County's math miscalculation leads to lesson in classroom

October 07, 2005|By LISA PREJEAN

I am grateful that the Washington County Commissioners made a temporary math miscalculation about two weeks ago.

Not to point a finger at the mistake - it was corrected within hours of being made, after all - but because it was a valuable learning experience for my fifth-graders.

Since the beginning of school, we've been reviewing math basics that they've learned in previous years. Why so much review? Good question, and one my students have asked a few times.

Most of the mistakes made in higher-level math deal with addition, subtraction, multiplication or division.

Just as a strong athletic program emphasizes basic drills, a strong math program should drill the basics.

Our class had signed up for a week's worth of Newspaper in Education papers so we could use the Constitution series in history class. This five-part series was published in the paper during Constitution Week, Sept. 19 to 23.


The math miscalculation story was on the front page of one of those papers, so I decided to use that part of the paper during our math lesson.

The story truly tied in with our lesson, which covered division. The commissioners had decided to set aside $2 million of a $12 million surplus to be distributed as rebates for property owners. Since there are about 50,000 taxable accounts in the county, each one would receive about $400, the commissioners initially said. Later, they corrected the math to about $40 per owner.

So here's the math problem I wrote on the board: 2,000,000 divided by 50,000.

I think most of my students thought that problem was out of their range, but we started by eliminating zeros on both sides.

200,000 divided by 5,000

20,000 divided by 500

2,000 divided by 50

200 divided by 5

How many times does 5 go into 100? 20

20 x 2 = 40

Each owner will receive about $40.

The homework assignment that evening included reading the article about the miscalculation.

"This would be a really good bonus question on tomorrow's test," I told my fifth-graders.

It was, and most of my students got it right.

Would they have known the answer to 2 million divided by 50,000 if I had just included it on the test? Probably not. But now, thanks to the commissioners, they had a reference point, a real-life example of the importance of getting the right answer to a division problem.

I was really proud of them.

Oh, and by the way, most of them said they'd be more than happy with a $40 rebate.

They don't have gas tanks to fill.

In last week's column, I shared some study tips we used when my son was learning about Maryland's role in the War of Independence.

When we came to the question, "Name the four men from Maryland who signed the Declaration of Independence," he was able to name one, William Paca.

Then I chased him around the kitchen so he would remember Samuel Chase's name.

Here are the clues I provided for the other two Marylanders who signed the Declaration of Independence:

1. His last name sounds like a woman's first name.

2. I pointed to the diamond in my engagement ring.

For the first one, I was referring to Charles Carroll. The second clue was a reference to Thomas Stone.

To read about these or other signers of the Declaration of Independence, go to

declaration/signers on the Web.

The site features short biographies on each of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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