What happens when you get your powers of ten wrong

870 billion people dont have enough to eatI’ve been following a series of Globe and Mail articles on “math wrath”, the anger expressed by parents of schoolchildren who felt that the current math curriculum was ignoring basic math skills in favour of what’s called “discovery” and “creative strategies”.

I’ve seen some of the new ways to teach math, and while some of them seem a bit goofy to me, one technique that I think is useful is magnitude estimation. That’s where you’re given exercises like “estimate the number of jellybeans in this jar”, or “how many bricks do you think make up the school’s outer walls?”. I think that these exercises can help students get a better grip on quantities and helps point out that their math is way off. It might’ve helped whoever published the “factoid” shown on the right, who should know that the world population is on the order of single-digit billions, and therefore the number of starving people can’t be close to a trillion.

It might’ve also helped Miss Belgium 2014 finalist Cindy Sabbe. It may have been nerves — hey, we’ve all been asked questions on the spot and screwed up the answers royally — but you’d think that someone who grew up in Belgium would’ve had World War I history drilled into their heads, seeing as it’s the home of Flanders Fields and other places terribly devastated during that conflict. Here’s what happened during the Q&A portion of the 2014 Miss Belgium finals:

world war i 10 years ago

Feel free to add this to your “Millennials are terrible” file, if you have one.

Here’s the video (her answer, for those who speak Dutch, is “Tien jaar geleden?“):

For those of you who speak and read Dutch (or at least its Flemish variant), you might find the Never Forget WOI 2004 – 2008 Facebook page amusing. They seem to be having a field day with this topic, and they’ve got jokes and cartoons which I, a non-speaker of the language, assume are droll and will cause your beer (which I assume you’re enjoying with fries smothered in mayonnaise) to shoot out your nose:

in vlamse velden

I can’t talk about powers of ten without pointing you to the 1977 version of Charles and Ray Eames’ classic educational film, Powers of Ten, which runs 9 minutes and is the perfect way to expand and blow your mind over lunch. Enjoy!

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