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Intuition can only get you so far

Posted by cyberdog on October 4th, 2011 filed in kids, penny

So I was helping my son, a 4th grader, doing his math homework. Almost 2 hours in and we were at the very last problem (meaning that we were both tired and ready to just get it over with). The whole worksheet was on fraction and the answer to the last problem was 65/117. Now I don’t know about you but my son was happy with the answer and ready to pack his school bag. Me, on the other, felt something awkwardly wrong with that answer.

I asked my son is he sure that’s the simplest form of that fraction and, since he’s been trained by me, he refused to say yes or no but instead said he tried everything from 1-10. So I took out my iPhone and start dividing those numbers by larger numbers and finally found that 13 was the key.

By this time, since I was extremely tired, I just told him to try dividing the fraction with 13 and at the same time I was silently cursing at the teacher who gave these 4th grader something so not obvious.

This morning on my way to work, I was thinking about the post process department thing and I was really sure about my believe that the simplest way is always the best way to do things (unlike Mr. Chai who always likes to make things as complicated as possible). Anyway, the words “simplest way” got me thinking about that math problem last night and all the sudden it dawn on me that there is a systematic way to solve that problem without using a calculator dividing all the numbers known to man. All we had to do was to find the “common factor” on both numbers which was his previous homework assignment!

Now I’m cursing myself for cursing at the teacher because she actually gave them a system to work on the problems and a challenge to use the system on solving the problem.

So what did I get from all these? I like math and I always have a good intuition about how to solve math or, in general, logical problems. But my intuition can only get me so far and there is always a system on how to solve a problem so even if we get stuck in a corner and especially if we are tired and in fatigue, think system wide and you should and will almost always find a way to solve the problem. It might involve a lot more work (in the fraction problem, instead of focusing on one number, finding their common factors mean we have to find all the factors on both numbers), but at the end it’d always be worth it.

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