by KC Yan
Estimation (or guesstimation as it is more commonly known in the U.S.) is a creative mathematical activity that is seldom given enough curriculum attention and time in Singapore. For the lay public, and probably for a disturbingly large proportion of local math teachers, tutors, and parents, estimation is often confused with approximation (or rounding off numbers).
Like swimming, cycling, and driving, estimating ought to be a life skill that is indispensable for all responsible citizens aiming to be numerate in our quantitative world of bloated data.
A PSLE Estimation Routine
In this year Singapore’s PSLE (grade 6) math paper, a routine guesstimation MCQ question has irked some parents, who “blamed” the Ministry of Education for posing an “unfair” question.
How to Fermi-ize
Current Singapore math textbooks are often too Puritan, not to say, boring, to contain fertile exercises that could hone students’ estimation skills. A dose of humor, without insulting or shocking the readers, will go some way in nurturing some Fermi disciples. Let’s look at eleven non-drill-and-kill guesstimation questions, which could be posed to above-average math students bored by school math.
0. Zero Toilet Paper
If all the toilet paper used in Singapore in an entire year were rolled out, how far would it stretch?
1. The Trillionth Heartbeat
2. Pools of Eyeballs
3. Death Nailed by Tobacco Sticks
|© Chua Sin Yew|
A medical association claims that a cigarette smoker shortens the length of his life by 9 minutes for each cigarette smoked. A student smokes three-quarters of a pack of 20 cigarettes every day for 30 years. Excluding leap years, by how many months or years has this student cut short his life to?
4. To Pee or Not to Pee
5. Length of Intestine
6. A Nation of Vampires—Human Blood Aplenty
If you were to take all the human blood from all the living people in Singapore and pour it into the Singapore Indoor Stadium, how deep would it be?
7. Zoo Poo
8. The Host with the Most
How many (unfriendly and not-s0-friendly) bacteria are living on and inside you right now?
9. Cash in on the Trash
10. Green Pollution
|© Sidney Harris|
Thanks to Indonesia’s mostly incompetent politicians and corrupt businessmen, its neighbors Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand, have unhealthily been affected by the annual haze visiting them, as a result of illegal forest burning by local farmers to save costs for their bosses.
Estimation Skills via Gross, Illegal, or Murderous Math
2. About 73 swimming pools.