Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Square Root Day

It turns out that today, March 3, 2009 (or 3/3/09, as you might prefer) is Square Root Day. Why? Because 3 x 3=9, and so we say that 3 squared equals 9.

Math educators have been pushing the idea that you need to understand the concepts behind math, and I have to admit that I haven't fully bought into the idea. It's not that I'm pro-rote's really more that I think sometimes you can learn the concepts after you learn how to do the problems. But in any case I hate to be dogmatic and I am sure learning the concepts first works better for some kids.

The importance of understanding the concepts in math got a boost the other day, as far as I'm concerned, after a conversation with one of my children (one who is in elementary school).

Child (out of the blue, while sitting in traffic): I finally understand the idea of why a squared number is called a square.

Me: Really? Why?

Child: Well, because each side of the square is the same, and when you want to get the area you have to do the width times the height and in a square those lengths are the same.

Me: (To my internal alter ego) Wow! I've been squaring things all these years and I know how to do it, but I never knew why it was called a square.

Me: (To my child) That is exactly right! And do you know why the next power up is called a cube? (Discussion followed.)

Seriously. I use math very frequently at work, and I think I'm pretty good at math concepts, but I never put together the idea that squares and cubes are not just representing a multiplication fact, but also a geometric concept...until this week.

Which adds a whole new dimension to Square Root Day. Have a happy one!

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