Thursday, January 2, 2014

Math Memories

While out shopping for Christmas presents I ran across this:

I hadn't thought of this game for years, but it immediately brought back a memory of being twelve, sitting in my kitchen with a guy my mom had hired to help me with math. He and his family lived out in the woods in some groovy, creative, possibly homeschooling way and he had brought Rack-o for me to play with him. To make math fun, I suppose. I would have none of it. At that point my math resistance was at an all time high.

It may have started back in kindergarten with the bumblebee worksheet. In retrospect, I suppose my five year old brain was just not yet ready for one-to-one correspondence. (My own daughter didn't have that until she was at least six.)

Later in kindergarten we went on a walk off school grounds. I walked ON one of the white lines as we crossed the street.  Teacher called out: "Malke! You're supposed to walk BETWEEN the lines!"  I distinctly remember thinking that I thought she said "walk ON the line".  I know for sure I was thinking that I thought I was following directions. On, in, between, under, over, etc. are a huge part of math learning at this age so it makes sense that I might have been confused. I did not like being yelled at.

In fourth grade I noticed my teacher putting up some math papers that had been graded 100%.  Mine was not displayed on the bulletin board despite the fact I had correctly answered every question.  When I asked my teacher why my paper had not been included she replied that it wasn't neat enough. I shocked.  Yes my paper was full of smudges and eraser marks, but I took that as evidence of my hard work and determination. I didn't challenge my teacher about it, but to this day I always look for ways to admire children's efforts as well as their final product.

Fifth grade math class. Timed math facts test. I was in the front row. In the middle of the test, my (male) teacher bellowed at me: "NO FINGERS." First five or six students to complete the test got to play with the OWL CALCULATORS. They were all boys. I am still bitter.

High school. 11th grade? Asked guidance counselor to be transferred from Mr. X's algebra class to Mr. Y's.  I told her, I just want to learn the math. Mr. X just sits there and talks the whole class -- I want Mr. Y because I know I can learn from him. Counselor says, I know, I understand, but I just can't. That was the year I helped Shelly Heesacker study for a math test. She got an A. I got a C.

Not developmentally ready. Product valued over process. Timed tests. "Teaching" by talking. These are not tragic circumstances, by any means, and are not meant to malign math education as a whole, but it's interesting that these math memories are still with me, so many years later.


  1. You can ask any person, and they all have these memories. This year, a study came out explaining a possible reason why. When we do math, it uses very different skills from social interactions. So, any REQUIREMENT that demands our brain activates its social skills in the middle of a math activity (from neatness to coping with yelling or stereotype threats) throws us emotionally.

  2. Wow. Interesting. But what about social learning like math circles or collaborative problem solving/math communities in the classroom? Or is that a different kind of social? Do you have a link to the study? Thanks!

  3. Math is not an easy subject for most people. That's the reason why it's quite a challenge to have high school math/high school mathematics tutoring. But there are really patient tutors that could help you out when you want some help understanding the lessons.


Thanks for reading. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...