One of the neighborhood middle-schoolers appeared on my doorstep last week, wanting help with her algebra. Since I have many semesters of advanced math under my belt, and the idea of actually using my degree appealed to me, I sat down with her.

She is a very bright child, but told me she didn’t “get math”. And as we worked through the problems, she would often put the right answer down, then erase it and second-guess herself. We talked about struggling with word problems, and I told her my strategies for getting through them. I showed her that she could do anything to an equation as long as she did it to both sides…regardless of what her teacher had told her.

It made me think of my own experience with math in school.

I had always enjoyed math when I was in my parochial school, and even enjoyed algebra when I transitioned to public school. But the next two years struggling with geometry and trigonometry/advanced algebra left me convinced I didn’t “get math” and it was pointless to go any further.

In fact, when I took my placement exams for my university, I was told that I would have to repeat both advanced algebra and trigonometry before I would be allowed to take calculus. Which was not a big deal at the time, because I was convinced my future lay in music performance.

But I transferred over into the sciences, and signed up for a 5 credit advanced algebra and trig course. How was I going to get through this?

It turned out I sailed through it. I had a professor three days a week who really knew how to teach ; I also had him as the teacher for the alternating two day classes that would normally be taught by a grad student. By the time I left his course with an A, I knew that the problem wasn’t all me. It had been the teachers as well. All I needed was a good teacher and I was all set.

I was very lucky for the rest of my math classes in college. I had excellent teachers, and I flew through the classes with ease.

So back to my neighbor. She pulled her grade up from an “E” (because we don’t do “F”s here) to a B+ with one test. She was so excited because she finally “got” math.

I knew she could do it, because I had seen it. But somewhere along the line she had convinced herself she couldn’t. It was nice to see it click that she could.

Photo by eriwst

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I know what you mean. In H.S. I was a B at best in math. When I went back to school a few years back to get my Assoc. degree I had to take 3 math classes. The first was Problem Solving, which was mainly a review of basic math and algebra. Then, Math I, which was Geometry, I took as an online class and Math II, Trigonometry, which I took on-site. I finished all 3 with final grades of 96 or better, and I credit the teachers, or at least one in particular, who made herself available for tutoring when I needed it. And now, I get the fun of teaching my own daughters how to do their math…