Maggie Wilson Author

Historical Non-Fiction in Northern Ontario

It Figures

While I clearly recall my early writing career at school, I don’t remember much about learning math. In the junior grades, that is. In high school I enjoyed it and elected to study all of the available subjects, including trigonometry. I particularly liked geometry and graphing functions. I suppose the visual rendering of mathematical concepts held the appeal. I even went so far as to create a Christmas card for the math teacher. It was a series of equations that when plotted on a graph would reveal a Christmas tree, complete with ornaments and presents underneath.

Which is astounding to consider. Ten years earlier in Grade 2, the teacher asked “How many inches in a foot?” I placed my ruler on the floor beside my shoe to measure the answer.

After I graduated high school, I went straight to work for the telephone company, and didn’t need any special math skills beyond the basics. You know, counting the weeks until the next vacation or adding the hours on a time-sheet. By the time I worked as a drafting technician in the engineering department, computers performed all the heavy lifting. Sure, I needed to recognize a misplaced decimal point when I saw one, or convert imperial lengths to metric. However, the days of sine curves and the Cartesian coordinate system were long gone.

Is it any wonder, then, that when I started this technology program two years ago, it felt like I was back in grade 2, staring at my feet for the answers? No matter how I tried, I could not access the rusted-shut math department in my brain. When I read the text, it looked Greek to me.

projectile motion

Projectile Motion – It not only looks Greek, it IS Greek

Practice makes … well, if not perfect, at least it makes for a good workout. There is plenty of opportunity to exercise the math muscles in this program. Besides the four Mathematics courses, the Mine Design and Economics modules required essay work and applied math. Lots of applied math. Tons of it. Cubic tons, even.

I got through it.

When I reviewed the remaining course work, I heaved a sigh of relief. Very little math to worry about.

  • Communications
  • Health and Safety
  • Law and Ethics
  • Safety and Loss Control
  • Surveying

Of the bunch, only Surveying will have any heavy-duty math work. Excellent! The last two semesters will be so much easier.

Or so I thought.

Yesterday I logged on to the online tutorial for Safety and Loss Control, just to say howdy to the prof and introduce myself to my classmates. This is what I saw on the screen:


 more sludge on my brain

… not core sludge, just more sludge on my brain.

“There’s math?!” I typed.

“Oh, hi, Maggie” said the prof. “As you know, tutorials are non-mandatory and an opportunity for students to ask questions about this or any other course. I’m helping Jason with a question for Underground Mining.”

I was just about to type “Phew!” when he continued, “But just for you, I’ll make sure to include some weighted average questions in future modules.

“No, no! Don’t go to any trouble!”

“No trouble at all.”

Me and my big mouth.

***   ***   ***

In response to the weekly writing challenge on

Writing Essential Group WEThur: Sept 11, 2014

Come along and join in the fun!

Categories: Continuing Education

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44 replies

  1. Your course sounds hideous Maggie, I hope it remains interesting for you!! 🙂


  2. Oh, Maggie!! Just when I was giving a silent cheer for you…..Bam!! For the record, this was all Greek to me. I opted out of any math as soon as I could. I chuckle that my daughter is a CPA. Nope, she didn’t get it from me.


  3. How considerate of the professor….just for you. And the effort it must have required to create that Christmas tree card for your teacher is just so endearing. (S)he must have loved it!


    • Yeah, isn’t my prof a peach? The funny thing is, I don’t know if HE knows that weighted averages are a real bugbear for me. I cannot grasp the concept. It’s fairly basic math and absolutely necessary for mining calculations.

      The highschool teacher was suitably impressed. I don’t think he knew what to make of it.


  4. I enjoyed reading this post, especially the measuring your foot part. I hope you can unlock all the necessary brain space to dig through your classes.


  5. That Christmas card idea is super cool. I think I’ll steal it.
    One problem – I can’t remember the maths (yes, we put an ‘s’ on the end over here). And I have a Bachelor of Science majoring in Applied Mathematics.
    Use it or lose it indeed. 😦


    • Hey, if you do, show us the results! These days there are a bunch of online graphing programs where you can layer the functions. I’m almost inclined to test it out… almost.

      OK. The impulse passed.

      Thanks for telling me that you, too, have a hard time recalling maths. It makes me feel better, actually.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I am NOT a math girl!! I struggled throughout high school and college with all of my math courses. Luckily, my husband is a civil engineer, and literally a wiz when it comes to all sorts of math. So, when my daughter needed help with her calculus homework in high school, she knew to go to dad. Mom could always help with essays, but unless you need to be shown something practical, like how to balance a checkbook, I’m little help.
    Your course looks just awful to me! LOL! 🙂


  7. I almost ran away in horror when I saw the photo on this blog, but I was brave, and besides, I didn’t want to spill my Cheerios.
    I cannot math. Basic math, sure. Anything with letters? NO.
    I had a tutor and summer school to get through algebra. Geometry wasn’t too bad. In college, I was so relieved to have only one math class.
    I am dying that you made the Christmas tree card. That is so precious, and nightmarish, lol! I often wonder what it’s like not to feel paralyzed with fear when you see an equation. Does it feel good? I bet it feels good…


    • 🙂

      There’s a meme out there, isn’t there about Satan mixing the alphabet with numbers.

      The final Christmas card was very meager compared to what I had imagined. It was a boatload of work. Only one present and maybe two ornaments. You really had to use your imagination to see the intended result.


  8. Are you allowed to use a slide rule? I may still have one somewhere.


    • Agh! No slide rules! Somewhere along the line in public school we had to learn how to use one. That and scale rulers – drive me nuts! Don’t even think about mentioning an abacus!

      Ahem. Excuse me, where are my manners. Thank you, Andrew, for your kind and generous offer. But I’m good, thanks. 😉


  9. For a second there, I thought you were going to go on a tangent, or co-tangent or two.


  10. I love a love/hate relationship with numbers. Sometimes we are the best of friends (ALGEBRA!!!) and sometimes we avoid eye contact whenever possible (GEOMETRY!!)
    I remember thinking – when will I ever need to know how to calculate the volume of an area? … it came back to bite me many years later when I was doing inventory planning in a manufacturing environment. Go figure! (pun intended).

    My hat is off to you Maggie. I just don’t want to think that hard 😉


    • Hi Joanne – Love the “avoid eye contact” line 😀

      I know what you mean about thinking too hard.If my time studying math had been recorded and released as a documentary, first of all, it would be R-rated – violence and strong language. My keyboard is missing a the backspace button after suffering a direct hit. Plus it would be billed as a comedy because of the faces I pulled. I pulled hair, too. Not pretty.


  11. Great story, well written. You made me think back to all the computer modeling I’ve done over the years. I was thankful when computers got to the point where they could do all the work – I simply dumped all my data (properly formatted, of course) into a black box, and voila! My results popped out of the printer. Worked well unless the printer fed me gibberish, in which case it was get out the wrench, open up the black box, fix the inputs, write some code (the scariest part), and call up my Catholic upbringing for a little divine intervention. Somehow I survived, though in retrospect, I wonder if all my clients did. 🙂


    • Hi David, thanks for joining the fun! What field of modeling was this?

      When I started the mining school thing, I had my eye on computer modelling as a final destination. You know, drafting the ore body in 3D.

      Yeah, not happening.


  12. I am SUPER impressed! Don’t think I ever progressed much beyond measuring my foot.


    • Well, thanks, Helen, but seriously, I have retained very little. If I don’t use it this year, I’m back to square one. Basically, I crammed what I needed to complete the assignments and the exams. Now it sits as dead storage. If it doesn’t come out for use soon, it will evaporate.


  13. OK, I liked math and even this made my head hurt. Owie! Hopefully you have a lot of resources available to get through all of this!


    • Hee hee, well, I’m married to a geologist who has somehow managed to retain almost everything he learned in math class from forty years ago, so that’s all good. And I bought a fancy schmancy scientific calculator. Learning to operate that was a mission of it’s own. :S


  14. Hey, be verrrrry thankful for that big mouth! I’d snatch that offer in a hot second! And I’m complaining about statistics? Heheh…(which I DID drop, by the way. Week 3: the Prof. STILL didn’t have it together and it was the biggest mess I’d ever seen. I know when to jump ship.)

    I hope you do really well this semester! You’ll do great. :0)


  15. Good God. I was completely flummoxed by everything in this post except the foot measuring.

    Math in all its forms has been a love-hate my whole life.

    All the more remarkable that you are such an accomplished, humorous, creative writer and personable, engaging blogging buddy when you excel at math (don’t deny it) the way you do. Taking on those classes. You Rock, Mags !!!


  16. Took Algebra One twice (we moved and I got away with that). Aced both time, but never understood it. I secretly did it the old fashioned, long hand math.

    Gotta’ love the calculators and Word Spell.


    • Speaking of calculators: when I started the course, I was using my husband’s 30 year old model – we even had the paper instructions! What I didn’t realize that part of the LED display was burned out so I was reading the answers incorrectly – which was critical for accuracy to three decimal places. He grumbled, but did shell out for a new unit.


  17. Math scares the crap out of me! I did not do well in geometry in high school (but then, we had an awful teacher who wanted to be an astronaut, so we spent a great deal of time watching NASA programs about space exploration). I was kicked out of college a few years later and, when I finally became a grown up and went back to school, I had to start with very basic, residual math classes. I was grateful for it, because I had a fabulous teacher all the way through Trig who made things super clear and easy – but then I went on to Calculus – and immediately assumed a fetal position and began to cry. I even went back to my fabulous teacher to ask her for tutoring and she said, “There is a reason I don’t teach Calculus – I don’t really understand it!” Math is one of the reasons I won’t even consider getting my Master’s degree – just the thought of trying to wrap my head around equations and such makes me reach for the Tylenol.


    • Hi Jana – loved your story – sorry to hear you had difficulty with math, too.

      I think you’ve hit upon a key point, Jana. The quality of instruction makes a huge difference. My hubby, the math whiz, failed Calculus twice in university. Don’t know what compelled him to give it a third try, but he’s glad he did, because the instructor was brilliantly effective at relating the concepts. Same text book, different teacher and hubby passed the course with flying colours.


  18. I liked this post. Your project involving the Christmas trees sounded really interesting, and it seems like you have more of a grasp on the math stuff than you are giving yourself credit!


    • Ah, thanks Noah. I think the key word in your comment is “grasp”. Once I memorize the formulas and concepts I’m good to go, but it is the recall, the unearthing of same after 30 years sitting unused in the “dead storage” locker in my brain.



  1. WEThurs: Sept 11, 2014 | Writing Essential Group

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