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Sunday, September 6, 2009

Mathography VIII

Another in series. I am loving these this year and the SO illuminate where my students are coming from in terms of math:

Back in the late 1960s I was awarded the math pin for my class at St. Timothy’s elementary school. I was amazed and proud! I didn’t know I was good at math. I still have that pin today and maybe I will wear it to class one night (for extra credit?). Math seemed easy in elementary school and I was happy to excel.

Entering public high school I breezed through Algebra 1. Then came Geometry! I was assigned a young student teacher and for the first time in my life I didn’t get an “A” in math, in fact I got a “C”. I just didn’t get it! My schedule changed the second semester of school and I was reassigned to a “real” teacher. Mr. Grassmeier was such a “real” math teacher that he wore the obligatory black horn-rimmed glasses and a jangling ring of keys from his belt. I was taken. This guy knew what he was talking about. Suddenly I understood geometry and I was back in straight “A” territory. It was the first time I realized that a teacher could make a difference. The next year I enrolled in Algebra 2. The teacher for the class discarded the textbook. He just gave lectures and passed out handout sheets he had created. Without a textbook as a reference I was lost. Within a couple weeks of class I dropped out of high school math forever. My high school math career ended when I was 16 years old. I knew I was a dumb math failure.

Two years later I went off to college. My university was mainly a liberal arts school but I continued to feel frustrated by my math failure. I tried to make up for my deficits. I took a class called “Nature of Mathematics” for liberal arts students. It was okay, but I wanted to be good enough in math to take calculus. I had some making up to do. I was going to Massachusetts to stay with my uncle for the summer and decided to sign up for a math class at Boston College. I wrote to the instructor of the pre-calculus class and gave him my math background. He wrote me back a long handwritten letter explaining the course in very beautiful cursive writing. I signed up. I took the course. It was not easy, but I worked hard and got a straight “A”. I was thrilled. In the fall, I went back to my university and signed up for calculus. I was a junior. The other students were freshman and I was surprised to discover that most had already taken calculus in high school. I studied really hard. My instructor urged me along, because obviously I was in way over my head. I would like to say I excelled but the fact is I got a “C+”. Honestly though if felt like an “A” because that class was hard. That was the end of my university math career as I had to refocus myself on my major (which was history).

After graduation, I worked for a bank and spent a lot of time balancing general ledger accounts, teller draws and cash vaults. I loved the mathematical aspects of the job. But banking really has no soul (absolutely proven in the autumn of 2008) so I decided to become a teacher. I went back to school and got my credential. I have been teaching first grade, kindergarten or a combination of both for the last 15 years.

Primary math seems easy but it really isn’t for kids who have no math background. Really how hard is it to count? For some students it is very hard. Sometimes you do “suggested activities” over and over again. Students always come along who just don’t get it and I am always trying to find a new way. It makes me stop and think all the time. Experience has taught me that no math is easy if you don’t have a good math background or a good teacher. I hope to become a better math teacher through this class. I also hope to one day study a full year of calculus just so I can say I did!

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