You're A Mathematical Genius, You Know!

by Murdo Macleod

This may come as a surprise to you. But the truth is, you really are good at mathematics. You see, every day you solve complex problems by breaking them down into tiny little "baby steps". And just like the world's most powerful computer or the greatest ever mathematical prodigy, it's this step-by-step process that enables you to do practically anything.

Let's see this process in action with a couple of examples:

Example 1 - Calculating the Dreaded Sales Tax

The sales tax rate varies around the world, but here in the UK it's 17.5%. Urgh! What kind of figure is that?

Let's look at it again and see how we can tame the beast by breaking it down.


It consists of 10, plus 5 plus 2.5, doesn't it?

And those numbers form a distinct sequence. In other words... "10, plus half, plus half again".

Now that we know this, we can do something really clever...

Suppose you want to calculate 17.5% of 40 UK pounds. How would you work this out? (Stop! Don't even think of reaching for that calculator!)

Start with the 10. 10% of 40 is 4. Add half (2) and half again (1) and you get 7.

So you proudly announce to your colleagues... "So by adding 17.5% sales tax to our £40 product, the total retail price will be... £47."

They look on amazed.

Let's take another example and show how simple math really is...

Example 2 - Help your daughter with her homework.

You arrive home and your daughter needs some help with her math assignment. It's those darn fractions again.

She just can't make sense of them.

"A half times a half is a quarter. So how, when you multiply things together, can you have LESS than you started out with!"

You explain that multiplication and division are two sides of the same thing, and you make it "real world" for her with a little analogy:

You get her to imagine a cake.

You remind her that "multiplying by half" is another way of saying divide by 2. So she pictures herself halving the cake, giving one piece half to her friend Jane, and keeping the other half.

You daughter now has half a cake.

She multiplies her piece by a half (i.e. "divides it into two again") and she's left with a quarter.

She goes off to bed happy, dreaming about birthday cake And you get to watch the ball game on TV.

Again, it's just a matter of simplifying.

Real world math is not about mental agony, or learning mechanical formulas that you follow mindlessly like a robot. It's about common sense, seeing how numbers really work, and breaking things down. You just need a little imagination. After all, that's what genius really is.

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About the Author

Murdo Macleod is a reformed calculator user and co-author of the 'Fun With Figures' mental math course. Come and see what parents, students, home schoolers, business people, and math phobics around the world are raving about:

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