### Math Schmath

#### by beccaborrelli

It’s probably not a huge stretch to imagine I stunk at Math growing up.

My Grandfather was an Algebra/Calc teacher at the nearby community college, and he would patiently listen, as big salty drops of frustration splashed onto my homework:

“I wish I was different…”

“Be careful wishing to be different,” he would say. “If you change one thing… everything changes… and suddenly you’re a completely different person.”

In spite of grandfatherly wisdom, I spent a lot of time in my young life wishing my brain would morph into a more respectable, mathematical variety.

I might have felt this way most of my life… but something happened my first year of teaching Art, that changed my little, (VERY little) mathematical perspective, forever.

Young and eager to join things, I signed up for my district’s Business Advisory Council. Once a month, teachers, admin, and local business reps met at different schools to discuss collaborations, and ways to support each other. Each month, the host school was in charge of presenting a highlight about the building to community members. My first meeting was at an elementary school- the principal announced two Fourth Graders would be demonstrating the new Math Investigations Curriculum.

A nine year old boy and girl took out two geo boards with rubberbands and began to demonstrate fractions. No pencils. No worksheets. No algorithm.

Right there with my high heels and laptop, sitting next to 30-some professional men and women, a light bulb exploded over my brazen head. At age 25 I understood fractions for the first time in my life.

**Really understood.**

Sure, I had learned how to write numbers above and below lines. Indeed, I had memorized mindless steps to achieve random combinations of numbers-presumably leading me to the correct answer… if I crossed my fingers and sprinkled salt over my left shoulder.

But here, little children were showing me *why* it worked. My artsy fartsy, visual brain, that could barely comprehend a digit to save my life, (or pay my credit card bill) was seeing Math in *visual form*.

What do you mean Brazen? That an artist would learn Math better if it the teacher used… imagery?? It was as if every puzzle piece about fractions I had learned in my life- snapped together in my brain. I almost became teary.

My sister, a pricing analyst for Ohio’s largest insurance company, always used to say that’s why she left Math Ed.

“No one wants to know why the Math works. They’re chomping on Texas Instruments… “Tell me what to DO, and I’ll DO IT! Please don’t make me think. I don’t freaking care… I just need to pass this test okay?”

And can you blame them? There aren’t any diplomas or gold stars for learning why it works. And the inner rewards are just not a priority when you’re playing metaphorical chutes and ladders everyday.

Not surprisingly- a lot of parents dislike Math Investigations.

“What is my child learning by grouping colored blocks?” By drawing pictures?”

Math Investigations make less sense to those who learned with the algorithm. I get it. It’s frustrating not being able to help a second grader with homework.

But here’s the thing- it’s not about the answer. Well, it’s kind of about the answer… it’s more about finding the answer without expending THE WHY.

It’s learning WHY it matters that counts. An answer will get you through the test. The WHY will get you through life. Thankfully, we live in a society where absorbing meaning from THE WHY- so it may be applied in all areas of understanding- is far more important than passing a test.

Oh wait.

**This post was conceived after reading “Master Splinter’s” **‘Redefining Math Literacy.’*

ha ha!

I will be forever remembered as a big rat.

I have a hunch that you and I were very similar as children. What you describe in your frustration with math is what I experienced, though for me the issues wasn’t so much one of visuals but one of conceptual understanding. My dad taught me fractions with dividing up slices of pizzas.

I watched the first TMNT the other night, and then not long after caught your FB post. It’s fitting for you 🙂 And yeah, I suspect you’re right about our childhoods.

I think every classroom needs a jar with a thousand marbles.

I think every child should draw 1000 of whatever they want to draw.

I think every gym class should have a day when kids lift different weights–1 pound, 5 pounds, 15 pounds.

I think calculators should be banned from public school with the exception of physics, and even then, only in rare cases.

Every child should be issued an abacus in 2nd grade.

Make the numbers count for children–I understand that they are human,

H. sapiens, and (according to my field guide to mammals) innately curious.I too hated Math…even when I was teaching Math. Then as I started to really teach Math (about the same time I started to really become a teacher) I realized that the how and why are way more important than the answer. Now I like to teach Math and surprise, surprise…my students embrace my enthusiasm and like Math too. Hmmmm… a lot to be learned by all.

Do we really dislike it, or not get it as much as we say or are we afraid to boldly say that we like math? It’s possible that popular perception influences our feelings about math more that we might admit.

Consider for a second what do we think of someone who likes math.

Random nerd or IRS agent, not someone cool to hang out with. The most positive trait usually associated with people who like math is they can help figure the tip at dinner or can divide up the bill.

Now consider someone who is good at or loves art;

sophisticated, eccentric, free-spirited. I agree this is superficial but perceptions are.

Which sounds more appealing?

We don’t even want to get into the perception of women who are good at math…

My sister absolutely talks about this all the time. She hates being one of the only girls in her department… she hates being lumped in with Math geeks.

I’m often surprised at how structured and methodical, (the traits often associated with science/math people) artists are. It’s hard to imagine how hard artists like Cezanne or Picasso worked on just one piece of artwork.

Of course I agree with you 195%, so need to go into that. As a matter of fact, I had “Physics for Dummies” on my list of things to buy, because it was written by someone who did Physics through imagery and wrote about why Physics worked.

But now, how can we, the artists, teach mathematicians how to perceive imagery mathematically?

Samurai, Once I tried to teach myself tessellations, and went temporarily cross-eyed. You bring up an intriguing point however. I don’t know the answer… but will ruminate for awhile I suspect.

what’s missing in math-as-presented

isn’t– at all!– the “visual” as people

always seem intent on insisting.

but the *social*.

“what am *i* gonna do with it?”

students ask. and rightly:

school maths is more or less

*obviously* useless if you can’t

even *talk* about it.

the industry latched onto “visual”

a long time ago and it’s done

more harm than good; look again.

I never thought of it that way… and you bring up a pertinent perspective. As an artist, I tend to connect my best mode of learning with anything visual… Your comment reminds me that the industrial model doesn’t work well with vague ideas such as: “What am gonna do with it?” Better to box learners into categories like visual and kinesthetic.

I offered my Math Intervention (what — are the addicts?) a social problem, had them figure out the solution algebraicly / geometrically in groups and resolve conflict about methodology and solutions. We then had an impromptu discussion on the dangers of viewing life as a series of problems to be solved.

Sometimes there is a benefit of being a social studies teacher that teaches math.

Was just randomly perusing Twitter and came across Zen Moments quoting something from one of your posts! Good stuff……..

Have you ever heard the story of the superintendent who dropped math from his elementary school curriculum?

“In sum, Benezet showed that kids who received just one year of arithmetic, in sixth grade, performed at least as well on standard calculations and much better on story problems than kids who had received several years of arithmetic training. This was all the more remarkable because of the fact that those who received just one year of training were from the poorest neighborhoods–the neighborhoods that had previously produced the poorest test results.”

From a fascinating blog post by Freedom to Learn. The backstory is incredible.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201003/when-less-is-more-the-case-teaching-less-math-in-schools