Monday, March 23, 2015

Confession of a homeschooling math-hater

As long-time readers know, I have homeschooled two of our three daughters all the way through high school.  Our youngest, affectionately called “Hatchick” on this blog, is a junior in high school.

I attempted to help her with some math today.  Luckily, she figured it out on her own.  Because after my own education and years of homeschooling, the truth is this: I still hate math.

My loathe affair with math must have started pretty early, but I think for a long time it was just a negative thing.  Math wasn’t reading; I loved reading; therefore I didn’t love math.  But I would do the little worksheets and take the little quizzes without much caring.

In second grade we had to do “times tables tests,” where the teacher would hand out mimeographed sheets (remember those?) face down, and when she gave us the signal we had to turn the paper over and fill in all the answers in the space of a couple of minutes.  It was terrifying. One day I turned the paper over and it was blank on the other side!  I raised my hand in panic--the clock was ticking, people!

The teacher, rather unfairly I thought, blamed me for not checking to see that the paper had printing on it.  “But we’re not supposed to turn them over until you say,” I wailed.  She let me do the test anyway, but I could tell she’d have rather given me a zero because that was the kind of teacher she was.

Luckily, around that time we moved again.  My family moved on an average of once every two to three years when I was growing up (not military; Dad was an early computer professional in days when businesses were still trying to decide if these expensive doohickeys were worth acquiring. Sadly, businesses still hate to pay for I.T. departments and equipment and I.T. people despite the reality that they are indispensable nowadays).  Moving frequently did impact my math traumas in various ways.

Sometimes I would arrive at a school and be ahead of the class.  This was always nice.  I still remember the time when, a week into my newest school, the math teacher entered the class frowning and wrote the students’ test scores on the blackboard--one A, no Bs, no Cs, a handful of Ds, and the rest of the class had failed.  While I was praying fervently to be one of the Ds she informed the class that since the only student to get an A on the test had just arrived from a different state--me--it clearly behooved her to repeat the lesson that week, and I got to be her assistant.  A week free from math homework!  I was going to like this school.

But experiences like that could be offset by other ones, such as the time I came downstairs and found my math teacher in our living room.  I was way behind on my homework and falling ever farther behind the class--what was wrong?  Now, this math teacher was a nice and lovely person who really cared, but what was wrong was simple: she was assigning her fifth-graders fifty problems of long division of the sort that started out “12,347 divided by 485” and ended up “4,862,369 divided by 17,864.”  Fifty of them, every night of the week, due first thing in the morning.

I tried to explain that, but both the teacher and my mom pointed out that the other students were turning in their homework.  So I promised to do better.

The next day I grabbed a classmate.  “How are you getting all these problems done every day? We can’t work on them in class and we have so much other homework...”

She looked at me like I was crazy.  “I use a calculator.  We all do.”

“But we’re not supposed to.  We’re supposed to show our work.”

Her expression grew a bit scornful.  “She never checks,” she said.

It was true, as I may or may not have learned from personal experience.

Eventually we moved again, and I think my next math teacher had sane and reasonable homework expectations; I don’t remember any real trouble after that point.  Part of that was because the one lesson I had learned from the homework fiasco was this: you don’t really have to learn math, you just have to know the process well enough to pass the tests at the time.  If you forget all about long division or balancing equations or the Pythagorean Theorem when you’re done with that particular class--no one will check.  Ever.

Unless you homeschool.

Now, we’ve shopped around for curricula and found a decent math program that mostly worked for us, and I took the sane and reasonable approach as to how many problems the girls actually had to do at any given time, and I made use of DVD lessons and online help and emailing teachers and bugging my former-math-major friends and whatever else worked.  The end result is that I have one who struggles with math, one who excels in it but is indifferent to it, and one, like me, who finds it stressful and loathsome whether she grasps a lesson completely and whizzes through it or whether it just plain never makes sense.

The point of all of this is to tell my fellow homeschooling moms a few things:

1. You can homeschool even if you hate math.  Especially today when you can pay other people online to teach math to your children (I wish that had been available when mine were young!).

2. Homeschooling will not fix your hatred of math, not if it’s as deeply-rooted as mine apparently is.

3. Not only my own family, but things I’ve heard from other homeschooling moms, tells me that there is little correlation between the homeschooling parent’s love of and/or excellence at math and the kids’ ability to get it and/or love it.  There are math-intensive homeschooling families who have at least one math-hater kid; there are math-hating or math-fearful homeschooling families whose kids are natural math geniuses.

So go ahead and admit that you hate math.  It’s okay.  Some of us will never love it.


Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Try reading some of my philosophy on mathematics:

Assorted retorts from yahoo boards and elsewhere : ... on reality of existence of numbers (and on Pythagoreans and Bruno)

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Oh, btw, math examples to be done on small time is a big hate object with me too.

The thing which lowered, along with my non-appreciation for graphs and percentage counting, my otherwise good math grade.

Unknown said...

You hate math?

The sensuous ways parametric equations describe sinusoidal curves

The deep metaphor of the asymptote - a function never reaching its limit despite coming infinitesimally close

Euler's Formula

Set Theory - with its countable and uncountable infinities and the amusing story of the Grand Hotel which illustrates them.

The equations of motion - which describe the way the planets orbit the sun.

"Euclid Alone Has Looked on Beauty Bare"

All this you hate?

Oh, Erin - you are missing out on so much beauty!

scotch meg said...

Ah, math. I always enjoyed math, just like I enjoyed crossword puzzles. As far as I could see, they were more or less the same thing - a fun way to exercise logical thinking.

I have: five kids
four math-resisters
one math-lover

I keep telling them that math is a tool, just like spelling. You don't have to love it, but you do have to understand enough of it to open whatever career doors you choose. Less math = fewer open doors.

My current math-victim asked me last year how much more math he would have to do. When I told him he had to finish his daily problem set, he got frustrated and told me he meant how much more math EVER. At the time he was thinking about a chemistry major in college. We looked at some websites for various colleges. It turns out that many chem majors only need one year of calculus. So I could tell him that he had about three more years of math EVER. He was so happy!

Only physicists need lots of math. (Guess what my math-lover wants to study.) Biologists need statistics (one kind of math that makes me shudder). Doctors need one year of calculus, just like chemists. I don't know about computer science or engineering, but I suspect they don't require an excessive amount of math, either.

If math is the tool that gets you the cool job, why not learn what you need, and then set the tool aside until you need it? Especially since doing that math also helps you get into college generally!

Erin Manning said...

Hans, I will read it!

John, I know. But it’s like telling a colorblind person that the sunset is really gorgeous, or a completely tone-deaf person that Bach is radiant. If the sunset is all shades of gray or Bach sounds indistinguishable from “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” the person will only be able to take your word for it. :)

Scotch Meg, all of my girls have taken four years of math in high school, but one had to repeat algebra I in her freshman year because it didn’t “take” in grade school. Only one made it to calculus. So I agree that you should learn what you need as a tool--but honestly, I find myself scratching my head at a lot of what is considered necessary these days. Why is there such a push to have kids take pre-algebra in 6th or 7th grade, algebra I in 7th or 8th, etc.? I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if some schools start pushing algebra by the fourth grade--one year, basic calculations and fractions, the next year, quadratic equations and graphing...

I don’t get it.

scotch meg said...

Funny thing about math timing. This is why I love the flexibility of homeschooling. When we started homeschooling, my (eventually math-loving) son was in first grade, and his next older sister was in third grade. I spent the whole year wondering when I would be able to figure out what second grade math would be. I never succeeded. So I skipped whatever second grade math would have been, and moved right to the third grade book.

I was warned when math-loving son reached middle school that he would not be able to handle algebra in sixth grade due to a lack of conceptual maturity. That might have been true in other areas, but not for him with math. He just kept on going, like the battery bunny. All attempts to slow him down (putting him in school classes for math) failed, and he ended up taking first year calculus very successfully as a sophomore in high school.

Now the funny thing is, I took the same approach with (less math-loving) youngest son some years later. We hit algebra in 7th grade, and it was very quickly clear that he did not have that conceptual maturity in math. So we slowed down, did a second pre-algebra year with a different textbook, and, lo and behold, the next year he was ready for algebra.

I don't have any particular preconceptions about when kids ought to learn certain kinds of math. As with every other subject, some students naturally move faster, and some slower, in math.

In our part of the country, however, the assumption is that fairly bright kids will ordinarily take the first year of algebra in 8th grade. So I would have been surprised if my kids had waited until high school for algebra - but if that was what one of them needed, fine.

The reason my youngest son will hit calculus as a junior is that we use an integrated math series which incorporates geometry concepts into the "algebra" years so that there's no separate geometry year. If it turns out that he's not ready for calculus, we will just slow things down again. Whatever works, right?

Zanna said...

Soooo, What Math Program did you find worked out for you? (Desperately inquiring minds want to know!)

=D Thank You!

Erin Manning said...

Mei Wood, we liked the "Math-U-See" program best of the ones we tried. :)