Numb3rs - Or How A TV Show Teaches Me Math
Math proved to be a stumbling block for me as early as the first grade. The teacher handed out worksheets with bundles, each one meant to represent ten sticks. I, however, had a literal approach and tried to count each one. If I couldn’t see ten sticks, then I wrote down eight sticks or seven or six. When I attempted to add both single and bundled sticks, my answers weren’t correct. What the other students saw as twenty-two – two bundles and two single sticks, I might see as sixteen sticks. Although both my teacher and mother drilled into my consciousness the notion a bundle represented ten sticks, I remained resistant toward mathematics.
It didn’t help when ‘new’ math replaced ‘old’ math. I managed addition, subtraction, and multiplication well enough and although I struggled with long division, I could do it, most of the time. I even liked fractions but when the new version of math began to add concepts from higher levels of mathematics, I didn’t grasp it. I’m sure it’s in part because my teacher didn’t understand it either – something she admitted to my mother. When my mother asked how she could teach it if she didn’t understand it herself, my teacher, once a rural school teacher, explained the kids could teach each other. It might’ve worked – except none of the other students in my long ago fifth grade classroom at Webster School grasped it either.
Or if there had been a television program back in the day like Numb3rs.
I’ve been watching with my kids this summer, my grasp on math is improving. The show, which aired for several years on CBS prime time - but which I never saw at the time because I don't watch much prime time programming - deals with a brilliant mathematician, Charlie Eppes and his FBI brother, Don Eppes. Charlie’s often called in to help solve crimes for the FBI through the use of mathematics. It’s an entertaining show with a lot of family values presented through the various episodes but it also hits home the idea that, as the beginning states each time, we all use math every day. And we do, from weather forecasts to balancing the checkbook and so much more. Don Eppes is played by one of my favorite actors, Rob Morrow, and Charlie is played by David Krumholtz.
The character, Charlie Eppes, presents complicated math formulas in a way simple to understand even for someone with my limited math skills. And his ideas are visualized on screen as well. Although my teenagers are already 'A' Math students, working ahead in areas of mathematics I’ll never enter, the show helps to fuel their interest. My daughter Megan is spending her summer reading a lot of math texts and books from the local library, to prepare for the upper level math courses she begins this fall both as required work for her future plans but also out of interest. I’m finding the show to be both entertaining and educational.
I like the way the show focuses on real life issues, on family and friends co-existing, and how they interact. I love the setting too - LA is one of my favorite cities, a place with a unique, trippy spirit. Watching the show makes my daughters want to move to Los Angeles and I'm not too far behind them. Despite a lot of personal things going on, we're still hoping to make a trip west in August. And the Eppes family home is simply gorgeous on the show.
And best of all, it’s playing a role, however small, in enhancing my own math skills. It's never too late to learn!