Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Problem with X and Y

Can someone tell me when they changed math? I thought it was a settled thing, that the Ancient Greeks (those whacky toga wearing baklava eaters) had worked out the whole thing ages ago - with a little interference from Newton. Isn't math supposed to be one of those lovely reliable things that never changes? It's the one thing where you can learn in kindergarten that 2+5=7 and it always will (foreverandever AAAAAHmen).

Well, someone didn't tell Child 2's teacher that, or else he is one sick man because Child 2 came home with a quadratic equation that needed graphing and...

It started just fine. I instantly set X to zero and whammo showed it how to find the Y intercept. Then Child 1 looked in and suggested that maybe it would be a good idea to factor the thing and do that special bit of magic where you set each little set of parenthesis to zero (which always seemed like cheating to me) and Child 2 did that too. Then we eyed "A" (after we all thought waaaaay back to last year - or many many many years ago for me - and remembered what A, B and C are in a quadratic equation) and Child 2 was able to announce that this particular piece of math was going to be a downward pointing one. We were definitely on a roll. BUT then some spoil sport mentioned finding the vertex, and we sort of hit a wall. See, Child 1 figured we could throw a bit of -2A and a B around and since that sounded like what I almost remembered from my Algebra In the Stone Age class I was all for it.

BUT - but Child 2 had taken notes (lots of notes it said! Thorough and complete notes! Look!) which said:

UNFOIL the @%#$#@. [equation]. If you find a number you haven't seen before, do something with it. [totally different equation with brand new number].

We squinted at these fine notes and looked dubiously at the problem in hand. It didn't look like anything I had seen before and frankly I didn't trust that whole new number thing. Fine Child 2, I said, we're going to do it my way (and Child 1's way, and actually the way Child 2 now remembered being taught as well) because that's the way I know and if it was good enough for me... and then I mumbled something about showing its work and hoping for the best. Oh, and asking the teacher to walk it through the UNFOILING magical new number method and maybe taking slightly better notes.

Child 2 did that and I figured it was the end of story until the next day when it turned out that the Ancient History method of finding a vertex returned the wrong answer.

We're not taking it lying down though. Child 2 is bearding the lion in its den (or the math teacher in its study hall - whatever) and is determined to walk out with the Answer to All UNFOILING or die trying. Then it will sit down and explain it all to its elderly mother - hopefully in a kind and gentle voice with lots of pauses for strengthening sips of tea.

I'm going to rest up now. I have a feeling Child 1 is coming home today to tell me they changed all of the biology as well.

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