Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Beauty of Math

I was good at math while growing up.  I always got straight As and was always placed in the advanced group.  And yet--I hated math.  I didn't understand a thing I was doing once I got past the basic four math functions.  I could solve the problems, I could get the right answers, but try to ask my WHY something was the right answer and I didn't have a clue.

I started to hate math.  I hated graphing calculators and sine and cosine--what are they anyway???  I hated when my math problems looked more like a writing assignment--you know the type of problem I mean.

A+B(X x Y)-T+N

Where are the numbers????

When I went off to college I had to take placement tests.  Miss Advanced Math tested into remedial math.  You heard right.  I had to pay to take a remedial math class for no credit before I could take the necessary math classes to graduate.  Despite grumbling and complaining the whole way to my first class, I ended up learning a ton that semester.  I had a great teacher who explained math in a way that I understood.  For the first time in years I was excited about math.

Since I did so well in remedial math, I got the bright idea to minor in math.  I took math all the way through Calculus 1 before I realized that my ability to understand math had maxed out and that going further in math would result in the need for a therapist due to stress.  I had visions of throwing my Calculus book into the river when the class was over.  So I changed my minor.

What is my point?  (I do have one, I promise)  I want to do better for my children.  I have one child who is brilliant at math and loves it.  I want it to stay that way.  I have another child who is also very good at math but hates it.  I want to change that.  My third child is working on writing numbers and simple addition, but currently she shows very little math ability beyond counting and skip counting.  Hopefully that will change soon.

I started out our homeschool math journey with the goal to get David as far ahead in math as possible.  I pushed him through his books because he could do the work.  When he hit a point where he struggled, I got frustrated.  Until last summer when the wall was long division.  I showed David over and over and over and over and over and over how to do long division.  He still didn't get it.  Suddenly he hated math, decided he was horrible at it since he couldn't grasp this new concept.  I was ready to scream, to cry, to throw out the math book.  Until my dear, sweat husband said, "Lisa, he's only seven.  Give him time to grow up."

Right.  So I backed off.  I switched to a different math book that hadn't reached long division yet so that he could do other things before coming back to long division hoping that the extra time would give his brain a chance to catch up.  Two months later something clicked and we were back in business.  He suddenly LOVED long division and would challenge himself to do really hard problems like 456,987,456 divided by 34.  He would do it for fun.

I'm doing the same thing this summer.  Both Lizzy and David seemed to hit a wall in math and started making a lot of mistakes.  Math stopped being fun.  I considered pressing through it but decided that since last time was a resounding success, I would back off instead.  For David I pulled out his old math program and am having him go through the book really fast--it's all review with only a few new concepts, but it's keeping his mind thinking mathematically which is my goal for the summertime.  For Lizzy I am letting her go slower through her book.  She is doing half the work she was doing during the regular school year.  So far it's working.  She's understanding three digit addition and subtraction with carrying and borrowing no problem where a month ago she was struggling with two digit non-carrying/borrowing problems.

The beauty of homeschooling is that I can do that.  When my children hit a wall in math, I can slow them down or change things up until they're ready to move on.  I can spend a month teaching long division, move onto something else for a few months, and then come back to it until David thoroughly, completely understands how to do it on his own.  I can pull out a different math book for a few months or use counting rods and money to explain carrying and borrowing.  I don't want my children to be pushed through math until they find themselves sitting in a remedial math class in college because they never really understood math.

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