## Posts tagged ‘Disney’

### How Many Share Your Birthday?

This afternoon, we celebrated Alex and Eli’s sixth birthday with a Disney-themed Cinco de Mayo party. The kids all wore Mickey Mouse ears, while the parents drank lots of margaritas. Tonight’s “bedtime math” question for my sons was the following:

You celebrated your birthday on May 2. How many other people in the world do you think celebrated their birthday on May 2?

It’s a simple estimation problem for most of us, but ratio is a tough concept for six-year-olds. I wasn’t sure they’d make much progress… especially since the good folks at about.com make this claim:

You currently share your birthday with about 859,178 people who reside in the United States.

This estimate appears to have used 313,600,000 as the U.S. population, which is reasonable, and then divided by 365. My frustration is that they then display the result to six significant figures. That’s problematic for two reasons — first, because their population estimate has only four significant figures, but also because it’s not the case that exactly 1/365 of the population celebrates their birthday on a given day.

But I digress. Sure, I’m frustrated with about.com’s negligence, but I started this post to tell you about our bedtime math problem, and it highlighted why I hate traditional textbook problems even more than I hate bad math in the media.

Alex first suggested that maybe the number of people who have the same birthday could be found by calculating 1/14 of 7 billion. When I asked why he wanted to divide by 14, his response was, “Because it’s a multiple of 7.” When I asked a few more questions to probe his thinking, he changed his mind. “No, wait, maybe it’s 1/35.” This time, he said he wanted to divide by 35 because it was a multiple of 7 and a multiple of 5, and he knew that 7 billion was also a multiple of both 7 and 5.

Then it hit me. He wasn’t trying to solve the problem. He was just trying to make sure the answer was a “nice number,” that is, an integer that preferably would end in a couple of zeroes.

A few more questions, and he finally admitted he knew an estimate could be found by dividing 7 billion by 365. “But that doesn’t work when you divide,” he told me.

Arrgh.

I believe this is what happens when kids see too many traditional textbook problems where the answers are neat and clean. They get conditioned to thinking that math is never messy.

[Update: 5/8/13] Just read this on the About page at the Let’s Play Math blog and thought it was worth including here: “Math is like ice cream, with more flavors than you can imagine — and if all your children ever do is textbook math, that’s like feeding them broccoli-flavored ice cream.”

And that couldn’t be further from the truth. Math is unbelievably messy. At least, real math is. Solving real-world problems often means getting a little dirty. You’ll have to roll around in fractions, dig through some decimals, and — Heaven help us! — occasionally tangle with some irrational numbers and extraneous results.

Eli then offered, “If you divide 7 billion by 365, you won’t get an integer.” (He smiled, proud of himself for using the term integer.) “That’s the answer, but I don’t know how to do that.” What he meant is that he couldn’t compute the result in his head; nor would I expect him to. We then found an estimate by building on Alex’s idea — instead of dividing by 35, we divided by 350 to approximate the number of people who celebrated a birthday on May 2, since 350 is close to 365 but gives a much nicer answer.

Wow. There are roughly 20 million people who will celebrate their birthday on the same date as you. Crazy, huh?

All of this reminds me of a few jokes.

Recent research shows that those who celebrate more birthdays live longer.

And all the time, I tell my wife:

Honey, you’re one in a million. Which means that there are 7,000 people on Earth exactly like you, so just remember that it wouldn’t be that hard to replace you.

### The Math of Disney

Just returned from a week in the Magic Kingdom, where I learned a lot. Like this tidbit:

A recent government study just confirmed that six of seven dwarves is not Happy.

That’s so good, it deserves a graphic:

I also learned that relativity is a novel concept for kids who are 6 years old. When asked how fast we were traveling on The Barnstormer junior roller coaster, one of my sons replied, “It felt like we were going 100 mph!” The other said it only felt like 50 mph. When asked how fast we were traveling in the airplane on our ride back to Virginia, one son suggested 10 mph, the other suggested 20 mph.

Depressingly, the ratio of bottles of Coke to bottles of water consumed at Disney is almost 6 to 1. According to a Walt Disney World fact sheet, tourists to Disney consume 75 million bottles of Coke and 13 million bottles of water annually. My sincere hope is that most folks use refillable water bottles, which would explain the discrepancy in sales.

And finally a math question.

The fact sheet states that the Earffel Tower, which is the water tower at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, would wear a hat size of 342-3/4, although another reference says that the hat size would be 342-3/8. What is the approximate radius of the Earffel Tower?

The Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks blog is an online extension to the book Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks. The blog contains jokes submitted by readers, new jokes discovered by the author, details about speaking appearances and workshops, and other random bits of information that might be interesting to the strange folks who like math jokes.

## MJ4MF (offline version)

Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks is available from Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, NCTM, Robert D. Reed Publishers, and other purveyors of exceptional literature.