I've had three conversations recently about math, its merits, its teachers, and after the third one last night, I just couldn't help myself. This is a blatant ad for how great math is, IF you get the right teacher.
It all started with this picture you've probably seen circulating on fb.
We got into quite a discussion on that thread about when algebra is actually used in everyday life. My contention is that you use it all the time, but it's become an innate skill, so you don't notice. Others argued that they're just using common sense and arithmetic. I say you have to be able to put that arithmetic into the problem in the correct way to find your answer and that's algebra. I even challenged one commenter that she was using calculus without knowing it, but that's for another post.
Another conversation got started on fb, with the same picture, about how it's the teacher who makes the difference. I totally agree with this, and not just because I was (and will always be inside) a math teacher, 7th grade. It's the teacher's JOB to make sure each student understands math. This is where the magic part comes in. Math problems have one correct answer, yet there are multiple paths to that answer. Those different paths represent different learning styles, and figuring out a student's learning style will help the teacher know which type of explanation should be used for that kid. Most teachers don't bother with this though, and that breaks my heart. They've figured out that a certain method will work for 75% of the class, and that's good enough.
That is a good strategy for the lesson part of the class. It's during the walking around and checking with each student portion of the class, as they're working the new material, where the different methods come in. Some teachers just sit at their desks, though. Criminal. So many kids are turned off by math and made to feel dumb because they “don't get it.” Get a new teacher, you can be great at math! Don't give up!
The third conversation was just between me and a friend whom I was helping with her son's algebra homework. She was saying it was so great to have him past simple arithmetic because he never did well in that, but that the higher concepts of algebra really clicked with him, and with the help of his (allowed, as it should be) calculator, he was doing well for the first time. Some kids struggle with basic math, but excel at the abstract stuff.
My final point would be that math really is cool. It's a language, it's a way of describing the world, it's a puzzle to be figured out, and it's good gymnastics for your brain. Now get out there and do some math! Or help your kid with their homework, and try to figure out how he or she thinks. It will be worth it.
What are your feelings about math? Have you used algebra today? Did you have good or bad teachers? Or if all this math is making you ill, then what subject do you get all excited about?