counting on fingers, mathematics, mathemagic,

Counting on fingers

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about fingers that fly. Think about the different ways we use our fingers and what happens when we add speed. Go where the prompt leads.

I thought about the use young children make of their fingers when counting. It may increase their speed and ease of calculation in the beginning, but continued use tends to slow them down.

I also thought about magicians, and how the speed of their fingers amazes us with tricks and sleight of hand.

Combining both thoughts brought me to the mathemagician Arthur Benjamin who never ceases to astound with his calculations.

A performance of mathematic by Arthur Benjamin TED talk

Are you a math whiz, solving complicated problems and making calculations with large numbers effortlessly, or do you still need to count on your fingers at times?

I don’t think I was ever what would be considered a maths whiz, but I did have my confidence in maths taught out of me. Sadly, I think this happens to far too many.

Many children who have been provided experiences with number and engaged in discussions about number from a young age develop strong understandings and are able to calculate with little effort, arriving at answers almost intuitively. While it can be good to help them develop metacognition by asking them to explain how they knew, or how they worked it out, sometimes they don’t know how—they just know.

While some children need to be taught methods of working out answers, requiring maths intuitive thinkers to use the same working can cause them to second-guess themselves and to lose confidence by breaking what they know down into steps that only cause confusion.

I was interested to hear Arthur Benjamin’s plan for improving maths education when he is made “Czar of Mathematics”.

Arthur Benjamin Czar of Mathematics

His suggestions relate more to high school than primary, but probability and statistics still have their place in the early years, as I’ve shown with many readilearn resources.

For my response to Charli’s prompt, I’ve considered what may occur if a child’s intuition with maths is neither appreciated nor encouraged.

Counting on fingers
Everyone said she had a way with numbers. Even when still in nappies she was counting effortlessly to large numbers in multiples of twos, fives and tens as well as ones. The parents didn’t dare think they’d bred a genius, an outlier. They wished for an ordinary child who fitted in, unnoticed, like them.  They strove to inhibit her talent and discourage her enthusiasm. She tried to hide her ability by delaying responses with finger actions resembling calculation aids. But they slowed her none and flew too fast, earning her the nickname “Flying fingers” and ridicule instead of appreciation. 

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

36 thoughts on “Counting on fingers

  1. Hugh's Views and News

    I was hopeless at Maths at school and continued to be so until I got a part-time job behind the bar of a pub where I had to add up the cost of the drinks as I poured them. It could often be made worse when customers wanted to talk to me as I poured drinks. As time went on I found I could both talk and add up at the same time. However, was that because I got used to the drink prices when drinks were often ordered together? I refused to believe it and instead told myself that ‘practice makes perfect,’ Norah.
    Such a sad piece of flash-fiction. It must be disheartening when the parents give a child no encouragement to succeed.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Norah Post author

      You’re showing your age now, Hugh, saying that you had to add up the cost of drinks as you poured them. None of our younger folk will need to do that. What chance do they have of learning to add? 🙂 It’s pretty good that you could multitask, even before we knew what multitasking was.
      The flash was sad. It is hard when parents want for a children to ‘fit in’, especially when the child has other ideas.

      Liked by 1 person

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  2. robbiesinspiration

    I read an article recently, Norah, about how the practice of praising children who achieve at sport and academics has turned to ridicule and bullying in many schools. This is a terrible thing as this generation practices exclusion techniques for the talented and holds up mediocrity as an achievement. I have seen this in my own life too.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Norah Post author

      That’s very sad, Robbie. Australia suffers a lot from the Tall Poppy Syndrome. I didn’t realise it was over there as well. We need to celebrate the achievements of all. Ridicule and bullying might stem from jealousy and feelings of inadequacy, I assume.

      Liked by 1 person

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  3. Jules

    I was never quick with numbers. If I had a teacher like Arthur Benjamin… well then.
    I think it estimation is far more important than the exact number. And I remember my children having some classes in regards to that when they were young.

    I remember seeing a scientific show where a Gentleman saw numbers as colored shapes in his head. The brain is a wonderful and unique muscle that needs to be used.

    I enjoyed the videos. Something to watch in the hotel room where I’m at – in a New England state while it snows…

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Jules. I wish we all had maths teachers like Arthur Benjamin. How awesome that would be.
      Estimation is an important skill and children should be learning it alongside calculation. It is necessary, particularly when using aids, to know if the answer is close to correct.
      I’ve seen some shows about savants too, who see numbers as colours. I watched one recently in which the savant was able to recite the digits of pi up to a huge number. It was amazing. Of course, I have to take his word for it that he’s correct. 🙂
      I’m pleased you enjoyed watching the videos while huddled up in your hotel room. I hope you enjoyed the stay. Best wishes.

      Liked by 1 person

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          1. Jules

            Regular bowling pins… sort of an hour glass shape with more on the bottom. Candle Stick pins are straight without any curves. And Duck Pin bowling…those pins are short and squat. The last two are played with a small hard ball (like Boccie) and you get three tries each and the pins are not cleared from the lane. Same lane as regular bowling though. While I’ve played Duck Pins, I haven’t tried Candle Pins yet…

            The high today will be 43 F. Not sure if I’ll venture into town – Being a Sunday I’m going to guess not much will be open anyway. At least it isn’t so windy today.

            Liked by 1 person

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            1. Norah Post author

              I’m not aware of those different versions of bowling here. They might be. We have fluro bowling, and bumper bowling for kids, but they all use the same pins and balls. Perhaps I’m just out of touch.
              I hope you managed to stay warm. 43 sounds a mite chilly. 🙂

              Liked by 1 person

              Reply
          2. Jules

            Regular bowling pins… sort of an hour glass shape with more on the bottom. Candle Stick pins are straight without any curves. And Duck Pin bowling…those pins are short and squat. The last two are played with a small hard ball (like Boccie) and you get three tries each and the pins are not cleared from the lane. Same lane as regular bowling though. While I’ve played Duck Pins, I haven’t tried Candle Pins yet…

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  4. Charli Mills

    I enjoyed Art’s Mathemagic! But I did not enjoy math in school. I was intuitive in math and the hardest was struggling to “show” how I got my answers. You created much empathy for your student in your flash fiction. Your last line drives home her pain. Well-written, Norah!

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Norah Post author

      I’m pleased you enjoyed Benjamin’s Mathemagic, Charli. Showing that working in Maths can trip a lot of children up. I’m pleased you maintained your capability if not your enjoyment. As others have said, my flash was a sad story, but I guess that’s the effect I wanted. I’m pleased it works.

      Liked by 1 person

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  5. Jennie

    I love your reverse take on this, downplaying instead of encouraging the skill. It made for an excellent flash story, even thought the theme is sad but true. It’s a shame that fitting in has a higher power than excelling or being yourself.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Jennie. It is a sad story, but true for too many. That need to fit in can cripple many a good mind and heart.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  6. Susan Scott

    I look forward to watching the videos Norah thank you when time permits! I LOVE numbers … as children we would add up the number plates of passing cars and reduce to a single digit. I still do this – there is a secret way which finally came to me after many years. I remember with my children using the toes too …

    Your 99 words story is excellent. Sad but true … 99 adds up to 18 which adding those numbers together gives you 9… (if THAT isn’t a huge clue …)

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Norah Post author

      Your childhood game of adding the digits on number plates sounds fun. I’ve never done that. I’d love to know your secret. I haven’t got if from your huge clue . . . still thinking. 🙂 We generally have three numbers and three letters on our licence plates. How many do you have? We often make up phrases with words beginning with the letters. It can be quite funny at times.
      I hope you enjoy the videos.

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  7. TanGental

    crucial as maths is to everyday life it does get castrated by the well meaning at times; your take highlights how that can happen, but so often the ‘oh I could never do maths’ inhibits the offspring. As one of your commentators says, it’s more about the parents than the children really. I’d not come across Benjamin but he’s v interesting

    Liked by 2 people

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    1. Norah Post author

      I’m pleased you enjoyed Arthur Benjamin and his mathemagic, Geoff. I always find him pretty impressive. Maths seems to be one of those things about which feelings are often dictated by others. That can be either good, or not so good.

      Liked by 1 person

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    1. Norah Post author

      It can be paralysing. If you do all you can to blend in, you don’t want a child who stands out. Thanks for reading and commenting, Luccia.

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  8. Book Club Mom

    I like your story, Norah! And the math debate is very interesting. Math is taught very differently now compared to when I was in school. And because I have four kids, I’ve seen how the methods have changed even in the short time span of eight years. That’s frustrating as a parent because the kids who don’t have that intuitive ability have to learn a system that is different from the classic method of memorizing your times tables and actually doing long division. Of course maybe the new methods are better, but no parent understands them! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Barbara. Maths education seems to change constantly – sometimes for the better, but not always. It can be very frustrating for parents who are unable to help their children because “that’s not how we do it”. Perhaps we need more flexibility in how we think about ti.

      Liked by 1 person

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  9. Steven

    It is funny how although your fiction is really about the child, it tends to say and describe more about the parents. I always find the talks from Arthur Benjamin to be most interesting and entertaining.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      You’re right, Steven. It does say just as much about the parents. I’m pleased you also enjoy the Arthur Benjamin videos. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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  10. Annecdotist

    Sad story in your flash, Norah, albeit a great educational interpretation of the prompt.
    I might have mentioned before that although numeracy does have its uses in everyday life, and should therefore be encouraged, advanced mathematics is much more about logic and pattern so doesn’t require a high level of proficiency with actual numbers. I loved mathematics at A-level and University because at that stage I didn’t need more than my ten fingers to manipulate x and y.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Norah Post author

      You’re right, Anne. It is a sad story. I didn’t want it to be, but it’s where the prompt took me. Our maths system is great with its base ten, isn’t it? Makes working out anything pretty easy, if one knows the logic and pattern of the number system. Sadly, I don’t think it’s taught well enough in the early grades and students just end up getting confused, unless they can figure it out for themselves. So pleased you enjoyed maths. I think we have discussed this before. It’s good to know there are some lovers of maths around.

      Liked by 1 person

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