Archived Story

Math: An American summer pastime

Published 9:54am Tuesday, June 21, 2011

By JASON MAYFIELD / Guest Columnist

Parents sometimes apologize to me for their grammar. I, for one, can handle misplaced words. It’s math mistakes that kill me.

Some children spend their summers at camp. Others, in front of a TV. A few even haunt the doorways of public libraries, begging passersby for the summer reading books they neglected until the very last week.

I spent my summers doing all that (without the library stalking part) and with a few math games sprinkled in. My summer math games have a legacy. They are the only games that “annoy” me today, like when I’m ready to checkout at the grocery store and the clerk can’t itemize what a sales price of “three for $5” is because it doesn’t divide evenly.

The tricks of math division came through practice, and that practice came after my retirement from Little League at the tender age of 10. With time on my hands, I set to work to follow the Birmingham Barons. I would attend games whenever my father and I could get out to the park, or I would listen from home until the AM station turned to static dust in the night. I learned to keep score, and I learned to keep my own statistics.

People love baseball for its superstitions and for its numbers. As a child, I embraced both. I not only believed that my favorite Barons performed better when I was in attendance or listening on the radio, I begin to save the boxscores I kept to prove my point. At least once a week during the summer, I would devote a good hour to updating such things as batting averages and ERA numbers before moving to more imaginative play.

Those numbers stuck in my head. I never became a “math wiz,” but I did become good enough at simple divisions and percentages to beat the calculator in the press box of college baseball games I worked later as a graduate assistant. Of course, beating “press guys” in simple math isn’t a crowning accomplishment. My summertime math certainly helped in the classroom, one reason why my last standardized test I took in graduate school placed me significantly higher in math than in English.

Summer habits are hard to break. Are we encouraging kids to pursue the right ones?

Jason Mayfield is a gifted instructor at Columbiana Middle School.

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