Fun with long division

May 30th, 2013 by dad

A fellow parent in Dorje’s class posted recently on the horror of Grade 4 maths. In particular, the long division problems they are getting.

Dorje is a bit like me, likes to be right too much for his own good, so he was horrified to have corrections this week. For two of the three corrections he got the same answer as he originally did, which turned out to the be the right answer, so either the teacher was wrong – I remember my Standard 5 teacher being unable to do maths, so much so that he was sent for remedial lessons, as his “I was just testing you” five times a class got a bit much – or more likely he miscopied the question.

The third one, however, he did get wrong, so he asked for help. Maybe he was hoping I’d give him the right answer, but no such luck. First I got him to check if the answer was right – he should be able to multiply back, and so be absolutely certain about his answer.

His answer was wrong, so he showed me how he was doing it.

I can’t remember how to do long division, school-style. It’s horribly tedious. Divide here, carry this, remainder that. I can see why schools teach it, as it’s a technique that doesn’t require any thought, but people doing long division outside of school either:

  • use a calculator or, if they’re doing it in their head
  • use a shortcut

A calculator defeats the purpose of doing maths homework, and I couldn’t follow Dorje’s explanation of his method, so I decided to show him my way of doing it. It’s useful to look at different ways of doing a problem – people who can do maths well in their heads almost always have a shortcut technique.

As a simple example, let’s say the problem is R1735 divided by 17. My easy technique is to use multiples of ten to simplify the problem. So, 17 times 10? 170, far too low. 17 times 100 is 1700, which is about right. So that’s 100 remainder 35. 35 goes quickly into 17 twice, so the answer is 102 remainder 1. It can all be done quickly in the head, much quicker than tediously carrying this carrying that.

I showed him my way, and he correctly worked out the answer, and then saw the mistake he’d made using the school technique.

Dorje and I used to play number system games at breakfast, although it’s been a while now. I’ve introduced him to the wonders of binary, where 1 and 1 is 10. We’d also make up maths rules. So for example we’d make up a problem where 12 gazunk 6 is 78. 11 gazunk 5 is 60. And the other person would have to work out what “gazunk” is (in this case, both times and plus).

I’m guessing if it’s up to me, Dorje will be quite good at maths. Luckily he has other influences too, as if it was up to me in visual creativity, Dorje would be in trouble, as our deer prancing vs monster behind the hills draw-off showed.

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Luxury camping, Barbarian Attack and Wild Ways

May 19th, 2013 by dad

Dorje and I went camping this weekend.

The car was packed full of games as we headed off into the sunset. So was it the wilds of the Cederburg? A nature reserve? Hiding out on Table Mountain? A holiday camp? Not quite – we went went camping at a friend’s home. Their home is currently a caravan park, and we camped right in front. The best of both worlds – camping in a tent waking up to the sound of the waves over the dunes, and spacious indoors with a heater for a marathon game of Catan Barbarian Attack. It’s the second time Dorje’s played this Settlers of Catan variant, and he persisted with his all-or-nothing strategy, armies of blue knights sweeping the island keeping the barbarian hordes at bay, ignoring the more mundane things like gathering resources by building cities and settlements. He came even closer to success this time, one dice roll from victory, but Noel’s multiple metropolises around the grain fields eventually saw him home, a mere half a victory point ahead of Dorje.

My game saw me stuck in the desert with nothing but bales of wool, wishing I’d attended more knitting classes so I could find a use for them all.

If it’d been just Dorje and I camping in the wilds we’d have been lucky to have baked beans, but the friends were Noel and Natalie of Earthshine, so the food was scrumptious and the blender was in full swing for warm chocolate nut milks.

On Sunday, we left our semi-urban campsite and Dorje headed off to Wild Ways, a programme aimed at celebrating natural spaces and connecting people more deeply with nature through direct experience.

The approach is fun, filled with games and stories, and Dorje loved it, and loved telling me all about it. I enjoyed the story of the human-like ‘stalkers’, hypnotised aliens who can’t stop moving and are destroying nature, who the children had to overcome in one of their games.

All the other children I know who’ve attended have immensely enjoyed it as well, so if you’re interested, email wildways (dot) sa (at) for more information.

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Crippled by the goblins

May 10th, 2013 by dad

Last weekend, Dorje, Joan, a visitor from Kenya, and I went up Table Mountain in the cablecar. As is often the case, it was sunny and warm below, and chilly up top.


I’ve been up and down once before with Dorje, but this time we decided to walk down. We wandered around before ending up at Maclears Beacon, the highest point of the mountain.
Maclears Beacon

Dorje climbed to the top, fighting off the goblins, to get one half of the sacred stone.
Collecting the stone

Unfortunately, as the guide, I had enjoyed the stay on the top too much, and it was already sunset by the time we reached the beacon. We headed back, with the goblins in hot pursuit, empowered by the spreading gloom.

We got to Platteklip, enjoying some beautiful views of the city lights, but it was already dark, and so began a slow descent, the goblins requiring all of Dorje’s magic to lure astray.

Joan demonstrated her remarkable Kenyan climbling technique, descending on all fours, only her fear of the goblins behind overcoming her night blindness and fear of heights.

It was well-past Dorje’s bedtime and I was worried I’d have to carry him down, but the screeches of the goblins kept him awake and energised, and he was bounding back and forth waiting for myself and Joan.

We got back to the car at about 21h45, just ahead of the goblins.

Dorje was fine the next day, I was a bit stiff, but I feel very guilty for crippling Joan, who couldn’t leave the house for two days. She said she felt 83, and looked it too. When we finally made it out again, to the Waterfront with Dorje on Tuesday, the Justin Bieber fans pouring into the waterfront were backing up traffic for miles. A crippled Kenyan taking ten minutes to cross the road added at least another mile.

Dorje felt a few twinges a couple of days later, but luckily Joan was ready for the clubs of Long Street on her last weekend in Cape Town.

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