Jun 14, 2008

Word Problems

Math was never my strong suit in school. I enjoyed it, but wasn't especially skilled at it. I don't think in math terms. I'm too right brained for that. Plus, I grew up with a Dad who was a genius when it came to all things math, electronics, flow-charts and computers. So, being the caring and loving parent that he was, he always tried to find ways to encourage me in my math woes. His encouragement came in the form of word problems during dinner. What started as an encouraging little challenge to push my brain to think in mathematical terms (that were so foreign to me) so I could get dessert once I got the correct answer, inevitably turned into my melting into my chair in tears because I just 'didn't get it'. And the problem always seemed to involved someone going on a train at a certain speed - I so don't relate to trains. This was 'normal' to me. It even grew into a joke once I became an adult and my Dad would still pull a word problem out of his hat whenever we sat down at the dinner table together.

Now that I'm 'all grown up' with kids of my own, you'd think I would enjoy the occasional 'word problem at dinnertime' parental privilege. Like I said, I don't even think like that. Obviously, I'm more along the lines of seeing what type of cool costume we can all come up with and wear to the dinner table (notice this does not take one ounce of mathematical skill). So, you would understand my utter shock when Gavin comes at me with a random word problem today. My first thought was "Did Grandpa tell you to do this?"

We're all outside enjoying the beauty of the day. The boys are bouncing basketballs, Chloe's riding her bike and Chuck and I are working in the garden. When out of the blue, Gavin throws a word problem at me. Hello. It's not time for math. Just go bounce your ball and quit thinking. However, this is fun to him. This is who he is. He's always thinking and he's always thinking in word problems.

This is the 'problem' I'm supposed to solve right there on the spot (without paper, pencil or a calculator). "Mom. Say I bounce this ball 1 time every second and I do that for 2 and a quarter minutes...how many times would I bounce the ball?" Uh.....do I have to answer that? Hmmm. Let me quickly turn on the left side of my brain and I'll get back to you. Thankfully, we're only talking 4th grade math here, so my intimidation factor is not quite at it's peak yet. I think I can do this. I was thrilled to give him the answer of '135 times' in just under 5 minutes. "That's right. Good job, Mom." Thanks, Gav.

But what's so funny is, just this week, Gavin was having a rough time doing some math problems and was very frustrated. But he still came to me after completing them and said, "Mom, I really like math. I just don't like how hard it is for me." What a neat way to look at it. He doesn't want to quit and give up like I did. He doesn't see it as defining how 'smart' or 'un-smart' he is. He just sees it as something harder than most things, but sill something he enjoys. I wish I could have seen it that way as a kid. Then maybe I wouldn't have been so intimidated by it. Maybe if I could have gone at my own pace or seen it around me in real examples in areas of my daily life (which I'm sure is what my Dad was trying to accomplish) .

I've always held to the opinion that learning happens 24/7. It isn't something that's only done in the confines of a building during the hours of 8 - 3. It's happening all the time...sometimes, we're just not paying attention or listening to our children to see how they're assimilating what they're learning into their little worlds. Today, Gavin just had a huge breakthrough in math. He enjoyed it. He did it on his own terms. He incorporated several different functions. And last but not least, he 'taught' me...the one way you can always tell if someone has learned something, they're able to explain it to someone else. That's confidence. Now maybe that I'm a 'grown-up' I finally have a little more confidence in my math too.


Pam said...

Little do we know how the words we speak effect others, especially our children. It was enjoyable reading how you depicted our word problem sessions at the dinner table. I'd like to remind you that you answered correctly 16 out of the 40 questions I asked you. What percentage is that? See, it just comes out naturally when I'm talking. I'm so glad Gavin is finishing my work. By the way, what was your batting average today during wiffel ball? I'm not even going to ask about your ERA or slugging percentage. love-dad

Jennifer said...

Ok, so I have to say that dinner time at your house was always worrisome to me too, because, as you might remember, I always got a word problem of my own :) I don't remember if I ever did any better than you did, but I would always freak out when the word problems would start. There was always so much pressure to get it right because the desserts were always so yummy :) I started sweating when you mentioned Gavin's word problem to you!

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