Saturday, February 20, 2010


1940s thermometer for sale by Lurene looks useful for computing math problems. Write me at to make your bid today!


Undated, unpublished news story by Lurene Helzer, August 2001, Bay City News, “Math Problems.” This story is about a California math tutorial website.

There’s no question about me writing it while at Bay City, but the document has editorial corrections. The editor had to remind me to use the word “good” rather than “better.” Many editorial corrections are just like this in print journalism. Simple, but important.

Editors do not like having to constantly remind reporters of rules in journalism, so it’s smart to memorize the stylebook. I often violate the rules of style while working on this blog. In a newsroom, though, too often violating the rules of style a good way to get fired. Put it this way: I thought I was a good writer until meeting some of my editors in the SF Bay area. Today, I just tell people I’m a published writer and leave it at that.

An editor-on-deadline is all you need to know about journalism, I sometimes joked. It’s nearly true, though.

If students really want to learn math, it might be good to visit the new math tutorial site called that was founded by a college professor, and a high-tech entrepreneur.

“As an engineer and business person, I understand the increasing importance of mathematics for 21st century students. And as a recent math teacher, I clearly see that we need new ways to help young people grasp this critical knowledge before they are turned off to math for a lifetime,” Chuck Grant,’s co-founder, said.

The Web site shows students how to solve the complex math problems found in their standard California middle school, high school and college textbooks.

With their nightly homework assignment in front of them, students can logon to the site whenever they happen to get around to it, locate the specific math problem they are working on, and find helpful questions and hints for completing the required homework assignment, the promoters promise.

But Grant said the Web site is designed to help students “discover” the answer for themselves, not to give the correct answer.

“Student achievement in math is a widely recognized national concern, with more than half of all students performing below grade-level in math,” according to the Web site.

The California Department of Education in December of 1998 devised new standards for California students to meet in math, but also said the passage from what students now know to what they need to know calls for a unique approach by math book publishers and state instructors, the department’s Web site said.

“Instructional materials adopted by the State Board of Education, on the whole, should provide programs that will be effective for all students – those who have not mastered most of the content taught in the earlier grades and those who have. In addition, some instructional materials must specifically address the needs of teachers who instruct a diverse student population,” the department said.

The California State University has always had an eye for the gifted in mathematics in grades 8 through 12, offering special “math camps” each summer to get them on the right academic path early on. But the number of incoming students needing remedial education worries university staff.

The problem has become severe enough in California to require mathematic “boot camps” – this is the state so respected for its high-tech, Silicon Valley intelligence.

In 1996, CSU pledged to reduce the problem by devising a policy to reduce the amount of catch-up study it has to provide. CSU wants to chop the number of students who need extra math help. No more than 10 percent of the inbound students, according to the goals set in the plan, should need remedial assistance in mathematics by 2007.

To reach this goal, CSU is working with community colleges and public schools that surround 23 CSU campuses to bring students up to par, and connect them with university instructors, according to the university.

Of course, not all good minds do good math. It is a lucky thing French novelist Gustave Flaubert wrote books like Madame Bovary instead of math problems.

Born in 1821, Flaubert had peculiar ideas not only about mathematics, but about what the term “math” meant:

“Since you are now studying geometry and trigonometry, I will give you a problem. A ship sails the ocean. It left Boston with a cargo of wool. It grosses 200 tons. It is bound for Le Havre. The mainmast is broken, the cabin boy is on deck, there are 12 passengers aboard, the wind is blowing East-North-East, the clock points to a quarter past three in the afternoon. It is the month of May. How old is the captain?” he quizzed.

That problem, found on the Web site for Furman University in Greenville, S.C., might be useful at cocktail parties, but not school.

CONTACT: Amy Bonetti, Big Mouth Communications for
(415) 409-7701