jiawei Ong's Reviews > The Housekeeper and the Professor

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yōko Ogawa
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May 13, 12

bookshelves: advisory-2011-2012
Read in May, 2012

Solving the sum of 1 to 10 is not a difficult problem, but like the professor says, an evil, wicked teacher can get to the students if the teacher asks for the sum of 1 to 100 or the sum of 1 to 1000. It's a good thing for students to be hardworking, but that's not enough. Students need to have a curious yearn for exploration as well. This is what the professor tries to teach Root. Root is a hardworking boy who is willing to add from 1 to 100 if asked to, but the stubbornness of Root to always use the same method is his weakness. Math is all about exploration of new ways and methods. The professor challenges Root by asking Root to find another way to figure out the sum of 1 to 10. Root is able to find an equation for the problem, but that's not the important part. The most meaningful part is how he comes up with the equation. He thinks of it with the help of his mother. Unlike Root, his mother, the housekeeper, has a burning will of obsession to figure out the professor's challenge, and it is her will that encourages Root to go on. Root and his mother do not know where to start, so they call out observations that they notice. Root notices how 10 is the only two-digit number within the sequence. Root calls out how there is a “center spot,” and he informs his mother that “center spot” is a term he learns from gymnastics. 5 is the center spot of the new sequence after 10 is taken out. Afterward, they notice how the averages of the whole sequence is 5. As a result, they come up with the abstract form of an equation, n(n-1)/2 + n. This is impressive, because this demonstrates to me how math problems are approach not by using the given normal equations but by exploration of observing and questioning based on real life experiences. Anybody can create new, efficient equations just by being curious for exploration. I remember reading a quotation that went like this: true men do not follow the paths of others but create their own foot steps.
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