Category Archives: Parenting Teens

3.14: A Pi day celebration from a math idiot

Is math just for math people? Are you just not wired for math? Well, you and your math-struggling student can celebrate Pi day, too!

I was awful at math in  high school. So bad, in fact, that I  didn’t qualify to take math in college.

Felt great at the time, but looking back on it, what a shame. The only math I could do as a kid was “breaking a twenty” as a cashier at my job at the drug store. I could make change like a champ! Now, cashiers don’t even have to know any math at all, since the machine does it all for them.

So do we really need math?

Sadly, some universities think we don’t:

Wayne State drops math as general ed requirement

What a shame — and I know why they’re doing it, although they’ve got an excuse for it:

This decision was made largely because the current (math) requirement is at a level already required by most high school mathematics curriculum,” the school wrote.

Yes, and that’s precisely why so many colleges have to teach remedial math to freshmen — and that’s the very problem that Wayne State is avoiding.

Now math at Wayne State will only be required of kids who don’t need help with it.  By dropping math for the rest, they’re giving up on those kids just as my college gave up on me.

Now This is Me, Missing Math

Well now into my middle age, having built a couple businesses, written a couple books, raised a couple kids, planted a couple trees, you know, a full life  — and now working with students in the A+ Club across the country, I contest that we all need math.

Higher math skills would have allowed me to engage in more subjects at college that I find fascinating such as Physics and Chemistry. Higher math skills would today allow me to make better analyses of my finances and businesses. Higher math skills would allow me to understand the statistics behind many of the studies I read on education and behavioral economics. And lacking those skills bars me from conducting studies of my own.

I became a math illiterate for the very same reason I see so many middle, high school and college students struggle with it today:

  1. They found math difficult and thereby highly aversive;
  2. Consequently, they avoided engaging in the independent practice required for advancement in math;
  3. Consequently to that, they never got the feedback and direct help they needed in order to engage in that so very important independent practice (see Help for students struggling with math: “guided” v “independent” practice);
  4. Repeat until the student is no longer required or allowed to take math or just gives up.

A Pi Day Plea: Parents, help your child like math!

I can only urge parents not to let math slip by your child. It kills opportunity and, worse, it becomes an excuse for not being able to do those other things that require math.

Even if you don’t like math yourself, you can engage your child in math by turning it from judgment into positive reinforcement.  See my post for how to help your child with math even if you don’t know math by engaging in Socratic questioning to guide students in explaining it themselves: How to know if your student is really learning: “if you can’t teach it you don’t know it”.

Your child can succeed in math, and it doesn’t take expensive tutors to get there. What’s required, though, is ENGAGEMENT, because,

Math is a process not a skill

What my parents and I didn’t know when I was in high school was that math is not a skill set. My brother was and is a math whiz, it just came to him easy, which made it enjoyable.

Me, not so easy.

Having scored higher on the SAT math than on the verbal sections (and I’m a writer), I should have known that, yes, I can do math.

The reason I didn’t LEARN math was that I didn’t DO math. Hated the homework, thereby hated the class, thereby didn’t get teacher feedback, thereby didn’t learn, and thereby did poorly on tests.

Happy Pi Day to you and your non-math student

Let’s not use Pi Day as a punishment but as reminder that we all can do math.

When I work with a student who struggles with math, I, who knows nothing about their algebraic formulas love hearing the kids explain to me something that they DO know about it. They always know something — and, yes, now I find myself learning a thing or two myself!

Please also see this marvelous advice from my math teacher friend, Speaking math constantly with Joy Ferrante.  Joy’s advice is for parents of smaller children, but it holds for all of us at any age — to learn math we must do some of it, and we can.

– Michael