it points to how readers of the newspaper and readers of books traditionally overlapped. Books tend to use language not commonly found in speech or informal internet communications.


This would be fairly common knowledge among lawyers, who become familiar with many Latin phrases in law school. But I agree that this was not a particularly good usage. I would have instead described math skills as "foundational". This communicates the same concept without being pretentious or opaque.


Oh absolutely there will be people to whom it's new, but it's up there with phrases like "quid pro quo", "pro bono", or "quod erat demonstrandum" - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Q.E.D. - which aren't all that rare. Et cetera of course is the cool kid amongst Latin stuff we borrow today :-)


You don't need to master Latin to understand "sine qua non".

A few languages have latin expressions as part of the proper language way of speaking, vs colloquial language, "sine qua non" being a relatively common one.

So given the intended audience of NY Times it doesn't seem out of place.

Likewise in Germany it would surprise me to read such expressions on The Bild, on The Süd Deutsche Zeitung, perfectly reasonable.


Latin phrases are in common English usage as is this one. Their use is nothing to do with elite education. It doesn't take long to become familiar with some of the most frequently met ones. I might add that a number of European languages use them extensively.


On the subject of drilling math, I would like to hear if any of you other readers have had experience with Kumon. I've been taking my kid to it, but I'm getting increasing resistance from his side, while also not seeing quite why I'm doing it.

Kumon is basically a daily set of very similar questions (1+3=, 2+3=, 8+3=) with a weekly workshop where you do the same. The goal is to have all the arithmetic drilled into memory, so the workbooks are very repetitive.

On paper it sounds great to be drilling math questions, and I used to do it myself. But his Kumon stuff is very slow at changing, and my son is complaining that he already knows the stuff and is doing more interesting things in school. School happens to be doing Singapore Maths, which is yet another philosophy of math teaching.

The problem is the kid is understanding what I understand, which is that endless drilling isn't math. I'm a bit more ambivalent having done a load of math beyond his level, and knowing that it's useful to memorize a few things. But I can't but feel he's right and even I am bored doing the workbooks over his shoulder.

There must be some alternative way I can regularly show him interesting stuff in math.


I did Kumon from about 9 till about 14 and I sure complained about it a lot to my parents!

They persisted thank goodness because it fundamentally altered the way my brain ‘sees’ numbers.

I can’t speak for that happening in every case but it was incredibly valuable for me and I’ve always found mathematics straightforward and immensely satisfying since then.

I’ll be ensuring my children go once they’re old enough - you can be certain of that!


> There must be some alternative way I can regularly show him interesting stuff in math.

Of course there is, but you need to get creative. Math textbooks are notoriously bad at this, although there are some exception. My tip: use play and riddles. Use characters he could identify with. Like "Han Solo received secret transmission about two magic numbers. If you add them, you get 11. When you subtract one from another, you get 3." Sounds like a very easy riddle, doesn't it? Whereas in fact you can use it as a gentle introduction to systems of equations with two variables which becomes clear as you increase the numbers so the kid can't solve them by trial and error easily. "And now I can show you the secret way of solving it!"

The key is that you (1) always need do present a concept with a concrete application, (2) the application has to be relevant and interesting to the kid, (3) just like with all games, it must not be too easy nor too difficult.


My mum made me do kumon for a while when I was a kid.

Not exactly sure if it's because of kumon, but I know the value of number combinations eg 5+8 I know is 13, so something like 45+78=40+70+13

Also I still know the times table off by heart (mum forced me to learn that as well) so I can calculate most things in my head, something I was surprised to learn most people can't do.


I can only recall certain number combinations and I never bothered to do the drills to learn my multiplication tables. I can multiply very basic things (fives, tens, elevens) but aside from that I gotta use a calculator.

Takes me awhile to calculate things in my head and i'm often off by around 5-9 from the actual answer when I do work it out.

I know a bunch of methods of solving things though so if I have a calculator handy I can calculate the stuff I want but mental arithmetics was never something I valued as a kid.


I actually have a bit of trouble recalling the numbers sometimes, so I tend to rely on what feels right. Like numbers up to a certain point (eg 1-44, 2^(0 to 12)) all feel different to me and some numbers feel related (eg 5,9,45).

I have a bunch of methods too though they aren't very good compared to the ones I've seen other people use.


In my experience, drilling doesn't lead to an understanding and rather to simply repeating the exercise from memory.

A true understanding of the matter will get you farther than being able to recite past exercises, especially once you write an exam where the numbers and exercises have changed a lot so they will require understanding.


You’re correct that it won’t create a better understanding but it will increase performance.


Right. Understanding and performance are both necessary for mastery.

Without understanding, if you ever misremember something, you will be unable to find and correct your mistake. And if you forget something, then it's gone, until you find a textbook and memorize it again.

On the other hand, solving larger problems in math requires solving dozens of smaller problems along the way. When you have to stop and think about the small problem, you lose the big picture, and then you need to backtrack, which slows you down and frustrates you.

Understanding needs to come first, but practice is the necessary second step.


I'm torn. On one hand, I want to invoke Ricardo's comparative advantage and say "let them write". I am for people pursuing what they enjoy. On the other hand, the math skills of most people could be better and math is incredibly important.


Well, your son might thank you, too.


I agree, but I think the headline for sons wouldn’t need the math bit, as boys apparently don’t gravitate away from math because they are better at something else.

But sons surely need to practice, in general, because right now women are doing a lot better at higher education. At least in my country, women are increasingly getting into academia while more and more young men don’t even finish the Danish equivalent of high-school.

I’m not a supporter of equality of outcome, but I think we need to get better at making sure everyone has a better opportunity for fulfilling their potential. Regardless of what they want to do.

If that’s making girls practice math, then that’s a good idea.


Suggesting that boys might be better at something would be politically incorrect, of course. One is allowed to talk about gender differences only if they are in favor of women.

Well, one could simply write an article about "helping your kids practice math", without mentioning gender, but I guess that would generate less clicks.

Whatever; my kids are all girls, so I am going to do math with them... exactly the same way I would with boys.


i heard that common core style is used to teach kids to make the concepts behind the maths are understood by kids. Does anyone have any experience with it?. But I think agree with the article on the idea that what you think about your abilities changes you.


I taught my daughter, when she was 4, to multiply m*n by drawing m parallel lines intersecting n parallel lines, then counting the intersections as the result. Etc., as I am a nerd, we discussed fun problems from time to time. Seven years later she won a trophy at the national level.


I have a 10 year old who attended private school. I'm not sure if they used Common Core or not, but they definitely used an approach designed to instill an understanding of concepts vs. the rote arithmetic drilling I did as a kid.

I was skeptical at first, but mostly because the school did a poor job explaining the methods to parents, which left me to Google the methods so I could help my son when he had questions. That said, he does have a great understanding of numbers and is able to do a substantial amount of math in his head using this understanding. (e.g. 99+99+99 is just 300-3). It's essentially what I do in my own head, though with slightly different methods.




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