Tag Archives: math literacy\numeracy

Ptolemy’s 1,022 Stars

“The great quest of medieval science was for a perfect copy of Ptolemy’s Almagest, written in Egypt in 147 AD. It was known to have thirteen sections, with the most accurate analysis of star and planetary paths ever achieved, alongside a catalogue of 1,022 starts listed on a scale of magnitude from 1 to 6. It was a key that threatened to unlock the secrets of the heavens.”            

Excerpted from: Rogerson, Barnaby. Rogerson’s Book of Numbers: The Culture of Numbers–from 1,001 Nights to the Seven Wonders of the World. New York: Picador, 2013.

6,585 Days of the Saros Cycle

There are 6,585 days between one solar eclipse and another, which is 18 years, 11 days, and 8 hours. This has been known, observed, and calculated for many thousands of years, but was probably first chronicled in ancient Babylon (in Mesopotamia, in modern-day Iraq). It would later be disseminated by the Greeks as the Saros Cycle.

Excerpted from: Rogerson, Barnaby. Rogerson’s Book of Numbers: The Culture of Numbers–from 1,001 Nights to the Seven Wonders of the World. New York: Picador, 2013.

10,000 Blessings of a Peach

 “’Ten thousand’ is poetic Chinese for ‘infinite,’ as in ‘May the Emperor reign 10,000 years’ or, as it now says over the gate of Heavenly Peace (Tiananmen) in Tiananmen Square, ‘May the People’s Republic of China last 10,000 years.’ This unit of time is symbolized by a peach, as the Chinese delight in making associations between the sounds of tonal connections of (otherwise unconnected) words. So when you look at Chinese imagery, be it an ancient watercolor or a strident propaganda poster, keep an eye out for a propitious scattering of peaches, birds, bats, and vases. A bird, especially a crane, has tonal connections with ‘harmony,’ a bat with ‘prosperity,’ a vase with ‘peace,’ and, as we have already heard, a peach can say ‘10,000 years.'”

Excerpted from: Rogerson, Barnaby. Rogerson’s Book of Numbers: The Culture of Numbers–from 1,001 Nights to the Seven Wonders of the World. New York: Picador, 2013.

Rogerson’s Book of Numbers: Xenophon’s 10,000 Mercenaries

“Xenophon’s Anabasis tells the story of 10,000 elite Greek mercenaries who are left isolated on the losing side of a Persian civil war and fight their way across the mountain tribes of Anatolia to reach the safety of the Black Sea coast. The history of this march in 401 BC was the original story of swashbuckling adventure against the odds and was said to have inspired Philip of Macedon to take on the Persians. T.E. Lawrence had the book in his camel bag during the Arab revolt of 1916. And more recently, transplanted to the gangs of New York, it became the Warriors video game.”

Excerpted from: Rogerson, Barnaby. Rogerson’s Book of Numbers: The Culture of Numbers–from 1,001 Nights to the Seven Wonders of the World. New York: Picador, 2013.

Rogerson’s Book of Numbers: 237,600 Miles or 30 Earths

“237,600 miles is the average distance between the earth and the moon, a number which suggests an intriguing inner harmony to our universe, for it is thirty diameters of the earth, sixty radii of the earth or 220 moon radii. The mystical author and numerologist John Michell would reveal these figures with the full force of a revelation during his lectures. A self-declared ‘radical traditionalist,’ Michell campaigned long and hard against the destruction of England’s ancient number systems in favor of the decimal system.”

Excerpted from: Rogerson, Barnaby. Rogerson’s Book of Numbers: The Culture of Numbers–from 1,001 Nights to the Seven Wonders of the World. New York: Picador, 2013.

A Super Multiplication Table

As a child, I enjoyed math in school and did fairly well at it. I liked the symmetry and order of numbers, and found multiplication a particularly scintillating procedure (and yes, I am serious; I was a weird kid). By the time I crossed the Rubicon from fractions and decimals into algebra, I could already see I was in trouble. For some reason, I could never get right orders of operations and other algebraic procedures. For some reason I felt, and continue to feel, ashamed of this intellectual inadequacy.

Of course, I am tempted to blame my math teachers in middle school, who were indeed dismal; both of my eighth grade math teachers clearly hated kids. Since I was getting more than enough of that sentiment elsewhere in my life at the time, I avoided them. So I suppose I am at fault as well.

Unsurprisingly, I have been and remain a terrible math teacher. I’ve developed some literacy lessons on both math and science, but they are more reading comprehension work than actual cognitive work in the domains themselves. That said, I have become interested (to some extent for obvious personal reasons) in helping struggling students improve their own understanding of the math curriculum they are expected to master. To that end, I’ve proposed to a colleague in the mathematics department at my school that we collaborate on developing some math learning supports for our struggling students.

This morning I wrote this super multiplication table as a start on this endeavor. I know this doesn’t necessarily augur great sophistication in this project; it’s worth considering, however, how many students who struggle with math do so because they never learned their multiplication tables. As with all of the material posted on Mark’s Text Terminal, this is a Microsoft Word document that you can chop and repurpose as many times as your circumstances require. Indeed, you may end up with as many versions of this as you have students.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.