God sometimes gives us unexpected gifts. Our gift has been a grandson who enlivens our lives and makes retirement very different than the one we anticipated. He is a special joy. And that's "Casey." In 2006 we fulfilled our dream of living in Italy for a year. It was every bit as wonderful as anticipated. This blog begins in 2005 as we prepared for that experience. Since then we have explored many places together. That's the "Travel." And finally, I am a person of opinions--spiritually, politically, on just about anything and that's the "Other Stuff." Welcome to my blog.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Math for Grammas

While in Italy we were embarrassingly unsuccessful in helping Casey with his third grade math homework. Eventually his teacher, Maestra AnnaMaria, requested that we not try and to please allow Valentina, his tutor, to work with him. So, shaking off our humiliation, we consoled ourselves with the fact that math processes are different in Italy—quite different from here in the United States. We did feel a little better when we returned home and Casey’s math teacher had a difficult time following the process when Casey showed it to her.

Now, shift gears:

If you are a baby boomer or older or maybe younger and you can think back to grade 4, what were you doing in math? I think I recall sitting in Mrs. Willow’s room with multiplication and division flash cards—through the 9’s. Maybe we did long division but I really don’t think so. For sure we were not doing algebraic equations and logic. As a matter of fact, I don’t remember that until 9th grade with an English teacher temporarily assigned to teach algebra. She was every student’s worse nightmare.. steel grey hair pulled back into a bun, glasses perched on the tip of her nose so that she could peer over them at offending students (usually all of us) and a long chalkboard pointer that seemed more weapon than teaching tool. Add to this that she was totally clueless about algebra and you can begin to understand my then and now grasp of algebra or lack thereof.

Back to the here and now:

We are back in the US of A—our country, so surely we can help Casey with fourth grade math. Right? We speak the same language, the numbers are written the right way—our way and the teacher is available by e-mail. What could go wrong? This is what—Casey’s math is algebra—x’s and y’s and n’s and =’s and all those things--those things Miss Glasses on the End of Her Nose was to teach us so long ago.

Sadly, the only thing I remember of that class is being accused of leading the class in boisterous laughter when Miss Steely Eye’s drawer wouldn’t open because of a stuck ruler. I was justly or unjustly (your guess) sent to stand in the hall, fearing that at any minute Mr. Pinkney, the principal, would stroll by. Later I learned that was an unnecessary fear as he never left the sanctity of his office.

Anyway, Casey needed help last night so he brought his paper to me. And there they were—all my memories, buried with 50 years of living. Somewhere between that time and this, I did master equations and logic and, logic has stuck but equations and x’s and y’s again stump me. Humiliation visited again as Casey reclaimed his paper and went back to the table, saying he would figure it out himself and ask his teacher tomorrow.

Next time I will try harder. What is that TV program? Something about being smarter than a fifth grader? I think I need to find out when it is on and start practicing for next year.


lara said...

Dear Jane,
I have moltitude of marvelous memories of my father…and one is how he made me love math.
I remember when I was alle elementary and I had problems with math.
I asked him help and his way to teach me it was clever , geniale. He introduced math concepts with enthusiasm. Of course he loved numbers and he showed me how math is a part of everyday life. Since he was in school, way to teach math was completely overhauled but for example he made me understand the connection between real world activities and math concepts…and so learning math was actually fun.
Equation … try this http://www.aaamath.com/equ.html
I remember when we were at the supermarket and he had to pay bills he asked me for help or measure a room for a new piece of furniture (and the furniture was actually the x in the equation…).
There is a facebook group "I Wish I Were Your Derivative So I Could Lie Tangent To Your Curves!" with 42,000 members and they make math’s joke . Here is one : "A biologist, a physicist, and a mathematician were sitting in a street cafĂ© watching the crowd. Across the street they saw a man and a woman entering a building. Ten minutes later they reappeared together with a third person. “They have multiplied,” said the biologist. “Oh no, an error in measurement,” the physicist sighed. “If exactly one person enters the building now, it will be empty again,” the mathematician concluded."
Ciao Jane

Judith in Umbria said...

Jane, this one I know for sure. 4th grade = long division in my world. I remember it well, because I was just blown away by the beauty of it. It took me a bit longer to get the joy of algebra, but then when I hit geometry I knew that had it not existed I would have had to invent it. I feel bad that you were given such poor entries into those disciplines. When I saw algebra, I thought, "why did they not do this sooner? It is exactly what we were doing before, but now they are giving us the language with which to do it."

Anyway, when helping with math, I think the first step must be exploring the language, i.e., why is this x and that y and could we call them train and buggy instead? Which of course we could, and that would make sense every time the problem had to do with transport, but x, n and z allow us to also mean puppies, chocolate and speeds in space travel. If x=62 and xy=340,516, then chocolate can travel at near light speed unless a puppy grabs it.

Jane said...

Judith and Lara, where were you guys when I needed you? And Lara, when are you coming back here and forsaking Italy? (Lara was Casey's Italian tutor when we were preparing for life in Italy.)

Actually, Judith, I did quite well in geometry--loved it. When from
D's in algebra to A's in geometry--go figure.