Relearning Math

My daughter frequently asks me to go over her math with her, after she’s done, to make sure she did it right. Normally she misses one, usually because she didn’t read the problem carefully, rather than actually not understanding how to do it. Tonight she bombed. She had answers that didn’t even relate to the questions. It would have been funny, except that it was almost 10:00 and she was tired, and nearly in tears, because she had so many of them wrong.

We went through half of the 30 problem, going over them in detail, until she just looked glassy eyed, and fed up with the whole concept of math. She couldn’t even remember where she came up with 27, for the question “Name the prime numbers between 90 and 100”.

I put her to bed, joked around with her, told her we all have bad days, and I needed to find a better place for her to do homework, where there weren’t so many distractions. Then went downstairs, poured a glass of wine, and went over the second half of her problems, with the benefit of years of real life experience, (I know how long it should take to drive 450 miles at 60 miles an hour, and how long it really takes with kids in the car) and a calculator. She did better on those, but still had some really wild, out there answers. I took notes for her, not giving her the answers, but pointing out where she had gone off track. She can look them over while she eats cereal in the morning, and hopefully make the changes and not have to take the battered score at school.

I was abysmal in math when I was in school, I took algebra 3 times. I didn’t ever fail, but the teachers thought it would be good to have a stronger foundation before moving on. The foundation never happened, because I didn’t have the intellect, or more because I had given up, convinced that I was a failure at math. It eventually led to my changing my major in college from Biology to English, because I couldn’t manage the math in organic chemistry.

I’ve improved a lot, although I shudder at the quadratic equation, and while I used to be able to rattle it off in my sleep, now I can kind of see what it looked like in my head, and I could probably pick it out of a bunch of equations on a page, I don’t remember it. I can figure out a lot in my head, and with a few minutes and a pencil, I can come up with a lot of solutions. I think it’s because I only have to answer problems that someone actually wants the answer to, and no one cares how I find the answer, as long as it’s right.

I’d love to find a way to pass that on to my daughter. The words don’t mean anything to her right now. She just looks at me, and thinks I just know this stuff, and that regardless of the years I spent struggling, she’s just not as smart as I am. If only she could understand that she catches on considerably faster, and better than I did when I was learning it.

I heard about a study on the radio, that said girls tend to lead boys in math and science until their early teens, and then drop off considerably. They seemed to suggest that it wasn’t boys surging ahead in those subjects, but more girls dropping behind, as boys became more important. I’d love to find a way to let her know that boys aren’t that important. I was one. I know.

All in all, a fairly nice evening. Tomorrow she’ll fix the few problems left to fix and head off to school to get a good mark on the homework, and for a little longer, she’ll think I’m smart.

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