However ...Re: [Squeakland] Panel discussion: Can the American Mind be Opened?

David T. Lewis lewis at
Tue Nov 27 18:06:01 PST 2007

On Mon, Nov 26, 2007 at 11:38:30PM +0530, subbukk wrote:
> On Monday 26 November 2007 8:03 pm, Alan Kay wrote:
> >... So one of the biggest questions
> > any math educator should ask is: what symbols should I initially
> > employ for numbers to help children understand "number" most throughly?
> Coming from a culture steeped in oral tradition, I find 'sounds' better 
> than 'symbols' when doing math 'in the head'. The way I learnt to handle 
> numbers (thanks to my dad) is to think of them as a phrase. 324+648 would be 
> sounded out like "three hundreds two tens and four and six hundreds and four 
> tens and eight. three hundreds and six hundreds makes nine hundreds, two tens 
> and four tens make six tens and four and eight makes one ten and two, giving 
> me a total of nine hundreds seven tens and two". Subtraction was done using 
> complements. So 93-25 would be sounded out as "five more to three tens, six 
> tens more to nine tens and then three more, making a total of six tens and 
> eight'. The technique works for any radix - 0x3c would be "three sixteens and 
> twelve'.
> In India, many illiterate shopkeepers and waiters in village restaurants use 
> these techniques to total prices and hand out change. No written bills.
> The advantage with sounds is that tones/stress/volume can be used to decorate 
> numbers. With pencil and paper, changing colors, sizes or weights would be 
> impractical.


Thanks for sharing this. I think that it is very interesting that sound
and oral skills can be a basis for mathematical thinking. My cultural
background is less oral, so I did not even think of this as a possibility.
It seems that music and mathematics are somehow connected, but I never thought
to extend this to verbal types of music.


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