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Dear Mitch,

Tonight, on Christmas eve, is there anything that would be pure fun (I mean not feel like school or like I was trying to shove in some vacation-time educational practice), that my family and I could do around the tree? Something that would sort of gently squeeze in a chance to get the family's brain ticking over the holiday?

And may family and I wish you continued success in the coming year with !

Thank you,

Maya Binji

Stony Brook, New York


Dear Maya,

Absolutely, and I am glad you asked.

Estimation which is often overlooked as a kind of forgotten step-child of math, is actually among the two or three most important mathematical abilities there are for adults living and working in the real world.

People rarely ask you to calculate the gas consumption rate of your automobile, if you use one, but you do sometimes have to look at where the line is on your dashboard's gas indicator to decide whether or not you can make it to where you have to be without stopping to fill up. Then you may have to estimate the time it will take to pull over and get gas, and whether that is likely to make you late for your appointment based on the traffic conditions of the day, etc.

So, it is never too early or to 'holidayish' to practice this important life skill.

When seated around your Christmas tree this evening, casually ask if anyone can guess how many little pine needles might be on one branch. After guesses come in, you might snip an inch off one branch and have the children count the needles on there. Then, depending upon whether that piece is about an inch, or more, or less, a tape measure or yardstick might help check guesses about a long branch, then accept guesses about how many branches there are, and then perhaps have someone count halfway around the tree and someone else (perhaps you) double it.

And see what you can come up with from there. Activities like this are limited only by your imagination, which I'll bet you find endless!

And if that seems too much, the whole activity can be done with just one single small branch, so that the results can eventually be checked, (before New Year's!).

Hope this helps!

Happy Holiday!

-- Mitch