There is a huge elephant standing in most math classrooms, it is the idea that only some students can do well in math. Students believe it, parents believe and teachers believe it. The myth that math is a gift that some students have and some do not, is one of the most damaging ideas that pervades education in the US and that stands in the way of students’ math achievement.
Do you want to improve your grasp of math so you can help your children understand their homework? Did math pass you by at school, or have your skills grown rusty over the years? Do you find it hard to apply what you know to the real-life problems you need to solve now—like using spreadsheets, interpreting data, or assessing risks?
If so, then the free, online, work-at-your-own-pace Citizen Maths course may be just what you need. Instead of abstract routines, the course uses practical problems to help you grasp some “powerful ideas” in math and see how these ideas apply in work and in life.
I’ve dipped my toes in Twitter lately (as part of the Explore #MTBoS program) and been swept up in a crashing tsunami of information. There’s no way to keep up with it all, but I’ll let the tide wash over me and enjoy the tidbits I happen to notice as they float by. For instance, yesterday I discovered a writer who offers tip on writing about injuries and was able to get some great advice for Kitten’s sequel to her first novel.
Mathematicians love to play with ideas. They experiment with puzzles. They tinker with the connections between shapes and numbers, patterns and logic, growth and change. To a mathematician, the fun of the game is in experimenting, in trying new things and discovering what will happen. Many modern strategy games were invented primarily for the fun puzzle of analyzing who would win.
Wise mathematicians are never satisfied with merely finding the answer to a problem. If they decide to put effort into solving a math puzzle, then they are determined to milk every drop of knowledge they can get from that problem. When mathematicians find an answer, they always go back and think about the problem again.
Is there another way to look at it?
Can we make our solution simpler or more elegant?
Does this problem relate to any other mathematical idea?
Can we expand our solution and find a general principle?
Our childhood struggles with schoolwork gave most of us a warped view of mathematics. We learned to manipulate numbers and symbols according to what seemed like arbitrary rules. We may have understood a bit here and a bit there, but we never saw how the framework fit together. We stumbled from one class to the next, packing more and more information into our strained memory, until the whole structure threatened to collapse. Finally we crashed in a blaze of confusion, some of us in high school algebra, others in college calculus.
There’s a tendency for adults to label the math that they can do (such as identifying patterns, choosing between competing offers in a supermarket, and challenging statistics published by the government) as “common sense” and labeling everything they can’t do as “math” — so that being bad at math becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Pre-algebra students stand at the threshold of adventure. Behind them lie the rocky plains of school arithmetic. Ahead, the trail winds into a murky, tangled woods and disappears in the shadows. Who knows what monsters might live in a place like that?
Actress and math maven Danica McKellar has traveled through the pre-algebra jungle and beyond, up the slopes to higher math. She survived the journey, and now, on the heels of her bestselling book for math-phobic middle schoolers, she has written Kiss My Math to guide uncertain students along their way.
Unlike the case with most Hollywood movies, this sequel is an improvement.
We’ve all heard the saying, Don’t judge a book by its cover, but I did it anyway. Well, not by the cover, exactly — I also flipped through the table of contents and read the short introduction. And I said to myself, “I don’t talk like this. I don’t let my kids talk like this. Why should I want to read a book that talks like this? I’ll leave it to the public school kids, who are surely used to worse.”
Okay, I admit it: I’m a bit of a prude. And it caused me to miss out on a good book. But now Danica McKellar‘s second book is out, and the first one has been released in paperback. A friendly PR lady emailed to offer me a couple of review copies, so I gave Math Doesn’t Suck a second chance.