How did you make your way here? or The Joy of Google

My absolute favorite part of the WordPress dashboard is the list of search engine terms.

How many ways can 7 peanuts be shared among three people? Huh? Did one of my colleagues in mathematics teaching assign this nonsense to a student?

Truly hours of amusement can be had here. Two examples.

example 1: Rational expressions

Someone stopped by today after searching for

journal about difficulties one can experience if he/she does not know how o [sic] solve raional [sic] algebraic expressions

So I’m wondering what sorts of difficulties this person had in mind. Life difficulties? Medical? Relationship perhaps.

I’m pretty sure that rational expressions are self-contained. Not being able to solve rational expressions will likely only have an impact on your life inasmuch as that life involves actual rational expressions.

So your career as a high school math instructor might need to be reconsidered.

But that goal of raising happy, healthy children? This won’t be a setback. Ditto your professional football career, employment in the service sector and probably even most jobs in the burgeoning social media industry.

And FYI (in case you stop by again), most math teachers consider an expression to be something with an equal sign, and therefore not something one solves. It’s rational equations you’re concerned with.

But again, this is unlikely to matter very much outside of math class.

Example 2 online lovers

So I thought I was being really cute when I wrote about a learning management system called Canvas. The post’s title was “Meet my new online lover“.

And then I started getting hits from people searching the term “online lover”. And I kept picturing their disappointed faces. And I felt guilty.

BOnus example: Wu

Someone (possibly the man himself) has been searching the exact phrase “hung-hsi wu phoenix rising” every few days for the last couple of weeks. Never capitalized, always with the hyphen, always in that order.

I’m on the first page of results for that one.

5 responses to “How did you make your way here? or The Joy of Google”

1. The number of ways to divide seven objects into 3 bins is a standard sort of combinatorics exercise. Why do you find it strange?

2. Christopher

What do I find strange?

Well, it’s not “seven objects into 3 bins”. It’s “seven peanuts shared among 3 people”. The combinatorics question allows all seven to go in the same bin. That’s not sharing. So either it’s not a combinatorics problem, or it’s a really really bad one. Any problem that uses everyday language or imagery that will mislead if taken seriously is a bad one in my view.

But if we do take sharing seriously, then there’s only one meaningful way to do it, right? 2 and 1/3 each. But that stinks too (really? 1/3 of a peanut?)

It’s nonsense. Pure and simple.

3. Ah, so you believe that “sharing” means “exactly equal parts to each”. That is not the only possible definition.

4. I, too, was wondering about your objection to the sharing question.

I’ve seen the question below used w/ primary teachers. It’s from NCTM’s Teaching Children Mathematics.

Danny, Connie, and Jane have eight cookies to share among themselves. They decide that they each do not need to get the same number of cookies, but each person should get at least one cookie. If the children do not break any of the cookies, in how many different ways can they share the cookies?

There was a conversation about what the word sharing means. “Share your cookies with your sister” means something different to my 3-year-old than it does to my 6-year-old. The NCTM definition of sharing allows for this to be a combinatorics problem, or more likely at this age level, a ways-to-make-8 problem. I see what you’re saying though – it’s the everyday use of “sharing” meaning “equal parts to all” that makes the explanation necessary.

I’m also intrigued by one of your recent tweets. Is the NCTM the old guard? Having attended the NCSM conference in Indianapolis last year, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Also, I titled two recent blog posts “A pictorial representation that will have you running naked through the streets” and “Running naked again. This time, with scissors” in reference to Archimedes. I started getting hits from people searching “justin bieber selina gomez naked”. I pictured their disappointed faces but I didn’t feel so guilty.