## You're reading: Posts Tagged: numeracy

### Where could you (or your rich pal) give everyone $1 million? Recently someone on Twitter, and then two people on US cable news, said that Michael Bloomberg could have used the \$500 million he spent on his presidential campaign to give everyone in the USA \$1 million. This caused quite a fuss. In short, someone divided 500 by 327, saw that the answer was bigger than 1 and the units were “millions”, and concluded that the money could instead have been distributed to give everyone \$1 million.

That’s an easy mistake to make for someone writing a tweet, but the kind of error that should have made someone think “does that make sense?” before planning a segment on TV news about it.

It’s raised a couple of interesting questions, though:

• If that money was shared between every American citizen, how much would each one get?
• If Michael Bloomberg wanted to give \$1 million to everyone in a smaller area, where could he choose? I realised that all the data I need is freely available on the internet, so I made a website to do the calculations for you: make-it-rain-bloomberg.glitch.me It asks you how much money you’ve got, then for every power of 10 dollars, it tells you where in the USA you could give every resident that much. To give you an idea of how far the net worths of people like Michael Bloomberg could go, it’s got a list of shortcuts for billionaires. Appropriately, I got that data from Bloomberg’s own website. Bloomberg himself was mysteriously missing from the list, so I got his net worth from Google and added it in myself. The most unexpected thing for me was seeing how much money these people would have left over after giving everyone in the USA \$100. They’d still be enormously, unimaginably rich!

I’ll describe a few of the fiddly details of the implementation now. At first the “how much money have you got?” input was a text field, but I realised it’d be much better to have a slider that you can swing from \$1 all the way up to \$1 trillion. It’s a logarithmic scale, so powers of 10 are equally spaced.

I got data on the populations of US cities and states from data.census.gov.

Working out which amounts and places to show you wasn’t completely straightforward. I thought it’d be easiest to fix the amounts given away to a power of 10 per person, and to find places where the population meant that the amount left over would be as small as possible. To do that, my code works through the list of places in ascending order of population, and stops at the last place whose population is big enough to give everyone at least the target amount.

I enjoyed making this tool, and I hope it helps somebody get a better feel for what these big numbers mean.

### Matt Parker talks percentages

If anyone caught BBC1’s consumer moanfest Watchdog this week, they may have been pleasantly surprised to see Aperiodicobber ((The internet assures me that ‘cobber’ is Australian slang for ‘friend’.)) Matt Parker featured in the show. Following a segment about a UK sports chain and its shocking use of the classic ‘UP TO 70% OFF’ ruse, they invited Matt on the show to explain how to calculate percentages more easily, and so that Anne Robinson could mock him for being Australian, apparently.

Since the tips Matt presented were useful, we at the Aperiodical thought it was worth reproducing Parker’s Patented Percentage Ploys here, for your reference.

### Everyone’s terrible at maths, survey finds

A recent study commissioned by Nationwide Building Society has revealed that more than one in four girls want to drop maths at 14, that less than half of 12-13 year old students surveyed could correctly calculate their change from £100 when paying for shopping worth £64.23, and that 76% of those who would choose to drop maths at GCSE said they either “couldn’t do maths” (31%) or “found it boring” (45%). They also tested respondents on their ability to identify the best value in a multi-buy situation, thus firmly conflating ‘the ability to do maths’ with ‘the ability to do arithmetic’.

### Four silly stories

Silly maths stories, like buses with a taxi sneaking into the bus lane behind them, come along four at a time, it seems. None of these stories merits being reported on here on its own, but we felt the fact that they all came to our attention so close to each other deserved recognition.

### National Numeracy Challenge for working adults

A new ((Relatively new, they were launched in March.)) charity called National Numeracy has launched a campaign to

produce a positive transformation of public attitudes to numeracy and mathematics in the UK, to create an “I can do maths” approach and to raise the numeracy skills of at least 500,000 adults of working age to Level 1 or Level 2 where appropriate.

### Telegraph’s open letter to Michael Gove and Vince Cable on numeracy (presented with arithmetic errors)

The Telegraph have printed an open letter to Michael Gove and Vince Cable summarising its six month numeracy campaign, Make Britain Count. This says that the campaign has “highlighted the crisis we face as a nation in maths education” and call on the Secretaries of State to commit resources, adjust policy and campaign to address the issue.

A wide range of experts and concerned organisations working in education, training and industry have lined up to add their voices to our central contention that underperformance in maths up to 16, and avoidance of it thereafter, have left us with a critical skills gap when it comes to filling the job vacancies that exist right now for the numerate.

The letter gives eight points that the Telegraph feels need to be addressed and promises to return to the issue at the start of the new school year.

Incredibly, the article is presented with a photograph of a blackboard showing incorrect calculations of the four times table ((from $8 \times 4$ onwards. The error, which occurs twice, seems to involve adding $4$ to $28$ and $38$ to get $30$ and $40$, respectively, although the move from $8$ to $12$ is done correctly.)). $10 \times 4 = 38$, does it? Perhaps that only serves to highlight the problem further.

Screenshot of Telegraph webpage showing arithmetic errors on blackboard

### Marcus du Sautoy interview; Marcus supports the Telegraph’s numeracy campaign

Marcus du Sautoy has lent his weight to The Telegraph’s numeracy campaign, Make Britain Count. In an interview covering maths and music, patterns and abstraction and a little about his and his children’s mathematics education, he also talks about how maths teaching in schools could be improved, stating that

in this country there’s an honour in saying you’re bad at maths, whereas in places such as India and China, mathematics is valued by the community. Parents there know that if their kids understand this language, they will be empowered. Sadly, this message hasn’t got across in many European countries yet… It’s got to be something that the whole society takes responsibility for and that is why I’m supporting the Telegraph’s Make Britain Count campaign. We’re not brave enough in our maths education these days. Kids get so bored at school from 11 to 14. They’re not exposed to the really interesting stuff.