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No Free Lunch

Loving, mastering math

How would you solve the following simple problem: “How many P9 pencils can you buy with P42, and how much money would you have left?”

Chances are you’d divide 42 by 9 to find the quotient and remainder. That’s easy if you’ve mastered your multiplication table, from which we know that 4×9 is 36 and 5×9 is 45. So we can buy 4 pencils (not 5), and have 42-36 = P6 left.

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But gone are the days when every school notebook on the market bore a multiplication table on its back cover, along with useful units of conversion for weights and measures — rather than the popular animation characters or artists’ photos now adorning today’s school notebooks. Memorizing the multiplication table by heart was basic to every child’s math education then. Today’s schoolchildren tend to rely on their calculators, netbooks, computers, tablets and cell phones even for simple arithmetic, virtually eliminating or diminishing the need for mental exercises that the human brain needs to keep in shape.

The math whizzes around us have brains that work a little differently, and have a different approach to quickly and mentally solving math problems like the one above, using systematic natural thinking. The thought process would go this way: 42 is 4 tens and 2 ones. P10 will buy you one pencil and you’d have P1 left, so with P40 you can buy 4 pencils with P4 left. Add the remaining P2 to this and you’d have a total of P6 left.

The key is to look at the tens digit of the figure 42, and determine that you can buy 4 pencils, and you’ll have 4+2 or P6 left. If we had P34, then we can buy 3 pencils and have 3+4 or P7 left. This approach illustrates what is now known as Vedic Math.

I had one such math whiz for a classmate since our first year at the Philippine Science High School (PSHS, aka Pisay), several decades ago. Virgilio “Ike” Prudente seemed to have a natural affinity to math, the school subject most of the rest of us detested, and considered most boring. He, with his wife Lerma, has since sired five offspring, all of whom also breezed through the country’s premier high school where only the country’s “cream of the crop” are admitted and receive the best secondary education taxpayer money can buy.

Five years ago, Ike decided to share his mathematical prowess with one and all, by publishing a book entitled “25 Math Short Cuts,” demand for which has been so high that it’s now on its fifth printing. The strong reception for the book prodded him, together with his gifted children, to develop a mathematics learning enhancement program known as “Math-Inic”—a play on the Filipino word “matinik” (literally “thorny,” slang for sharp-witted or skilled) but also an acronym for Math-Indian Numeration-Instant Calculation.

Math-Inic claims to combine the best techniques from traditional left-brain math that uses analytical and sequential methods to process information; right-brain math that focuses on visual images and patterns; and the Indian, or Vedic-based mental math, which covers basic arithmetic operations to algebra and calculus without need for pen, paper or other tools, using simple and easy steps.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that a couple of my own grandchildren have actually benefited from my old high school buddy’s Math-Inic system at Xavier Nuvali. On Aug. 15, elementary and high schools may send their best math whizzes to the first Philippine National Vedic Mathematics Olympiad to be held at Malayan High School of Science in Pandacan, Manila. Jointly sponsored by Math-Inic, Palawan Pawnshop (owned by Pisay alumni Bobby and Angie Castro), University of the Philippines Tau Rho Xi fraternity (whose membership counts many Pisay alumni) and Malayan University (headed by the first PSHS valedictorian Dr. Reynaldo Vea), the olympiad, as my friend Ike describes it, is their way of paying back and paying forward for the quality education we were privileged to obtain at PSHS.

Math-Inic claims to turn math haters into math lovers, and math lovers into math masters. I can attest to having seen that with my eldest granddaughter, soon to enter Pisay herself. How I wish I picked my classmate Ike’s brains more in high school, and learned his math secrets much earlier in life.

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TAGS: Cielito Habito, Ike Prudente, math mastery, Math-inik, mathematics, No Free Lunch, Virgilio Prudente
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