Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Blogging Challenge - My Life as a Mathematician

It's funny.  When I saw that this was one of the topics for the blogging challenge I have to admit I was dreading it, but ironically, I've ended up spending more time thinking about it than the other topics.  Growing up I never hated math and in fact when I think back I'm pretty sure my worst grades were in Reading, which was my favorite. I can vividly remember learning my times tables in the third grade by singing them.  The 6s had a country beat and the 7s were disco!  Those two were my favorites!  I could memorize the steps and I certainly could repeat them problem after problem.  However, word problems were a completely different story - yikes!  My life as a young mathematician was uneventful, just page after page of problems, and I was happy until of course, I got to the two word problems at the end of the workbook page.

My happy go lucky math life completely changed when I got to the tenth grade.  Algebra II! Binomials, conjugates and logarithms - oh my!  I had the worst experience.  I didn't get it and my teacher didn't help me - I made the first and only F ever on my report card that year. :( At the end of that year I closed the book on Math and made sure I never took another Math class until college.  I only took one then because I had to.  That professor was slightly more helpful but I really only made it through because of the outstanding tutor I found who could actually explain the concepts to me in a way I could understand.  I've worked hard as an adult to improve my mathematical skills and understanding.

As my own daughter came through elementary school completely immersed in a conceptually based math curriculum I began to realize why I did okay early on but struggled as the Math got more complex.  I had absolutely no idea what I was doing - what the Math really meant.  As long as I could memorize the facts or repeat the same steps over and over to solve the problems I had it made.  My daughter understands why the Math works and knows many ways to solve any problem she encounters.  I've learned a lot from helping her her over the years and I still learn something about why Math works with every lesson I observe.  If I had been taught the way she was there is no telling how far I would have gotten in the study of Mathematics.

I have always been able to just see patterns and sequences.  Timing, schedules and organizing data are easy for me and I use Math almost every day to do my job.  I calculate percents and averages, generate complex schedules, analyze and create data, and efficiently manage a large budget.  I view each task as a personal challenge and every time I approach a problem these days that requires me to think mathematically, I feel encouraged and accomplished.  Conquering something that hasn't always been easy makes you feel pretty great! Effort + Determination = Skill


Dee Dee Tamburrino said...

I've been reading articles on the "Singapore Math" method and talking to parents whose students attend a private school where it is taught. I'd like to know the difference between "Singapore Math" and "Math Investigations." Is there anyone in our learning community trained to teach Singapore Math? Just curious.

My children are math whizzes because of the instruction they received at Chets Creek. They have incredible number sense and can calculate in their heads like machines.

Matter of fact, as I was scrolling down my "tip calculator card" last night in a restaurant, Zac was doing the math in his head. He told me what the tip should be before I could even locate the number on the card.

I stand in awe of their teachers who have given them a gift I never received - relevant math instruction.

Anonymous said...

As a teacher, I believe building confidence in children is just as important as anything else we can do for them. To make math fun, to engage them in problem solving and to encourage them to take risks is so important. Exploring misconceptions (and creating an environment where that is safe to do)is valuable as well. I'm thankful for my math mentor teachers (Angela, Suzanne and Rick) and for the ways they model high expectations and academic rigor - which pays off in kids outstanding results - hopefully as lifelong mathematicians!
-Karen Morris

Mrs. Patricia Wallace said...

I was a decent student. I had good grades in all subjects. I think I enjoyed math because I was told exactly how to do a problem (memorizing steps). I didn't necessarily transfer my knowledge into the real world. My calculator on my cell was always needed to calculate the tip.

I was in awe of the way my children were learning math at Chets. They actually UNDERSTAND it. Percentage, fractions, divisions, multiplication... they actually understand how it works.

I am so thankful for the many mentors, multiple opportunities to have professional development and collegial conversations at Chets about math. It betters my true understanding of mathematics which in turn I hope makes me a better teacher.

Anonymous said...

Preach sister! I am so proud of you! You have stated the perfect case for a conceptually based math program.

I have always been baffled by the pundits of algorithmic thinking (i.e. text book publishers). 300 pages of numerical examples, practice problems, and unrealistic real-world word problems. I have never met a mathematician that thinks in such a manner. Skills have their place, but skills without a deeper understanding are not very helpful at all.

However, the State of Florida must not have received the message as nearly every Big Idea listed in the Next Generation Standards ends with a benchmark that states, "students will become fluent with THE traditional algorithm".

I feel shackled; caught between doing what is best for children and the need to placate obsolete thinking. Hopefully, we can find a way to to do both well!


Wanda Lankford said...

Thanks for sharing! I am so thankful that we are doing it correctly at CCE. I struggled in Math as a child and I am sure that's why I LOVE IT so much now! I lose my voice because I can't shut up when trying to reach my students in Math! I believe I am making a difference!

Angela Phillips said...

I LOVE math (just in case anyone doesn't already know this about me)and just got a kick out of reading your entry as well as everyone's comments (I love you all too!!!). Traditional math is so mundane but weaving it with problem solving and generalizing and making connections electrifies it and simply brings it to life! Every problem should be a challenge- a puzzle to solve! Approaching math as a science is what it is all about! :-) ..............guess my geek alert is going off now......

Suzanne said...

Interesting that Dee Dee mentions Singapore Math because I just read an article from a local private school that is implementing it. I'll have to do more research, but it doesn't sound any different from what we are doing, only we are light years ahead in implementation. I'm so thankful for the leadership that brought MI to our district, and thankful that my own boys received the instruction they needed to understand math concepts, problem solving, and skills. Without all three prongs, their math instruction would not have been adequate.