Digging holes in maths tests

18th February 2000 at 00:00
THE MATHS test set by the Teacher Training Agency for student teachers brought a tear to my eye.

Good old TTA.

All those 'realistic' sums based on the mathematics that teachers are supposed to know, like working out scores on tests, reminded me of sums in my childhood.

"If it takes two men four hours to dig a hole six feet square and three feet deep, how long will it take nine men to fill a bath?" Well, it was something like that.

The memory plays cruel tricks after a few years.

My whole childhood seemed to be full of men digging holes and people filling up baths. I loved it. 'Realistic maths', that's what it was all about.

Indeed, you may have been wondering why every town, city and country area in the whole land has been dug up during the last year or two.

Don't believe anything you read in the press about laying cable for the white hot communications revolution. It is all lies. Not one inch of cable has ever been laid.

In fact, it is people of my generation, digging all those holes we practised so long for in our childhood.

After years of withdrawal symptoms, we finally broke out and decided to apply our hard-won "realistic" maths.

Me and my mates will be popping round to fill your bath some time next week.

But the interesting thing about all this "realistic" maths was that it was only realistic on the planet Neptune.

If one man can dig a hole in four hours, how long will it take two men? Two hours? No, only in maths tests.

In real life it would not be so simple. Think about it.

Two men would chat to each other, swap a few jokes to while away the time, find snags, get in each other's way.

They would take at least four hours, exactly the same as one man on his own.

Four men would require even longer: probably write a forward plan, fill in a docket, hold a safety meeting, elect a union rep.

I would ay ten hours at a conservative guess.

The TTA will have to be very careful before asserting that its maths test assesses the sort of competence teachers need in their daily job.

If you are an experienced teacher you are actually able to operate a kind of maths that even Einstein could never fathom, for it has its own logic and rules.

So I offer the TTA my own set of 'realistic' maths questions.

Question: If it takes a child two minutes to write one sentence, how long will it take to write ten sentences?

Answer: An hour.

Reason: That's how long the lesson lasts.

All written work expands to fill the total time available.

Question: If a class of children can walk a mile in twenty minutes, how long will it take to walk the half mile from the city baths back to school?

Answer: Thirty minutes.

Reason: Darren Rowbottom will have lost his wallet and everyone will have to go back and search for it.

Question: A teacher starts marking a set of thirty books at 6pm. If each book takes three minutes to mark, at what time will all the books have been completed?

Answer: 7.45 next morning.

Reason: Mark ten books, watch EastEnders; mark four more, kids want their supper; mark another couple, kids falling out; mark five more, one little sod refuses to clean his teeth; bugger it, it's now 10 o'clock, I'm knackered; tell you what, I'll get up early and do the rest tomorrow.

Question: Sally Farnes-Barnes takes a school test where the maximum score obtainable is 50 marks. She gets 10 marks in section A of the test and two marks in section B. What is her final percentage mark?

Answer: 87 per cent.

Reason: Her dad is chairman of governors and decisions about performance-related pay are being made next week.

Only seasoned pros will get all these sums right. Nobel Prize winning mathematicians don't stand an earthly.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today