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Student invents new math process

  • Published
  • By Mike Wallace
  • Aeronautical Systems Center Public Affairs
Killie Rick found a new solution to subtraction problems involving whole numbers and fractions. She used the concept of negative numbers in a way that has never been done before, as far as her seventh-grade teacher has been able to ascertain.

The 12-year-old girl is the daughter of Terri Rick, a senior accounting technician in Air Force Materiel Command's materiel systems group here.

An example of a problem and Killie's solution is:

8 2/5 - 5 3/5 = 3 -1/5 = 2 + 5/5 - 1/5 = 2 4/5

By using negative numbers, a concept she began to get comfortable with this year at Mary Help of Christians school in Fairborn, Ohio, Killie was able to simplify the process of subtracting fractions.

"I've never seen anybody do this,” said Colin McCabe, Killie’s teacher. “It simplifies it by taking out three steps (to find a solution). I went home and tried to find fault with it, but I couldn't. I got online and did research, and I talked to friends of mine from college, and I can't find anybody who's seen this."

Her process was not used in any of McCabe’s reference materials. He said he was so impressed that on Nov. 12 he presented her a certificate for outstanding achievement. The certificate was "in recognition of her mathematical ingenuity in the discovery of a new method of solution to mixed number subtraction." McCabe said he intends to teach what he calls "Killie's Way" to students in his future classes.

"I think a lot of credit should go to the teacher,” said Anne Steck, the school’s principal. “I know lots of math teachers who would've looked at Killie's work and just said it was wrong."

"I got this (math) problem, and I didn't remember what to do (to solve it),” Killie said. “I thought (my solution) made sense, but I expected the teacher to say it was wrong."

The use of negative numbers seemed reasonable to her, Killie said.

Finding a new way to solve problems with fractions, having her teacher praise her work, and hearing her school principal call it a "day of mathematical rejoicing”; maybe it is not so surprising that Killie said math is her favorite subject now.