Math on the Brain

Weekend mornings in the house I grew up in meant not bothering my parents while they manually added up invoices and checked each other’s work, but that was about the extent of their math skills.  Algebra was something they could kind of work out, but without really knowing how, and any geometry my mother knew came from the building trades family she grew up in.

Uh... not yet. Give me a few weeks! (embroidery library inc.)

I, along with 10% of my class, was placed one year ahead in both math and science, taking algebra and introductory physics in eighth grade.  Once the words ‘quadratic equation’ came out of my mouth, my parents officially gave up trying to help me with my homework, and that was pretty much that.

I joined the math team in high school, aware that math could be fun, and wanting to continue to see it that way, despite the drudgery of my classwork.  I owe my geometry teacher a rather massive apology for telling her that I was never going to use geometry in my life after that class; I went on to become an architecture major, design quilts and carpentry projects, and love the skills in logic I learned in her class.  (Not to mention that bisecting angles and making neat patterns with a compass is just plain cool.) 

I started sliding in my junior year, and my parents hired a tutor for me; one of the subs I had actually understood.  He was great, but my grades were not.  When I sat in the exact same seat in the front row of the same teacher’s class the following fall for the first day of calculus and got a question wrong, my teacher asked me (quite derisively) whom I had had for analysis the year before.  Fuming and undoubtedly bright red, I answered her “YOU, Ms P!”   (/rant, honest) The same tutor helped me pass, but not by much.

Mathematical Reasoning for Elementary Teachers, by Long and DeTemple. WAY harder than you'd think! >:)

Two and a half years later I found myself having transferred out of architecture school (I loved designing buildings, but hated living in the city) and back in a calculus class.  My teacher had a thick accent, my class was at 8 AM, and my performance was not much better that time around than it had been in high school.  It met my higher math requirement though, so that was that.  I knew I could be better at it, but with organic chemistry on my plate, I just didn’t have time to figure out what I’d missed so I could carry on.  I started picking up used math texts though, stashing them away for when I had time to remedy the situation.

Fast forward another half dozen years; I’ve graduated, been married, and gotten divorced.  I’ve also had a massive brain infection;  I still deal with some of the effects of it.  It took me five years to feel like I had my mind back to where I could feel recovered from my illness, and the thing that made me know I was back was I could integrate expressions in calculus again, and I could figure out what they meant.  Math has been pretty darned special to me ever since.

I was a science major once I transferred colleges, and I know that my lack of higher math skills has held me back to some extent.  I also know that I am really rusty on *all* of my math skills, so a few years ago I decided to do something about it, and started pulling out all of those old books.  The book that has most rocked my world (and which I have a lot more work to do in) is Mathematical Reasoning for Elementary Teachers, by Long and DeTemple, which finally makes me analyze how I worked out all those fun problems and puzzles over the years, learn how to apply them in other situations, and, oh yeah, teach such strategies *and* the means to develop them to children.  Yeah, woof. 

But now I’ve hit the jackpot; I recently started working with Kahn Academy.  I tried the first addition set to see if my girls might like it, and realized that this was a program that could teach me too.  Sal Kahn has a very casual way of sharing his confidence with the student, and the system of documenting one’s progress is very motivating, and in a way that somehow doesn’t diminish or replace my own internal motivation for studying again.

I knew as soon as I started working on Kahn Academy that I wanted to post about it, but I told myself that I wanted to get up to algebra first.  Ergo, I am happy to report that I have reviewed multiplying and dividing fractions, how exponents work, and have done the first three sets of linear equations, racking up 50K energy points (the systems tally of how much I have done).  The site has math from addition through classes for math majors, as well as chemistry, physics, and analyses of the math behind several financial premises.

Best yet, I’m modelling both doing and loving math for my kids.  All of my kids call themselves mathematicians!  Buddy saw my uncle and cousin doing some calculus for fun (yeah, my *extended* family is all about math) over the holidays, and said “Ooh!  Math!  I do math!  I love math!” then jumped up between them, counted to ten, and listened for a few minutes while they got back to their integrals.  🙂

Angela, over on Satori Smiles, just wrote a lovely review of the Kahn Academy that you should totally check out.  Then go on over the site and see if you can still remember how to multiply negative fractional exponents!  Give Sal ten minutes, and I know you can!

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This entry was posted in childhood of origin, freaking cool stuff, math, stretching my head, technology, verbatim. Bookmark the permalink.

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