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Pedants' corner

School maths homework. Am I right?

12 replies

CokeFan · 18/09/2014 12:48

DD (year 1) has just started doing maths home learning. Her first task was counting the number of steps from her bedroom to the kitchen and from the kitchen to the front door. Once she'd worked that out there were two further questions.

"Which journey took the most steps?"


"Which journey took the least steps?"

I know this is maths homework and the point of the exercise was counting (and writing the numbers the correct way round) but...

Shouldn't it be

"Which journey took more steps?" - since there are only two journeys and

"Which journey took fewer steps?" - again only two journeys and "steps" are countable?

OP posts:
Frusso · 18/09/2014 13:16

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CokeFan · 18/09/2014 13:40

Thanks Frusso. I don't have any objection to school simplifying things but I don't like her learning things that are actually wrong when she's going to have to "unlearn" it later on when they start to look at English grammar etc. Perhaps I'm just focussing on the wrong things.

I did lots of reading with DD in her reception year but left the maths to school because we didn't have any maths work coming home and I wasn't really sure what they were expecting. I'm now thinking that was a bit of mistake. I'm not sure what they were actually intending to teach, but DD seems to have taken things a bit too literally in some cases, which came to light at the beginning of the summer holidays.

For example, they were taught to write out numbers 1 to 20 then 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, 100, 200, 300, 400, 500, 600, 700, 800, 900, 1000. DD decided that she can count to 1000 just with those numbers and, when asked what 1 more than 70 was, she thought it was 80 and that 400 was 1 more than 300.

Counting backwards from 20 she was saying ninety, eighty, seventy rather than -teen, which nobody had picked up on and she was getting very confused between 13 and 15 because she was saying FERteen and the same with FERty instead of thirty, when she's been perfectly capable of saying "th" since before she started school. We've been practising counting down from various numbers on the way to school and I think she's getting there now.

There's been a few other minor things (the "doubling" song is now banned at home because although double 10 might be 20, double 1 certainly isn't 11 Confused because she's getting the words wrong) and I'm not convinced she really understands the link between the numerals and their names either because she's still writing some double digit numbers the wrong way round. If you really understand that EIGHTY-anything is going to start with an 8 then surely you wouldn't write 28 instead of 82?

OP posts:
Frusso · 18/09/2014 13:56

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CokeFan · 18/09/2014 18:35

Thanks again, Frusso.

OP posts:
CokeFan · 21/09/2014 14:20

Actually, Ive done some more reading and it seems that it should be "less", not "fewer" in the second case. Every day's a school day!

I've also discovered the root of the counting backwards problem. They're singing a song counting from "Twenny" to one and dd's mishearing and counting 90, 80, 70, 60 etc.

OP posts:
DadDadDad · 22/09/2014 12:41

Thanks for the link. I think you are saying "less steps" is fine because it's a measure of distance and as it says at that link we would use "less" in such cases. (as in "The journey was less than five miles"). I think that sounds reasonable, but I'm not entirely convinced, so it would interesting to hear what others say.

Interestingly, if we were using steps to describe a recipe for example, we would use fewer. "Which recipe requires fewer steps?" You can have half a step when measuring a distance, you can't have half a step when following a recipe.

DadDadDad · 22/09/2014 12:43

More interestingly, that link says supermarkets saying "Five items or less" is correct Shock, which many pedants would disagree with, so it would be interesting to see how other regulars on here react to that one...

CokeFan · 23/09/2014 13:32

I've been pondering why we so often use "less" when we mean "fewer" - especially in speaking rather than writing. I think "less" is just easier to say and, because the meanings are so similar, it doesn't cause confusion in the listener.

OP posts:
DadDadDad · 23/09/2014 15:50

You're right that there's not really any potential for confusion, and when it comes to increases we can function fine with "more" serving both continuous and countable. The less/ fewer distinction is apparently one of those arbitrary rules (crystallized in the 18th century? ) that still matters to many pedants.

You can devise examples where the distinction might help but even there I bet context would clarify, eg
I wish there was less children's mess in here.
I wish there was fewer children's mess in here.
(One wants children to make less mess, other wants fewer children making the mess)

DadDadDad · 23/09/2014 17:04

Anyway, does no-one have a view about the Oxford link above arguing that "5 items or less " is fine? Are we all reconciled to that one now?

MrsMcRuff · 23/09/2014 17:10

I don't think you would say "You have less items than I do". I'm sure it would be "You have fewer items than I do", wouldn't it?

DadDadDad · 23/09/2014 20:47

But you would say "I have less shopping than you" and we could infer the supermarket to be saying "5 items or less shopping than that".

Personally, I don't really see a real problem with 5 items or less, but the justification quoted by Oxford seems a bit dodgy to me.

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