doing maths

Clark has been studying his maths* lately. That may be a surprise. But there is an even bigger surprise: he's enjoying it. This makes me wonder.

Like many people, I didn't have many good experiences with math in my early years.

I see the math paralysis in the eyes of students who come to me in tears because they are near failing despite their hours with tutors in the math lab. Like them, I never savored college algebra. I saved my one required math class (statistics) until my last semester of college . . . and I understood it. I studied it. I even liked it.

So why do so many people fear math?

I have a theory about why. First, I think our brains were just not ready for it when it was first introduced to us as children. The power of abstract thought generally develops in early puberty; this ability is essential in order to understand how 'x' could possibly equal 42. So, that being said, can't we let kids perfect the basics before we mix the letters and the numbers?

Second, people who major in math or science and do well in school have many, many lucrative career options. These options must make teaching seem like full-time charity work. I'm sure that there are some very, very good teachers out there. I had an amazing physics teacher at HHS. (Thank you, Mr. Summerhayes.) I'm just saying that out of the six years I spend in secondary education, I only remember the name one math teacher. One. And I only remember him because he told so many painful, punny jokes.

*I first heard "maths" in plural form from a student from the UK, where, apparently, there is more than one math. Love it.


  1. Every now and then I get a hankering to solve for x. Just saying.

  2. To add to Haley, every now and then I get a hankering to watch channel 9 and solve along.

    I'm not sure I agree with your mentioned study on the brains of young children, seeing as those Korean kids are doing math in the womb AND kicking our butts come college time. I think your latter argument more convincing, seeing as our math department is definitely lacking, if our test scores are any indication.

    Eric comments frequently that the US has got to step up our math and science game if we want any chance, seeing as even our own colleges have US students in the minority. The communists (Russian, Chinese, and Korean) are kicking our butts. And let's not even mention the Indians.

    PS -- I have taught two or Mr. Summerhayes's kids. Funny.

  3. ahhh, mr. wightman.
    as you can see, i have a very photogenic memory :)

  4. Kate, you have a good point about the asian math phenomena. I had thought about that - there's a theory out there (Malcom Gladwell) that, in some Asian cultures/languages, numbers are more connected to language - the ability to think about numbers less abstract because it is connected to the language centers, which develop much earlier. It's just a theory - one that I like because makes me feel better about my math phobia.

  5. I loved math as a kid. It was one of my favorite subjects. There are two separate incidences when I remember that changing. The first incident was playing "Around the World" - the speed multiplication game where everyone in the class is involved. I would freeze up and get embarrassed in front of everyone. And then there was middle school and my horrible, boring, strict, grouchy pre-algebra teacher. It all went downhill from there. When I had the choice, I usually sought out female math teachers. I think their logic is slightly different than mens and more in line with mine. But since fourth or fifth grade, I don't really remember having a great memorable math teacher.

    I also really liked statistics. For me, it doesn't count as math. It's the most applicable of "maths" in daily life, the way I see it. It helps you know the odds at poker. It helps you know when research/marketing is trying to fool you with averages and deviations.