Tuesday, December 13, 2011

When Math Just Doesn't Add Up

My daughter Beth has always loved math.  She's even talking about going to school and becoming a math teacher.  I know that whatever she decides to do she will be really good at it, because that's how she is.  When she sets her mind to something, there's no stopping her.  Then again, if she doesn't want to do something, there's nothing anybody can do to get her to do it.  What do you call that?  Stubborn?  Determined?

There was that one semester in high school when she actually failed a math class.  That's right - failed with a big fat F.  She blamed it on the teacher, and from what she said he wasn't a very good teacher, but she really wasn't willing to do or try anything else.  She just expected the teacher to teach in the way she needed to be taught, and because he didn't, it was all his fault.  Maybe we should have found her a
Math Tutor who could have worked with her and explained things in a way she could understand, but we didn't.  Everyone learns differently, and it would take a very special teacher to address the learning needs of every student in the class.  Sometimes one-on-one tutoring is exactly what's needed.  (According to a 1999 UN study, 70% of students worldwide work with a tutor by the time they graduate from high school, most of them for help in math!)  A tutor can explain the concepts that just aren't making sense in class in a way and at a pace that works with the learning needs of the individual student.

Beth just had to take that semester of the class over again the following year.  The second time she took it, she got an A+ - on the exact same material with the exact same teacher.  So, for Beth it was a matter of deciding that she was going to do it instead of looking for excuses.  In the end I think she may have learned more from failing the class than she would have if she'd passed the first time.  Education shouldn't be about sitting in a class expecting someone, the teacher, to pour all this knowledge into your head.  Education should be more about learning how to learn, how to find the answers you need in any given situation, because that's something you can use the rest of your life.

Of course, she might also use that math knowledge if she becomes a math teacher.