Instructed to go to the blackboard and add up a column of two-digit numbers, I dutifully, and somewhat timidly, left my seat and shuffled up to the board. Chalk in hand, I began with the numbers to the right side of the column but I did something that came naturally. I didn’t go and add one number to the next directly below it, I skipped to the next easiest to add to my total. I did this until I had completed the first numbers and was about to proceed to the next, when the teacher stopped me.
“Stop!” I froze in place, thinking I had done something awfully wrong and I stood waiting for the withering comment about my slovenliness that would surely
come. But it didn’t.
The teacher turned to the class and said, “Did you see what she did? See how she didn’t go directly to the next number, but skipped?” They stared quietly thinking it must have been a major mistake on my part and they were ready to laugh and call out how much of a jerk I was, but it didn’t happen.
“That,” she said, “is thinking in a new way and not just stumbling and trying to add the next number. She went to one she knew she could easily add, then went to the next she could add to that and proceeded to solve the addition.” So, I had hit on something unique that hadn’t occurred to them and I was being praised for it? Wow, what a relief.
The memory has stuck with me all these years as I’ve tried to conquer (yes, that’s the word I’d use) math in the manner that was taught to me. It was the same with all those music books I filled with the
carefully copied notes the music teacher scribbled on the board.
Nope, I never figured out the notes because she never explained how they translated into anything. I knew the names of the notes, but how they fit into actual music remained a mystery.
The point here is that children’s and adults’ creativity can be stunted or assisted in flourishing by a bit of explanation, a little praise and encouragement and making the information meaningful. That’s what creativity is all about; the different.
If you took algebra in school, how was it taught to you? Did you get sick, and maybe a little scared, of all those “a train leaves the station at Point A, traveling x miles an hour and…?” Do they still scare you and are you extremely happy you will never ever have to figure out how long that train took to get to Point B? Yeah, me too.
Teaching isn’t about rote learning, but memorization has to be a part of it, of course. The problem is that methods of teaching have to be tailored to the student and the teacher’s ability. Just because someone is teaching high school math doesn’t mean they’re qualified and teachers need to learn, too, that different can be better.
The message came home to me like lightning today as I began to read “A Mind for Numbers” where the writer, now a professor of all things mathematical, related the sad tale of her introduction to her most hated and dreaded subject, math. She eventually did learn to conquer it, but not until she realized that it had to be presented in different ways and then she felt that wonder of accomplishment and even of liking the subject. So, with that accomplishment in hand, she determined that others could benefit from the tricks and tips she had learned over the years and she wrote this book for those with mathphobia thanks to those teaches who didn’t really get it.
How many times were you told not to read out loud? Wrong. Reading out loud is a helpful way to remember material. It’s the beginning of learning computing because you need to recall that “Please excuse my dear aunt sally.” This is the order of operations in writing a program (parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition and subtraction). Don’t you love these little memory tips?
When reading a book on math or science, how do you read it? Do you begin methodically at the beginning and then work your way through it? How about trying to skip ahead and looking at the topics, the diagrams, what you will learn and, of course, the questions you will need to answer for every chapter? Reviewing the questions helps you pick out the relevant material. No, it is not cheating; it’s learning.
So, go back and forth and never be concerned if you have to go back and review something that doesn’t quit fit for you. And do it in your own time. You don’t need to race through the book just because someone else has done that. The author of this book took longer to finish her college courses because she took her time and she benefitted from that pace.
I’m on my adventure with the book now, but I wanted to tip you off about it because whether you are a parent helping a child, or an adult who wants to face that math fear and conquer it or just someone who wants to learn something new, this is where you start. It deserves all the awards and the sales it has realized to date.