Thursday, January 17, 2013

Conversations On Math

Snippets of conversation with my daughter about math:

Beau: If I pass my AP Calc test, I won't have to take Math 1050 in College
Me: That'll be awesome. That was not my favorite class.
Beau: Mom, did you take any other advanced math in college?
Me: I took Statistics
Beau: That doesn't count.
Me: Tell me that again after you've taken it online.

A little bit later:

Me: I took Statistics as my 2nd math class because I did not want to factor polynomials any more.
Beau: But those are easy! And factoring is used all the time! How can you hate it?
Me: Give me Chemistry math any day, I can do that. It makes logical sense and I can visualize it. X amount of this to mix with x amount of that to yield Y and Z in solids, liquids, or gasses. It makes sense. Factoring polynomials? Are you kidding? That's like trying to see music.
Beau: Mom. Chemistry makes no sense at all. The whole idea of these teeny particles that are constantly in motion, but while in a solid? That's confusing.
Me: But solids are constantly in motion.
Beau: Mom, your eyes are weird. That's why you have glasses.

And even later in the conversation:

Beau: Mom, seriously, how can you hate factoring? it is so easy!
Me: Fine then, how can you hate Chemistry? It is so easy! (It isn't, but it's fun)
Beau: One's a science, one's a math. They're different.
Me: Oh, I agree, they're different, but they're both math. So how about this: I won't tell you Chemistry is easy, and you don't tell me AP Calculus is easy.
Beau: Fine, but you're missing out. We used factoring today to figure out the mass of donuts orbiting a solid plane.
Me: 'blink' At least it was a yummy lesson?
Beau: You know, that one ship that went up and blew up or something that one time?
Me: You mean the Space Shuttle Challenger and the O-ring? (Yep, that's mom translation at work right there, folks)
Beau: Yeah, the O-ring was essentially a donut. If I'd done the math for that ship, it wouldn't have been a problem.
Me: It would have been a lot more yummy.

I have a family full of math whizzes, and I do not count myself as one of them. To give you an idea, here's a short list of examples: One cousin is a rocket scientist for NASA. His younger brother-- who helped me pass College Algebra-- is the mechanic who builds the engines that his brother designs. My younger brother has a Ph.D. in metallurgical engineering and works for 3M making tape. My even-younger brother has his MBA. My aunt, who is an R.N. also took more challenging math; she seems to have the same love for it that my daughter does.

So if I'm surrounded by people who love it so much, why do I struggle with math? It should be in my genes, right?

I always blamed it on the fact that I'm an artist. Math is a very left-brain thing, creativity is a very right-brain thing. And we all know those two don't get along. Right? We know that, right?Tell me someone knows that!

Apparently the people in charge of the art department at my community college think this. The "math for visual artists" class required for the AAS Illustration degree was basic 5th grade math. I saw that and my intellect was offended. That class prompted me to get my AA in General Studies as well, because it required the *real* math classes. (That was definitely not taking the easy road, let me tell you. But I am extra proud of that second piece of paper I have because I passed those math classes. Albeit with B+'s, but I passed.)

And there is the fact that I see and experience the world differently than most people. That must have something to do with understanding and wrapping my brain around polynomials. I could do an entire post on how my vision is weird compared to everyone else's...  but that's not the point, and really has nothing to do with math. But I think the way we experience things *does* affect how we process information.

After watching Howard Taylor's "Talent? Who Needs Talent?" videos last night, I realized that my dad would sit and talk math with my brothers a lot. It was something they developed a passion for and were trained in. I can do it if I have to, but I certainly don't love it.

I'm now convinced that passion has everything to do with my math skills. My 9 year old came home one day, completely excited about learning how to "borrow" when doing subtraction. She sat in front of the whiteboard for hours making up problems and solving them, practicing this new skill. My thought at the time was, Wow, she's got a real talent for this. Now I'm thinking, Wow, she's got a real passion for this and she works hard at it.

I think that if I decided to like math, or even if I decided that I wanted to like math, that would be the game changer for me. I might have to work my butt off to understand the principles and mechanics, but I would want to, and that would make all the difference.

For the record, I would like to state that it never occurred to me that math wasn't my thing because I was a girl. THAT idea is ludicrous. Yes, in present tense. If you think that, STOP IT RIGHT NOW!! I have five daughters, and all of them do very, very well in math.

I have several friends who struggle with basic algebra and math. Men and women. Start putting letters in there with the numbers, and their eyes become glassy and they start panicking. But hey, if they're not going to be building roads, designing buildings or sending rovers into space, then it's just not a big deal.

Heaven knows I'm not going to sit down at our next board-game night and start asking who managed to find the mass of a donut this week.

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