The Naked Green

2004.12.14 Tuesday

Learning (Math*Reform)

Filed under: Obsessions — Mr. Green @ 2.46 pm

I have spent part of the day today learning math. Contrary to what you might think, this has involved finding some elementary level math sites and learning how to divide. That’s right, I forgot how to divide! For years now I haven’t been able to do long division and yet I have survived somehow. It’s taken for granted so no one offered to teach me and I had no need to go looking…until today. I went to the community college to start the math portion of the placement test (I have to work on it during my lunch break). I figured I should at least learn how to divide again.

I have actually taken math tests without knowing this and done alright, which shows that I have learned a few mathematical concepts. Unfortunately, the concepts are so vague that I take forever dancing around the problem, filling up scratch sheets with possible solutions and allegorical problems that may relate.

Much of math has done this to me (hidden somewhere) and I blame the style in which it was taught (and a lot of a weed known as marijuana). I got so tired of hearing, “It’s like a staircase, you have to start at the bottom and hit all the steps on the way up” (whiny tone added). Why couldn’t they just show me the top of the stairs, or perhaps the next landing and as I climbed, I could see the goal better. Maybe I could even skip steps as my legs grew. Instead they kept yelling, “look at the step!” making me trip over the next one not knowing where I was going.

The problem with math is memorization. Some is necessary, of course, but to rely on it to learn causes fading of knowledge. Inevitably the brain adds more data, restructures and redefines it and though you supposedly never get rid of it, it can get lost. Knowledge, in my opinion, is an understanding of the way things work, not memorizing the way we represent how they work. So, even though I was pounded by the same information for many years, I forgot what I “learned” in one of those small grades early on in life. The acceptable structure is good, but it would have been better to understand why the structure works and maybe how it happened to be represented that way.

I think that some basic mathematical theory should be taught beginning in lat grade school or at least Junior High. Small puzzle pieces being built in the little minds. Then, by high school and even Junior High, there would be no more of this pounding…what did they call it…review (bleh!) It would be instead a time of exciting discovery, of putting the pieces together and seeing the bigger picture. I don’t know how this will be done, but I challenge mathematicians and teachers to strive to mentor and build those who may very well be like Einstein: A mathematical and scientific genius who was flunking math. Maybe, there are already alternatives to learning math and I would be interested in hearing about them.

Anyway, I think I did fine on the part of the test I already did, but it took me longer than it should have. I’m looking forward to learning some of the depth of math and I’m sure my algebra professor will tear some hairs out over my prodding into his/her head.

Thanks again to The Math Forum and all the “Dr. Math“s there who helped me gain a more full understanding of what I’m doing. Special thanks to my wife for encouraging me to press on and showing me how to do some math.

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