Hitting the Math Wall

“Study: Math test adds up to easy challenge

WASHINGTON (AP) — The national test of student math skills is filled with easy questions, raising doubts about recent gains in achievement tests, a study contends.”

http://www.cnn.com/2004/EDUCATION/11/18/math.test.ap/index.html

A friend of mine, who teaches high school chemistry and physics, once told me that the reason why he didn’t get an MS in Chemistry was because, as an undergrad, he “hit the math wall” — that is, after Calculus I and II, his ability to grok high levels of math dropped like a ton of bricks. Similarly, another friend mentioned that he managed to pass Calculus I and II by the skin of his teeth, and another friend actually switched majors (from Physics to English) precisely because she hit the math wall. Lastly, another friend of mine couldn’t even get into any graduate school or a teacher program because she couldn’t pass the analytical/quantitative (that is, math) section of the standardized test; she had hit her math wall early and *hard*.

The math wall is funny; I did well in Calculus I and II (and why an English major *would* subject herself to Calculus I and II when she didn’t have to just demonstrated the cussedness of the Lizard Queen in trying to outdo her-then-boyfriend), but to this day I *cannot* do simple arithmetic beyond one digit numbers in my head; I feel like an utter and absolute retard when I try. I can set up formulae in my Excel gradesheet, but I can’t do double-plus-digit subtraction, addition, multiplication, or division without using my fingers as number placeholders as I figure the solution with pen and paper. I don’t trust myself to balance my checkbook without a calculator. I can do financial forecasting of my finances but can’t figure out a 15% tip without staring at the numbers and going, “Uuuuuhhhhhhhh…?” which is why, most of the time, I usually give a 20% tip.

And you just thought I was just being generous. Ha!

Implied in the news story, the math wall’s due to low math expectations. But I don’t think that’s the whole picture. Perhaps it is the way arithmetic is taught in school that’s the problem. My hubby actually showed me an alternative way of doing arithmetic that was so *foreign* to me that it was like learning a new language. So, besides higher math expectations, should we also build a better math mousetrap? I dunno. But one thing’s for sure — I have a lot of very bright students who are stuck in Developmental Math (arithmetic to pre-algebra), so *something’s* broken somewhere.

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About lizardqueen

If single-mothering were a paid job, I'd be rich. However, it doesn't, so I write (which doesn't pay the bills) and teach (which does). I'm overly-educated in the liberal arts, but that doesn't hinder my ability to be pragmatic and realistic. YAY.
This entry was posted in EDUCATION, Learning, Public School Reform. Bookmark the permalink.

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