The Third “R”

As students at Maria College prepare for final exams and write those inevitable end-of-the-semester research papers, I am always reminded of the all-important Three Rs of education: reading, ’riting, and ’rithmetic (translation: reading, writing, and arithmetic… I know—spelling doesn’t always make sense!)

Arithmetic (or math which is quicker to type) is going to be the buzz around January 6, 2017, when 20th Century Fox releases Hidden Figures. The film revolves around the true story of Katherine Johnson (played by Taraji P. Henson) and her associates Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe). These three African-American women devoted their mathematical talents to helping NASA achieve success, from John Glenn’s first orbit around Earth to the Apollo 11 moon landing and so much more. Ms. Johnson, who is currently 97 years old, and her story are remarkable in so many ways; she was honored in 2015 by President Barack Obama when she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. You can read a bit more about Ms. Johnson here. Check out all of the details of the film here, and be sure to take some time over Christmas break to see it!

By the way, at Maria College we are fortunate to have a remarkable mathematician of our own who helps her students to learn the wonders of math: Barbara Ruslander. I asked Barbara to share some of her personal thoughts on the subject, so I will let her words round out this week’s blog:

My math students hear me say that I’m pretty sure not too many people go through a typical day and say, “I just did some math!” But I am VERY sure that each of us indeed “does math” every single day! I consider myself very lucky to see the math in everyday life, and even more lucky to have had very strong women role models when I was in high school and in college. They made math appealing, even with its built-in difficulty factor. Thank you, Mrs. Shay and Mrs. McLoughlin! But I think my love for math started in third grade when I learned about my favorite number in the world: 93,000,000. Ninety-three million sounds very random, but it is the distance in miles from the earth to the sun. In these days heading into winter, that number does sound very, very large… and we can understand why our winters in the great Northeast can get so very, very cold! But it isn’t so far at all, when we think of how hot our summers can be. Just think… it may not be unusual for a summer July day to get up to 93 degrees (Fahrenheit, of course!). This still may not be “doing math” in a typical day, but think of all the other numbers that are everyday numbers. The price of gas and its fluctuations, keeping (or trying to keep) a budget for holiday spending, making measurements for our holiday cooking, hearing the temperature prediction for the day when deciding what to wear, and much more. And the coolest thing is, people have been using the same math principles for thousands of years. So when you think of the phrase “new math,” math really isn’t so new after all!  

Until next time . . . 



  • Comment:

    Anne—I can’t wait to see the movie, of course! And that is a bittersweet wish today (12-8-16), as I learned of John Glenn’s passing. Those women were instrumental in making it possible for him to be the first American in orbit around the earth! Thank you, Anne, for bringing the third “R” of “rithmetic” to us in your blog!

    Submitted by Barbara Ruslander on

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