This Chinese Math Question For 11-Year-Olds Has Left The Internet Stumped

An unsolvable Chinese math exam question has left the Internet slightly bemused, but others are hailing its approach to critical thinking.

The question, photographed from a grade five exam paper for 11-year-olds, was posted on the Chinese social media site Weibo. It asks: “If a ship had 26 sheep and 10 goats onboard, how old is the ship’s captain?”

It prompted a range of confused responses from children attempting to answer it. One gave up, saying: “The captain’s age is… I don’t know. I can’t solve this.” Others said:

“The captain should be at least 18 years old because a minor is not allowed by law to operate a vessel.”

“The captain is 36, because 26+10 is 36 and the captain wanted them to add up to his age.”

“The number of the sheep and goats is irrelevant to the captain’s age.”

“The captain is 36 years old. He is quite narcissistic, so the number of animals corresponds to his age.”

Users on Weibo and Twitter questioned whether the school, identified as Nanchong Shunqing Primary School, was right to pose such a question. However, in a statement, the Shunqing Education Department said the test was aimed to examine “critical awareness and an ability to think independently.”

They added that some surveys “show that ordinary primary school students in our country lack the sense of doubt and critical spirit in regard to mathematics.”

As the BBC notes, Chinese education relies heavily on note-taking and repetition. But questions like this encourage creative and critical thinking. On Weibo, one person even came up with a pretty clever answer.

“The total weight of 26 sheep and 10 goat is 7,700kg, based on the average weight of each animal,” they said. “In China, if you’re driving a ship that has more than 5,000kg of cargo you need to have possessed a boat license for five years. The minimum age for getting a boat’s license is 23, so he’s at least 28.”

However, that answer is assuming each sheep or goat weighs more than 200 kilograms (440 pounds) – but they’re really about half that. Presumably, then, the captain would only have to be 23 or over, as they’d just need a boat license.

The education department said it would continue to set such questions in the future. And, well, good for them. The question seems pretty fun and harmless, and surely did spark quite a lot of thinking and discussion.

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Oxford University extended exam times for women to improve their grades: report

Prestigious Oxford University in Britain extended exam times exclusively to women in a bid to improve their scores, reports on Monday said.

Female students taking math and computer science tests in the summer of 2017 were given an additional 15 minutes to finish, according to the documents obtained by the London Times.

No changes were made to the difficulty or length of questions. The university reportedly said women performed better as a result of the extension.

The move came after university officials deemed female candidates more likely to suffer from “the undue effects of time pressure” and thought the time extension could “mitigate the … gender gap that has arisen in recent years.”

The officials also said they believed the exam “should be a demonstration of mathematical understanding and not a time trial.”

Some academics reportedly voiced their concerns about the initiative, calling it “sexist” for suggesting women require special treatment. But others welcomed the move.

One math professor said women tend to double-check their answers and that makes them slower.

Sarah Hart, a mathematics professor at Birkbeck, University of London, told the Times that unlike women, men were quicker to answer questions, although they are also more likely to be incorrect.

“I am a big fan of giving people as much time as they want to do exams. After all, you never have to prove theorems against the clock in real life so mere speed is not what we want to assess,” she said.

A spokesman for the university defended the measure, telling the UK’s Daily Telegraph that the move was “”academically demanding and fair” and stressed that 39 percent of female mathematicians acquired top scores compared to 47 percent of men.

“The departments are not drawing any firm conclusions from the first year’s data. However, third-year female students did show an improvement on their second-year marks,” the spokesperson told the Times.

“While there is clearly more progress to be made, the departments will continue with the longer papers for the foreseeable future, monitoring the exam data carefully.”

Lukas Mikelionis is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @LukasMikelionis.

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Mohsin Hamid on the rise of nationalism: In the land of the pure, no one is pure enough

From Myanmar to Pakistan, the US and Britain, an obsession with purity is driving political, religious and moral agendas. But a retreat from complexity is no guarantee of future harmony

Perhaps it is living half your life in Pakistan, for Pakistan is the land of the pure. Literally so: the land, stan, of the pure, pak. Perhaps that is why you have come to question the commonly held perception that purity is good and impurity is bad. For a tribe of humans newly arrived in a location never before inhabited by humans, such an outlook is perhaps sensible. Purity in a stream of water renders it fit to drink. Impurity in a piece of meat sickens those who eat it. Purity is hence to be valued and impurity to be avoided, resisted, expelled. And yet you believe the time has come to seek to reverse, at least partially, the emotional polarity of these two words, to extol impuritys benefits and denounce puritys harms.

The issue is, of course, personal. We are each of us composed of atoms, but equally we are composed by time. Since your time has been spent half inside Pakistan and half outside, and your outlook and attitudes shaped by this, you are in a sense half-Pakistani, which is to say, as Pakistan is the land of the pure, you are half-pure: an impossible state. You cannot exist as you are. Or rather, you must be impure. And if impurity is bad then you are bad. And to be bad is hazardous, in any society. So yes, the issue is personal, and pressing.

But in Pakistan, the issue is political as well, for it affects everyone. Once purity becomes what determines the rights a human being is afforded, indeed whether they are entitled to live or not, then there is a ferocious contest to establish hierarchies of purity, and in that contest no one can win. No one can ever be sufficiently pure to be lastingly safe. In the land of the pure, no one is pure enough. No Muslim is Muslim enough. And so all are suspect. All are at risk. And many are killed by others who find their purity lacking, and many of their killers are in turn killed for the same reason. And on and on, in a chain reaction. The politics of purity is the politics of fission.

This should not be surprising. Pakistan was founded by fission, the splitting of British imperial India into two separate independent states, Muslim-majority Pakistan and Hindu-majority India. And Pakistan has experienced further fission, the splitting of its western and eastern wings into Pakistan and Bangladesh. In each case, a more complex entity was broken into what was believed would be two more internally harmonious ones. But a retreat from complexity is no guarantee of future harmony. Too often, it is accompanied by the rise of a fetish for purity, the desire to exterminate lingering traces of complexity within.

Pakistan is not unique. Rather, it is at the forefront of a global trend. All around the world, governments and would-be governments appear overwhelmed by complexity and are blindly unleashing the power of fission, championing quests for the pure. In India a politics of Hindu purity is wrenching open deep and bloody fissures in a diverse society. In Myanmar a politics of Buddhist purity is massacring and expelling the Rohingya. In the United States a politics of white purity is marching in white hoods and red baseball caps, demonising Muslims and Hispanic people, killing and brutalising black people, jeering at intellectuals, and spitting in the face of climate science.

Neo Nazis, alt-right and white supremacists march in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017. Photograph: Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

And what of Europe? Europe, too, is rekindling its love affair with purity, with signs of this deadly ardour everywhere, from the rise of the far right in Germany and Austria to the endless emergency in France to the ethno-national cracking of Ukraine and Spain.

And then there is Brexit, particularly saddening for you, since you are not just part-Pakistani, you are part-British (and part-European) as well. Brexit illustrates only too well the politics of fission and the unleashing of the forces of purity. First, or so it was said, the British took back control. But the Scottish and Northern Irish seemed not to want to take back control. So the English took back control from them. And also from Londoners, for London had long ceased to be properly English. And also from the young, addled in their thinking by the ever increasing numbers of the non-English in their midst. In some English newspapers today dissenters are called traitors. In Englands north-west frontier, which is to say Northern Ireland, a return to violence is feared. The ruling party is paralysed, riven by factionalism. No one is deemed pure enough, brazenly English enough, to govern. Judges, journalists, parliamentarians, citizens: everyone is suspect.

How Pakistani it all strikes you.

In these pure times, you believe more impurity is desperately needed. Only impurity can save us now. But, fortunately, there are reasons for hope. Our species was built on impurity, and impurity will probably come to our rescue once again, if we let it.

Biology is instructive here. The physical commingling of two human parents is required to produce a child. Every child is a combination of genetic material from two different sources. Every child is impure, a mix. There is a clear reason for this: it works better than the alternative. If we simply split in half to produce two humans from one, or detached a lump from our leg or from our buttock, which grew into an identical copy of us, we would all be the same. We would all be pure. But we would be much less capable of coping with the challenges of an environment that always has been, and always will be, in a state of change.

Over time, our inescapable, systemic, fundamentally human impurity gives us the capacity to do what has not been done before, to make creative leaps: in our biology, in the diseases we can resist and the foods we can digest. And in our thinking and culture and politics too. The coming together of people from different backgrounds, with different ideas, allows breakthroughs to occur. Constitutional democracy as currently practised around the world owes a great deal to America and Britain and France, but it also owes a great deal to the ancient Greeks, and to the Arabs who built on and transmitted Greek thought to a Europe where the ancient Greeks had been all but forgotten. The first aircraft was invented in America, but the physics and mathematics and engineering that made it possible came from Europe, from North Africa, from India, from China, from the collision and collection of knowledge by all of humanity.

The coming together of people from different backgrounds, with different ideas, allows breakthroughs to occur … think of jazz. Photograph: Frank Driggs Collection/Getty Images

Think of jazz. Of Asia and Africas influence on European cuisine and vice versa. Of the Moors on Don Quixote. Of the foreign-born on Silicon Valley. Of the green revolution. Of cutting-edge research in medicine. These are not victories of purity, designed by cutoff, like-minded people of similar appearance and narrowly shared ancestry. These are what can be achieved when humanity mixes.

Climate change. Mass migration. Rampant inequality. None of the most pressing and daunting problems today facing humanity have simple answers. As a species, we require creative new approaches, yet-to-be-imagined leaps forward. But while we might not yet know what the solutions to these challenges are, we should already suspect from where the breakthroughs are most likely to come. They are likely to come from mongrelisation. From profound impurity. From people and ideas at risk of being suppressed and marginalised in our purity-obsessed age.

We are all impure. But because many of us deny our impurity, those who are most obviously impure among us require allies. And one of their most important allies is literature. Writing. Reading. When, sitting alone, we read a book, something profoundly strange occurs. We are by ourselves. We are only ourselves. And yet we contain within us the thoughts of another person, the writer. We become something bizarre. Something manifestly impure. A being with the thoughts of two beings inside it.

A reader, in the moment of reading, experiences a pooling of consciousness that blurs the painstakingly constructed boundaries of the unitary self. The very possibility of reading, the fact that it can occur, that a human being can experience this, the thoughts of another in the same physical place, that place so deep within, where the readers own thoughts reside and furthermore that the reader is drawn to this experience, seeks for it, desires it reminds us that the impure is fundamental to what we are, and calls out to us, powerfully, like the sea calls out to an organism that has evolved to live on the land, and yet recreates the sea inside itself, forms a watery womb, every time it conceives a child.

Writing and reading are, as sex is, a commingling. Literature is the practice of the impure. Written words might articulate demands and justifications for purity, but the fact that such words are written and read means they are, by their very nature, impure prudes perhaps, but inescapably engaged in an orgy. Writing cannot help but remind us of the power of impurity, even when some written words claim the opposite.

So yes, writing is among the most important allies of the impure, which is to say it is on the side of the mixing upon which our future ability to thrive as a species depends, and on the side of the mongrelisation that has produced each of us individuals; a mongrelisation that, if acknowledged, allows us to accept ourselves as the messy, fertile, multifaceted composites we actually are, rather than the frozen, sterile, monochromatic entities we are told to pretend to be.

(For you, of course, possibly more obviously a mongrel than many others, writing has become a way of life, the way of your life, because it was not clear to you that a life such as yours had a way without it.)

But writers are easily identified as agents of impurity. And so it does not surprise you, and should surprise none of us, that the forces of purity have identified writing and writers as in need of suppression.

These suppressions do not occur in a vacuum. For each, there is a context. Individual impurities are cited as harmful. As offensive to a set of beliefs, or to a desired cohesion, or to an economic future, or to the wellbeing of a younger generation. And then a mode of suppression is selected: a legal one, such as libel laws in Britain or lse-majest laws in Thailand or national security and official secrecy laws in America; or an extra-legal one, such as kidnapping by a drug cartel in Mexico, or a religious proclamation by a cleric in Pakistan, or the bullet fired by an assassin, anywhere, everywhere.

Houses of Rohingyas burning in Myanmar, in September 2017. Photograph: NurPhoto/Getty Images

Such suppression almost never presents itself as an attempt to end free speech in general. Rather, it focuses on the specific. Not the herd, but the lamb. Not the school, but the sardine. On this one particular case of impurity, which has gone too far, and can now, should now, be picked off, swallowed up, in a mighty gulp, never to be heard from or seen again.

Because of this merciless specificity, a scattering occurs, even among those who seek to defend the impure who are writers. You have often observed this tendency. It manifests itself in a focus on the threats to those impurities that we like, to the forms of speech we ourselves tend to value. For many in Europe, for example, this is the threat of violent Muslims against speech perceived as anti-Islam. But while this threat is real and dangerous (albeit encountered much more by writers in Asia and Africa than in Europe), it is not the only threat. Indeed it is not the largest nor the most significant one, in terms of the numbers of writers it affects and the aggregate amount of harm that befalls them. Around the world the dangers writers face come from criminals, from the powerful in their societies, and from their own governments, far more often than from Muslim terrorists.

To focus only on one form of suppression, then, while ignoring the others, runs the risk of seeking to harness indignation as a weapon, rather than as a shield. Of failing to value the impurity of writing, and instead opening a new front in the battle of one purity against another.

When we celebrate writers for their bravery, it is also worth asking if there are writers whose bravery consists, in part, of standing up not to others but to us. Standing up not to the monsters without, about whom we speak so often, but to the monsters within, which we prefer not to notice. Writers who undermine our cherished nations, militaries, borders, races, clans, beliefs.

For there are many kinds of heroes, or rather many uses for them. There are those heroes who inspire. But there are heroes, too, who remind us of our own potential for villainy, impure mirrors who reflect back at us the false purities we hide. Such writers may go unsung, understandably. But when they go unprotected, we risk losing with them the possibility for the best within us, that redemptive impurity we shall badly need in the times to come.

  • Adapted from a speech given for PEN International Free the Word! at Winternachten 2018. Mohsin Hamids novel Exit West is published by Penguin in paperback on 8 February. Illustration by Christophe Gowans.

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Having A Positive Attitude Really Does Help Kids Succeed In Math

If a school teacher ever sniped at you using the old adage that “attitude is everything”, you may want to go back in time and un-roll your eyes.

Researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine have just discovered a neurological pathway that connects a student’s positive attitude toward mathematics with better performance on arithmetic tests.  

“Based on our data, the unique contribution of positive attitude to math achievement is as large as the contribution from IQ,” said lead author Lang Chen, PhD, in a statement. The paper, published in Psychological Science, notes that this effect appears to be independent of other factors that impact math performance.

This is not the first investigation into the effect of attitude on mathematics–educational researchers have been trying for decades to understand how motivation, cognitive ability, and teaching style interplay in regards to a student’s academic achievement. Previous groups have observed that children who are interested in math and perceive themselves to be good at it tend to fare better on tests than those with opposing views.

Such data presents a chicken and the egg puzzle: Are children eager and confident to learn math due to their inherent intellectual capabilities, or does realizing that you have an aptitude for something ignite a spark of interest?

The Stanford team hypothesized the answer is a little bit of both.

“We think the relationship between positive attitude and math achievement is mutual, bi-directional,” Chen said. “We think it’s like bootstrapping: A good attitude opens the door to high achievement, which means you then have a better attitude, getting you into a good circle of learning. And it can probably go the other way and be a vicious circle, too.”

To assess the relationship between mental state and cognition, Chen’s team used questionnaires to establish IQ, reading ability, working memory capacity, and general demographics for 240 children aged 7 to 10 years. The kids’ attitude and level of anxiety toward math, plus their perception of their math ability, was also assessed using surveys given to them and their parents. Actual math aptitude was measured by a test composed of math word problems and facts about arithmetic.

Next, 47 of the 240 children and 28 control children were given math problems to solve while undergoing real-time MRI scans.

An example of a functional MRI taken during an unrelated working memory test. Wikimedia Commons

The images showed that children with positive math attitudes had increased activation in the hippocampus, a brain area that plays a major role in learning and fact-based memory.

Interestingly, activation of brain’s reward centers—areas that use dopamine messaging to condition you to seek appealing stimuli such as food, drugs and social interaction—was not associated with positive math attitude. Several existing education theories speculate that the intermediate between math attitude and success in the subject is motivation in the form of feel-good hits of dopamine from the amygdala and ventral striatum.

“Instead, we saw that if you have a strong interest and self-perceived ability in math, it results in enhanced memory and more efficient engagement of the brain’s problem-solving capacities,” said senior author Vinod Menon, PhD.

Though it is not entirely surprising to know that passion and excitement for an academic subject make you more likely to succeed, it’s nice to learn more about the underlying brain processes. Moreover, Dr Menon hopes these findings could eventually lead to better interventions for students who are struggling.

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New Study Casts Light On Why This Photo Freaks You Out So Much

If you hate looking at pictures of clusters of holes, good news! You’re not alone. You apparently have trypophobia, a condition described as the “fear of holes”. But according to a new study, it isn’t related to fear at all. It’s actually an instinctive reaction of disgust.

Publishing their findings in the journal PeerJ, the researchers used a technique called pupillometry, which measures people’s reactions by looking at their eyes. The test subjects were made to look at pictures of obvious dangers like snakes and spiders, clusters of holes, and neutral images.

The eye-tracking technique showed that both the holes and the threatening images had an effect on pupil dilation, but it was strongest when the person was looking at a cluster of holes, suggesting that the reaction is not linked to fear but rather associated with the parasympathetic nervous system and the feeling of disgust.

“On the surface, images of threatening animals and clusters of holes both elicit an aversive reaction,” lead author Vladislav Ayzenberg, from Emory University, said in a statement. “Our findings, however, suggest that the physiological underpinnings for these reactions are different, even though the general aversion may be rooted in shared visual-spectral properties.

“These visual cues signal the body to be cautious, while also closing off the body, as if to limit its exposure to something that could be harmful.”

The people involved in the experiment didn’t report suffering from trypophobia, yet the team observed the reaction. Therefore, they suggest that it’s a primitive mechanism that’s pervasive throughout the population. It’s potentially linked to visual cues for rotten or moldy food, or infected skin.

“We’re an incredibly visual species,” added Ayzenberg. “Low-level visual properties can convey a lot of meaningful information. These visual cues allow us to make immediate inferences – whether we see part of a snake in the grass or a whole snake – and react quickly to potential danger.”

Trypophobia isn’t recognized in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but it has gained popularity thanks to the Internet, where people have shared their common repulsion for pictures of holes.

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Flu slams schools, shuttering some

(CNN)Flu is hitting the country hard, especially in schools. There’s no official tally, but there are reports of closures of a day or more in at least a dozen states because so many students and teachers are ill.

At least 37 children have died due to flu-related causes this season, according to the latest numbers from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — and agency officials said there are still many more weeks of flu season to come for most of the country.
The Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in suburban Chicago is one of them. For the first time in its 30-year history, the Aurora school closed for almost a week due to the flu. On Friday, January 19 there were 25 students who stayed out of class due to flu-like symptoms. By Monday, 88 students were sick and 23% of the faculty were sick with flu-like symptoms, too. Since the school is a residential campus for 10th, 11th and 12th graders, and since the illness spread so rapidly, school officials decided to close its campus, under advisement of the local hospital and health department. The students, who come from counties all over the state, were sent home as a preventive measure. Classes are expected to start again on January 29.
    “We all wanted to nip this in the bud before it got worse,” said Tami Armstrong, the school’s director of public affairs. The cleaning crew, however, did not get the week off. In fact, they got extra work, having to wipe down all the hard surfaces in the dorms and academic buildings to prevent further spread of the flu.
    The Illinois school is not alone.
    In Port St. Joe, Florida, Gulf District Schools Superintendent Jim Norton told CNN the district decided to close school Friday after more than one-quarter of its 1,900 students and one-third of the 150 teachers called out sick this week due to the flu. The schools are scheduled to reopen next week. The announcement on the closing said buildings will be cleaned and sanitized Friday and sick students will be given a change to recover.
    Similarly ,the Russellville School District in Arkansas closed all of its 10 schools Friday January 19 “due to the high number of students experiencing flu-like symptoms.” Students were back in class on Monday January 22.
    In Oklahoma, the Hugo schools were also closed for a couple of days due to the flu. The district’s website said that the schools would be sanitized to keep the flu from spreading. It also offered parents advice on when to know if students were too sick to go to school. A flyer from the Oklahoma Department of Health suggested children might be too sick for school if they have fever, diarrhea or vomiting, rash, cough or sore throat or “other conditions” and advised parents to talk to the school nurse or administrators about exclusion policies for these or other illnesses.
    In the state of Texas, officials encouraged “anyone with symptoms to stay home and to see their health care provider, as antiviral medications may shorten the duration of their illness.” Amid an outbreak in San Antonio, one school took that advice and closed for a “flu day” a couple of weeks ago.
    In Michigan, the Kalamazoo Public Schools website said while most schools were below the health department’s 20% flu-related absentee level for closure, “as a precaution, all KPS schools will be cleaned and disinfected over the upcoming weekend.” Elsehwere in the state on Friday, all Gull Lake Community Schools in Richland were closed “due to high illness rates.” Activities were canceled, and staff were told not to report, according to the schools’ website.
    In Alabama, where the Governor declared a state of emergency on January 11 due to the current flu outbreak, some schools have also been closed including in Huntsville. State health officials asked schools and businesses to consider waiving sick policies.

    See the latest news and share your comments with CNN Health on Facebook and Twitter.

    With the pressures to get all the lessons in, a decision to close a school is never easy, but school officials think caution is key when it comes to preventing additional children from getting sick.
    “If we hadn’t closed when we did, I wouldn’t have wanted to be having a conversation with anyone about why more kids were sick and we didn’t do our best to keep students safe,” said Armstrong of Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. “Their health and well-being is our number one priority.”

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    Indian education minister dismisses theory of evolution

    Scientists condemn Satyapal Singh for saying Darwins theory is scientifically wrong

    Indian education minister dismisses theory of evolution

    Scientists condemn Satyapal Singh for saying Darwins theory is scientifically wrong

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