So You Think You Can Add

by Marinka on April 22, 2012

I have bad news.

The list of things that I can do is getting smaller and shorter. Like the other day I was looking at my 13 year old daughter’s Facebook page and saw that she took some kind of an online math quiz and posted her answer:

And I got really annoyed.

Because math is my daughter’s thing. She is attending a mathy high school next year, selected for its very mathiness. And I think that making a careless mistake and posting it on your Facebook for the world to see is just dumb.

We’ve been having an ongoing conversation for a while now about respecting the process and if you enjoy a subject, like she does math, to take your time with it, to be thorough and not to get cocky. That doing something well is more important than doing it quickly. That in our lives of social media updates, we still need to take pride in our work.

Her error really spoke to this issue and I was eager to discuss it with her.

Except when I did, she held her ground.

“I had the right answer,” she said.

“No,” I told her. “You didn’t see the zero at the end because you were rushing.” It’s important to be patient with children and point out their mistakes in detail. “And anything multiplied by zero is zero.”

I was feeling good at this point. Well, as good as a math teacher can feel in this economy.

“I saw the zero,” she said. “But you didn’t follow the order of operations.”

“Order of who, now?” I asked.

“Order of operations,” she said, like it’s a real thing. And then she put this on her white board.

According to her, there’s this new-fangled rule that you have to multiply first and since 1 times 0 is zero, that part of the equation is zero and you just add up all the other ones.

That is crazy shit, excuse my French.

So I did what any normal person would do and tweeted an abbreviated version of this problem.



In the first camp were People Like Me.  Otherwise known as people who had the wrong answer.  There were many of them and they swore up and down that anything multiplied by zero was zero. As it should be.

And in the second Kamp were People Not Like Me Who Know About The Order of Operations Probably Because They Didn’t Watch Enough TV As Children, who insisted that you multiply whatever is there first, even if there are no parentheses.  It seemed very crazy to me, but they appeared very confident.

And apparently right.  And then some of them even wrote a post about it.

So I reluctantly accept this new-fangled-math, but I’m pretty sure that I was never taught it this way.

Which probably explains why all the bridges that I build keep tumbling down.

One year ago ...

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Alina Adams April 22, 2012 at 10:16 am

Math Teacher Husband says…. 14. And that zero is not only wrong, it’s “horribly wrong.” Order of operations! Though he does say that for algebra, you wouldn’t use the multiplication sign, it would be parentheses or a dot.


April 22, 2012 at 12:10 pm

Just want to say I am amazed you guys have in-depth conversations about math without screaming at each other, which is what happened in our household since my mom has a Soviet-earned M.A. in Math and I was doing bullshit American algebra all the way until 10th grade.

I am so excited that your daughter loves math and that she’s being encouraged to do it. Aside from the huge self-esteem boost that she’s going to get from owning being good at something, you will be glad to know that she can make huge $$$ as an engineer or tech person or scientist, meaning you will get into a very nice retirement home, perhaps with your own white board.


the mama bird diaries
April 22, 2012 at 1:20 pm

I am shocked. Outraged. Dismayed. This is a total game changer.


April 22, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Is is possible, merely possible, that maybe someone other than you should be doing the house finances?


deb April 22, 2012 at 5:28 pm

if you were never taught this, then i think we can blame that safely on your teachers. you are in the clear. there is still another camp, you see, those of us who were taught this, but forgot to do it. we came up with zero too. then, upon hearing your daughter’s explanation said, “oh yeah, I forgot” which is what I say about EVERYTHING these days.


April 22, 2012 at 6:48 pm

This is awesome. In a “I hope my kids out-math me when they are older too” kind of way. (Right now, I can still pretty much out-math them, but they are only in Kindergarten and 2nd grade.) Thanks for the math reminder. I got it wrong and then went, “oh, yeah, I forgot!” too.


April 22, 2012 at 7:44 pm

Kids these days. Yeah, I know the order of operations. From left to right, like NORMAL people do it.


Louise April 22, 2012 at 8:19 pm

Its so easy to remember the order of operations! BEDMAS!
B: brackets
E: exponentials
D: division
M: multiplication
A: addition
S: subtraction


JamieH April 22, 2012 at 8:46 pm

Ok, so I never comment, but I am really confused! If you follow the order of operations, shouldn’t the answer be 3?? It says to add and the subtract… Can someone please explain this to me?? I would ask my husband, but he already thinks he’s smarter than me and this might confirm it!


Tinne from Tantrums and Tomatoes April 23, 2012 at 7:36 am

Math thaught differntly in America. Oh the wonderfull things one learns bloghopping.
Note to self: do not move to America, you will be confused.


DawnA April 23, 2012 at 9:12 am

My head hurts now. Anything besides basic math=terror for me. And you don’t need any fancy BEDMAS for that equation.


Kelly April 23, 2012 at 10:28 am

I remember it now but I totally wouldn’t have thought to multiply first unless it was in parentheses.


Megan April 23, 2012 at 10:41 am

And why do I need to know this? How does this affect ME?


rebeccaNYC April 23, 2012 at 11:24 am

Here’s how dumb I am about math…I just did this on the calculator…came up with 0. I expected to come up with 15. Now I am going to spend the day worrying about this. Thanks.


dusty earth mother April 23, 2012 at 11:52 am

I am so completely lost now. I thought math was one of those things that didn’t change, but I guess I was wrong. What’s next, Marinka’s a brunette? What is the world coming to?


Momo Fali
April 23, 2012 at 5:15 pm

Everything I thought I knew turns out to be a lie. That’s messed up.


anna see April 23, 2012 at 5:54 pm

sheesh! if it wasn’t on schoolhouse rock, i didn’t learn it.


Loukia April 23, 2012 at 10:55 pm

I am sorry but this is all over my head. My head cannot do math at all. My grade one son brings home math homework and I’m like, really? In grade one? Huh. Anyway, I know the order or whatever, or at least, I learned it once upon a time but now, I just don’t look at numbers. Not even the ones on price tags.



April 23, 2012 at 11:35 pm

Wait what? Did they just come up with this because I would have said 0 as well. I consulted my husband (who knows lots of things and frequently looks at me with concern when I legitimately ask questions like what does a dam do?) and he said “Yeah, order of operations we learned that in the 4th grade.” Clearly I was busy that day.


Korinthia Klein April 24, 2012 at 12:00 pm

This sort of just hurt my brain. Then it made me impressed with your kid and a little worried about my kids. And now I’m glad I’m not in school anymore and I want chocolate.


Polish Mama on the Prairie
April 24, 2012 at 3:25 pm

I’m confused as well. I finished Calc II halfway through high school and I come up with “0”. How much have I forgotten in (mumble) years since I got out of school? Feeling old now, thank you.


Hope April 24, 2012 at 8:45 pm

Oh my God, I am an idiot! But at least I can laugh at myself.


Katie R-G April 25, 2012 at 10:39 am

I just need to point out that this is your second post about math. I may or may not have vomited after the first one for fear that it proved my now 9 year old will be math-smarter than me in less than 5 years. Like 5 years less than 5 years. Do THAT math! Oi. Clearly grammar isn’t my strongest subject either. I’m effed. <- Totally a word, right?? omfg.


Jake September 23, 2012 at 6:12 pm

As a math teacher, it doesn’t make me sad that you didn’t know the correct answer or you forgot the order of operations. It does make me sad that you think this is “new” math. Order of operations has always been around, and is definitely not new. It’s the basics of mathematics. If we didn’t follow the basic order of operations rules, there would be chaos in math. Your blog post justifies the reason as a high school math teacher I still need to teach order of operations.


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