Friday, October 22, 2010

My Life as a Math Non-Believer

 I have decent number sense. I can figure out tips at restaurants and how much something is on sale, even if it is 25% off the 40% sale price. Estimation is my best friend. My head hurts when I have to do traditional algorithms

Patterns in Knitting
I get algebra. A lot of it makes sense to me. I look for patterns in all sorts of things and try to balance equations in things like knitting. Can’t for the life of me remember what to do with the creature called a quadratic equation, can you?

I am good with spatial orientation. Friends like to go on trips with me because I can figure out where I am and how to get places with (and without) maps. I can’t remember theorems and made it through geometry in high school by doing extra credit projects (like making math posters for the classroom).

In college I was an art major. I avoided math. Took a class called “Math for Non-Believers”. We looked at math in a very non-traditional way. It challenged me. It appealed to me. I could visualize, and thus understand, three-dimensional objects and how they worked in space. Thanks to M.C. Escher I could make sense of one-dimensional objects, too.

Math had meaning when it had a practical application. Even the course in glazes I took with the ceramic engineering students was a fun challenge. Never knew the abstract concepts in math could have practical applications. I could use math and chemistry to create a glaze with depth and aesthetic beauty.

My problem is that I was taught math by memorizing rules and procedures - hateful stuff - to get the one right answer. To balance out the skills (and drills) and the “only way” to do math I embraced the conceptual understanding of how math works as my lifeline.

We accept the developmental growth a child makes in reading and spelling so why can’t we understand the same child needs to figure out how math works, too? It is my hope more students are given the opportunity that I never had in school to grow in their conceptual understanding of how math works. It’s nice to know we have so many doors in our school that we can walk through to see this in action daily!


  1. I think you hit the problem with the "old school" way of teaching math right on the head.

    As a former math teacher, I saw so much richness in teaching students through having them work through the math, developing their own techniques, talking about problems and solutions.

  2. My boss is very much like you, which is one of the reasons I love traveling with her. She always knows where we are and where we are going next. She can figure amounts in her head without blinking as I am still pulling up the calculator on my iphone. Even though it seems like my daughter has inherited my number sense, I am so glad she is learning to understand concepts and therefore won't struggle the way that I do!