Warning - Some posts may cause choking, spitting of beverage and /or a severe giggle fit. This advice brought to you by regular reader Louisa.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

High Potty News

If you're wondering what 'High Potty News' is, it's just a silly way of saying 'hypotenuse'. Why I am saying 'hypotenuse' in a silly way? Well, because it's maths related and I seriously cannot stand maths, and so anything that makes it silly is always a good idea.

Back in the old days (er, when I attended school), maths wasn't always a problem. I was always placed in the 'top set' right the way through primary school and all the way up to my third year of secondary school. Then the dreaded Year 10 arrived, along with GCSEs, and while I was still placed in the top set, I suddenly became the class dunce. I was still just as competent at basic maths, but whereas before the top set placing meant that you had decent brain cells that worked, a GCSE top set meant that you would study a higher maths level. Most of my fellow classmates were able to cope with the higher level of learning, but not me. I'm good with numbers, sure, but start throwing trigonometry and quadratic equations at me, and I am lost. It doesn't help that I tend to panic if I don't understand something either.

Then there was my maths teacher, who, shall we say, wasn't exactly patient if you didn't keep up. I worked really, really hard at maths for the entire two year course, and even revised for the actual exam (yeah, revision for all my other subjects just wasn't happening *shifty*). Yet despite all my studying, I failed my maths abysmally (yet strangely I passed all of the other subjects with no revision at all).

It all came down to the actual papers that I sat. The higher set sat papers 3 and 4, and the possible grades were A,B,C,D or U (for ungraded - the polite way of saying FAIL in big capital letters). The next set down sat papers 2 and 3, but the highest grade possible would have been a C. Now, a C was the equivalent of the old style O Levels, and so the desired outcome of all examinations was a grade of C or above. I sat the higher papers and got a D for my efforts. Not an epic fail by all means, but not the C that was desired (I got four B's and four C's for all of my other (unrevised) subjects by the way, so I obviously had a brain, albeit not a genius one). Anyway, the really annoying thing was knowing that had I sat papers 2 and 3 instead, I would have had my C grade without a doubt. You see, my D grade was achieved solely from answering all of the questions on paper 3. When I sat for paper 4, I had a,  um, let's call it an 'episode', and didn't answer a single question. It stands to reason that I must have had virtually all of paper 3 correct to have been able to attain the D grade. So if I had sat paper 2 I would almost certainly have answered all of the questions correctly. But my teacher wouldn't move me down a set because.... well, I don't really know why to be honest. Anyway, I failed.

Why am I talking about my maths exam? Well, it's because of the job I am doing now. I've always worked with money, so having basic number sense is a must. In the three jobs that I have had, I have had to cash up the tills, manage the floats and safe, and deal with banking the takings. Now, my maths teacher always told me that I wouldn't get anywhere without passing my maths exam. The amount of pressure that she put me under no doubt added to my complete inability to stem the panic that arrived whenever I saw those funny litle x's and y's. But even though I failed my maths GCSE, I have, throughout my entire working life, been dealing with numbers and figures on a daily basis.

So I'd just like to say something to my maths teacher: Ha! Ha, ha, ha, ha! You pressured me no end, didn't have the patience to explain things clearly to me (and made me snort way too much because you always had a button undone on your blouse, by the way, not to mention the funny walk that you did that was akin to John Cleese doing his Hitler impression), refused to move me into a more suitable set, and made me believe that I would be unable to find employment because I couldn't understand what a hypotenuse was supposed to be.

Pttthhhhbbbb! (That's a raspberry by the way, in case you wondered).

I may not know much about trigonometry, but I was still able to get jobs that involved plenty of maths. So there.


  1. Hi Tara. I’m from the US, so the way that your schools are structured in the UK are not familiar to me. How is it that the schools are structured grade-wise?

    We have day care (age 0-2), pre-K (pre-kindergarten which is any age between 3-5), Kindergarten (age 5) and then 1-12 (age 6-18). Finally, there is university (adulthood).

    I had a horrible geometry teacher in high school. The highest I got was a 77 (out of 100). It is funny that I co-teach geometry and I absolutely love it now. I must thank my co-teacher for that!

    I am so sorry you had horrible trig teachers. But just know, that there are some really good ones out there.

  2. And here I thought this would be a post about either Harry Potter (NEWS?!? There are NEWS?!? After so long! We waited so long, and finally our mistress granted.. Oh, wait, it wasn't about Harry...) or potty training. I am not sure I wanted to learn about the latter, but I clicked the link at any rate, and here we are... Maths.. Yay....

    *cheeky grin*

    Okay, I am totally messing with you ;) While I am no fan of maths either, I do like your take on it. The A's and C's and Owls and stuff went a little over my head, but I got the important part: there is hope even for those of us who isn't a math genius (/freak). Wohhoo! :)

  3. Chary, I probably didn't explain very well... I sometimes forget that the British system isn't the way it is done everywhere. Our structure is much the same as yours - pre-school from aged 2, nursery from aged 3, primary school for 4 - 11, secondary school from 11-16/18, then college/universtity for further education if desired. I probably confused you with my talk of grades, which for you I suspect is what you call the 'years'. Second grade to you is our year three, and so on. Each year group tends to be split up to cater for each child's learning capabilities, and I was always placed in the highest group, therefore was able to study for full GCSE's (I don't know what your equivilent is for those). Children who can't cope with full-on studies can opt for different courses so that they are able to leave school with at least a few qualifications under their belts. My boy is doing a mixture - a couple of GCSE's in various subjects, and two NVQ courses.

    And I used to get 95% + in all maths tests right up until the end of year 9 (aged 14), hence my 'top set' placing. Then I dipped when the complicated stuff was introduced. *snort*

    Mari - *grins* Yeah, I thought the title might make a few people scratch their heads. I see I confused you too with all the talk about exams and grades and what-not, but I am happy to see that you were able to grasp what I was getting at. That's not always the case seeing how I tend to ramble gobbledygook for the most part. ;)

  4. It seems to me you ought to have had more control over which tests you sat. I get the teacher not being willing to move you down CLASS-WISE but it seems SMARTEST to pre-test, and then recommend which tests people sit so they don't risk that FAIL when they would have passed a level down. It ALSO seems your teacher deserves a thunk in the head for not helping you better. (the Trig was hard for me too... numbers, great, shapes, not so much. I can do the visualizing SPACIAL thing, but the math about the shapes--and memorizing all those stupid theorems about what to do... SUCKY!

    Nice to be able to use it though, and throw it back at the teacher. Nicer STILL when you are published author and can say "I CAN do math, but I don't HAVE TO"

  5. I was always really bad at math. I didn't even make it to Trig. Just saying. I think I'll always hate math.

  6. Tami - I suspect you are way better at maths than me. Whenever I've decided to try taking one of those online IQ tests, I always guess when the maths related questions arrive. I just don't get those weird triangle and circle thingies with the shaded sections and the silly question 'x is to y as y is to ?'. I mean, what's up with those?

    But yeah, my maths teacher (we nicknamed her the Nazi Showgirl, what with the flashing of boobage and the high-kicked walk)wasn't the most inspirational of people.

    Marjorie - *nods* I'll never be comfortable with it myself - far too many 'bad' memories. *shudders*