A weblog by Will Fitzgerald

Monthly Archives: January 2005

Ratios and percentages

Daughter Jane is taking the SAT test next week as part of a program to foster academically talented junior high students. We’re fairly confident of her language skills (today she asked me what ‘subcutaneous meant), but she’s fairly math adverse, so Bess asked me to tutor her a little. It’s hard to know how to prepare a 12 year old for the math section of the SATs, but today we spent about an hour discussing odds and percentages.

It was interesting to watch her think. “There are twice as many boys as girls in the class, which has 120 students. How many boys were there? Girls?” She did this by trial and error: taking multiples of 10 for the girls, doubling it, and adding the sum to see if it was 120. She got it fairly quickly this way: she had a good intuition of the size of the numbers needed (and that they would be multiples of 10).

Our SAT prep book suggested a system of creating a ‘box’ that looks like this:

Boys Girls Whole
Ratio 2 1 ?
Times ? ? ?
Number ? ? 120

Eventually, you fill things out by adding 2+1 to get 3, diving 120 by 3 to get 40, then multiplying to get the final number:

Boys Girls Whole
Ratio 2 1 3
Times 40 40 40
Number 80 40 120

It works from a number of starting points, and it’s nicely ‘plug-and-chug.’ Still, Jane’s intuition helped her make some leaps to correct answers without doing all the math–and, of course, some leaps to wrong answers, too. I continue to wonder how to encourage her interests and abilities in math and science. I might get the opportunity to hear Sally Ride talk about this next week, when I travel to Ames for my (nominally) monthly visit to the Apex lab.

(Sorry about the poor table formatting. Limits of Blogger, I think).

More Michigania

I came across a You know you’re from Michigan when… list, and it had the following item:

When giving directions, you refer to “A Michigan Left.”

Hmm, I’ve never heard of this, but searching the web I found this: The Michigan Left-Hand Turn, complete with diagrams. Fortunately, we don’t have any of these in Kalamazoo, although they’re a bane whenever I drive Gratiot Avenue when I visit my father near Detroit. Grr. I’d rather be known for Vernors.

Michigander dialect

From: Do You Speak American / Sea to Shining Sea / American Varieties / Midwest:

Indeed, it is not uncommon to find Michiganders who will claim that the speech of national broadcasters is modeled on their dialect. Even a cursory comparison of the speech of the network news anchors with that of the local news anchors in Detroit will reveal the fallacy of such claims.


As long as Midwesterners are viewed as average, boring or otherwise nondescript, their speech will be seen through the same prism.

Iyat least they’re tuckin’ abuut os.

Update: Here’s a nice dialect map by Labov et al. showing (among other things) the extent of the Northern Cities Shift.

Update 2: Here’s a good example (MP3) of Michigander speech, from the International Dialects of English Archive.

Happy New Year

We spent New Year’s Eve the way we usually do–with a group of friends we’ve been celebrating with every year for more than two decades–the Aldermans, the Neevils, and the Robbins (participating via instant messaging from Honduras), plus Bess’s sister Jean and her two boys. Mark was off to a ‘black-tie’ party of this own (having found a spiffy tuxedo for $20 dollars–shades of Napoleon Dynamite–at a thrift store).

We played our usual guys vs. girls games–we had a hoot with Catch Phrase, where we learned how differently kids and adults remember and image things: ‘Poison Ivy’ was primarily a movie character to one nephew, and ‘Crankshaft’ only a cartoon to another. This year–for the first time in many years–the guys beat the girls. I guess I should disclose this only happened because I persuaded Kathy Alderman to play on the guys’ team. (We’re pretty sure Kathy is telepathic, at least with respect to word and drawing games).

We got to bed at 2 a.m. I somewhat foolishly got up at 7 a.m. to sing Harmonia Sacra down in Goshen, Indiana. This is similar, but not identical, to Sacred Harp. A tune I really like is the first one we sang: Amboy, which is not in the Denson book.

Best wishes to all for a happy new year.