If We Talked About Other Subjects the Way We Talk About Math


27 thoughts on “If We Talked About Other Subjects the Way We Talk About Math

    1. Yeah, I like soccer metaphors for math.

      In both, there’s a necessary balance between playing the game itself (doing the real thing), and doing some drills for practice. I suspect soccer coaches are mostly better at finding that balance than we math teachers. It helps that they’ve seen soccer on TV and played it in the backyard. That isn’t true for math, so students are liable to mistake the drills for the game itself.

  1. Oh yes! I am finally (at 41) studying for the GRE. The Quant section is so very daunting for someone who’s spent the decades since 10th grade Algebra class writing bad poetry and dancing in her living room. The way I get my butt in the chair to study is to say, “You are learning a language. Build your vocabulary. Do the exercises and practice a little every day.”

    Thanks for giving me some added motivation!

  2. Very well done. How often are math students’ aspirations inadvertently shot down by their own teachers and peers who tell them, “It’s okay, not everyone is wired to be great at math”? How great would it be if people, instead, took the time to find a way to make it more interesting for the particular student?

    1. Yeah, I think you’re right. The basic conundrum of the teacher is that every student deserves focused, individual attention… but we don’t really have the resources to offer it. I think the awful “not everyone can succeed at math” meme comes not from actual neurological constraints, but from logistical ones. Teachers rarely give all students the time and energy they need – sometimes because they simply won’t, and sometimes because they simply can’t.

      1. I tend to believe most teachers really try to do the best they can with the resources they have to work with. Sadly, that is not often much. And, there are only so many teachers to go around. The system is flawed, clearly, but I am not sure what a big-picture solution could possible be… you know, besides getting parents to take an active role. My son is home schooled largely for this reason. He is 12, and will be starting pre-calc in a few months.

    2. When will people realise that mathematics is a tool and should be applied. This is most important in the early stages and becomes fun in the latter stages. I teach in fabrication and welding and use maths whenever possible. Please “use” maths, don’t abuse it.

  3. This was a great laugh today, thanks! It reminds me a lot of “The Mathematician’s Lament” by Paul Lockhart. I assign that as reading to all the students in my first year seminar (first year college students) and it usually has quite a large impact.

    My question is how to move forward for change. These are great, and I think most people would understand most of them and where you’re coming from with them. But how do engage beyond the laughter? Is that necessary? Just thinking “out loud” here. Thanks again!

    1. I love Lockhart’s Lament! (Having just picked up Hardy’s “Apology” again, I must say, I like Lockhart’s version a lot better.)

      As for how to change stuff in a more meaningful way… I wish a had good answers! I think it’s a little day-by-day effort. I don’t think you can really change a whole culture just by implementing a clever policy, but the efforts of an individual teacher can help open a few minds, and that’s not too shabby.

  4. Or even

    Me: ‘I want to study psychology’

    University: ‘But why?’

    Me: ‘Because I love the subject of course’

    University: ‘That’s not very measurable or cognitive you know’

  5. When I ask people at school or work why they didn’t/don’t study science they don’t respond with: it’s not for me, but rather a “I can’t do it” or “I don’t understand it.”
    These photos of what people say about math remind me of what people say about science. Instead of understanding that math and science take time, effort, and energy to understand and study, they think all their science/math capabilities are innate.

  6. I love your posts! My sister (a Latin teacher) says similar things about her subject and we both hate that stupid meme that says “Another day gone and I didn’t use Algebra.” Sheesh!

  7. Someone compared the way math is often “taught” to teaching music by studying scales, learning the names of the modes, names of intervals, etc., without ever hearing or playing a tune.

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