Ukuleles, and why [some] girls find maths hard…

The Evening Ledger, Thursday 24 May, 1917 (page 13):

Mathematic Marathon at William Penn High

Girls in Concentration Contest — Cipher Against Ukulele Rag and Tooting of Auto Horns

Imagine trying to add a column of figures a yard long while a squad of brain distractors whistled, strummed on ukuleles, banged on pianos, sounded automobile horns and beat time with their feet on an oaken floor!

But 300 girls did this thing today in a concentration contest at the William Penn High School for Girls. All of them survived the ordeal, but many suffered considerable mental agony before it was through.

The first problem in the contest was a brain-racking one in addition. The girls were handed a column of figures that would have staggered an intrepid double-entry bookkeeper. The ukuleles tuned up immediately the girls started. Ragtime music on pianos strove to push the young women from their mental speedways, and piercing whistles jumbled up figures on the mental blackboard and made contestants start all over again.

[Editorial note: no calculators, of course]

After the stunt in addition, the girls were given some knotty problems in quadratic equations, linear equations, simple interest, percentage, factoring and bank account.

And all the while it was a running skirmish of 300 agile brains with noise. The way those tantalizing ukuleles upset calculations and piled up figures and equations in distorted heaps was a spectacles that would have rumpled the patient spirits of the pedagogues of old.

I always knew ukuleles had a place in education.

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