The power of math can be exponential


When I was in elementary school, my parents made sure that I learned. They knew that all of my subjects were important, certainly. But I have special memories of discussing literature and history over the dinner table. They made sure that I really LEARNED my math. I had some terrific teachers in all of those subjects.

Somewhere along the line, though, I developed a special appreciation for math. As a result, I majored in business in college. It is certainly not a leap, since business is full of math. For the past 5 years, I have been a professional tutor, and have loved it. Although I tutor MANY subjects, the one that is in the most demand is math. I have a special love for tutoring pre-algebra and algebra. I practically skip through my day on the days I will be teaching math. I make it a special goal to help my students not only understand math, but perhaps to even fall in love with it.

It used to be that I would comb book sale tables at the library and garage sales for novels. But these days, I scour them for math textbooks. I am on the lookout for innovative explanations and examples that will help my students. I am quite enamored with Khan academy, as he explains so many things so well. I always let my families know about his resource.  It is a terrific site to visit. You don’t have to be a student ~ he has tutorials on all kinds of things. Here is the site ~ go ahead, take a look. I will wait.

Many of my competitors think that I am crazy to tell them about a free resource. MY goal is to turn my students into independent learners, so that they can soar like eagles at some point. Through my tutoring, and multiple resources, they can learn every day, even when they are not in a session with me.

To those students who ask the typical question “Why do I have to learn this? When will I EVER have to use it in REAL life?” I smile and tell them a story.

When I took Algebra 2/Trigonometry in high school, I had a fabulous math teacher. His name (really and truly) was Mr. John Wayne. He was the tennis coach, and he was a great math teacher. One day I was particularly frustrated. I raised my hand and  asked him those very questions. He just smiled at me. He tossed his chalk up and down, catching it every time. Then he said, “some day, years from now, you will be using algebra in ways you cannot even begin to imagine today. When you do, I hope you will think of me”. Believe me, I do think of him. After all, I walk in his magnificent footsteps when I tutor math. I raise my eyes to the heavens, and I say, “thanks.  I LOVE algebra, and I completely understand why you taught it”.

I tell my students that learning is SO important. It IS worthwhile. I loved this article that I have included at the end of this post.

First person: Math has power over all else

First Person is a weekly forum for personal musings and reflections from readers.

By Kevin Levine
Friday January 10, 2014 9:03 PM

For as  long as I can remember, I’ve liked numbers.

I like math.

That puts me in a powerful minority.

People who understand and embrace math wield the most powerful weapon ever made.

Let’s dispense with the obvious reasons that math is powerful.

The most effective (destructive) weapons rely on physics, or the science of equations, and chemistry. (Try making a stable mixture of chemicals without math.)

Some of the constructive uses are equally powerful: Medicines, medical equipment, roller coasters, air travel and cellular technology all rely on math.

Yet the true power of math comes from the ignorance and fear of it.

One of my earliest memories of math’s potency stems from this: “Four out of 5 dentists recommend sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum.”

Anyone of a certain age knows the saying from a Trident gum commercial.

I remember thinking as a child that Trident gum must be good for me.

That’s power.

Before long, I started asking questions: Which doctors? Why didn’t the fifth doctor recommend sugarless gum? How many doctor s were asked?

A few years later: Do these dentists work for Trident? Why would dentists recommend gum at all?

How often is a statistic presented as fact, in a vacuum, without supporting documentation or an understanding of the source of the statistic?

A statistic is used as a club to hammer home a message. When one doesn’t understand all that went into generating the statistic, its power becomes immense — a blunt instrument that relies on the general population’s dislike, and ignorance, of math.

How about math as an economic weapon?

Isn’t it wonderful that tuna fish (or peanut butter or jelly) hasn’t gone up in price in years?

Thank math.

The tuna can contained 8 ounces, then 6 ounces, then 5 ounces.

Incremental changes in volume go unnoticed because the price remains constant.

Consumers think: “Wow, tuna prices are stable.”

The tuna company thinks: “Wow, consumers are ignorant.”

Politicians love math, too.

They cherry-pick one statistic from an obscure report commissioned by an obscure group whose agenda might not be to the betterment of humanity.

Politicians use math to convince us that everything would be OK if we just cut fraud and abuse in the welfare system.

They use math to confirm that the American education system is failing.

They use math to justify increased spending in their districts while bemoaning the spending everywhere else.

Politicians thrive on the public’s fear and ignorance of math.

The only way to weaken math’s destructive capabilities is to embrace math.

Instead of telling our children we weren’t good in math, we should tell them that math is the secret to power — that it will make them creative, competitive, powerful, less prone to scams and more valuable in the workplace.

We should tell our children to respectfully question authority, especially when numbers are used as weapons.

Mastering math, our children should learn, is akin to mastering the most powerful weapon on Earth.

Kevin Levine, 48, of Bexley teaches sixth-grade math at Karrer Middle School in Dublin.

About Kate Kresse

I love to write, I love to talk, I love to uplift people when I can. I am a woman in love with life. I am a wife, mom, tutor, writer, and I am a perennial optimist. (OK not every single minute but you get the point! :-)
This entry was posted in education and career, faith/courage/miracles/hope and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The power of math can be exponential

  1. Kathy says:

    Love it!

    Texas has decided to drop Algebra II as a graduation requirement. I have very mixed feelings about this change in our curriculum.While some students are not going to go to college and their trade school won’t require it others may be sadly surprised when they find that the school of their choice requires it even though Texas doesn’t.

    • Kate Kresse says:

      i have mixed feelings about that too, Kathy. there is such a feeling of mastery/accomplishment when you complete Algebra II. There are som many ways for them to learn it, and it robs them of something valuable to cancel the requirement. That is regardless of who “requires” it at the next level. {sorry it took me so long to reply!]

  2. Kathy says:

    Reblogged this on To Talk of Many Things and commented:
    Texas has decided to drop Algebra II as a graduation requirement. I have very mixed feelings about this change in our curriculum.While some students are not going to go to college and their trade school won’t require it others may be sadly surprised when they find that the school of their choice requires it even though Texas does not.

  3. And it all begins with learning to count, add, multiply, etc. They want to skip that part, these days, the part that even as a math-unappreciative, I KNEW I would always need. Amazing, eh?

    • Kate Kresse says:

      In addition to the drilling of math facts, through repetition and competitively racing to the blackboard, we had so many other ways that we practiced math facts. We skip counted when we did jump rope, we skip counted when we walked, we counted and regrouped when we played jacks, and my folks would play math games. Math enriched us.We cooked and measured things with our moms (sewing, buttons, etc). We measured things and grouped things with our dads.{A number of my students have never even seen a yardstick, or used a measuring cup}. By doing those things, we had an ingrained “number sense” that many of my students lack. A number of my students don’t connect the integers and fractions to any real meaning. The integer and the word for a number doesn’t necessarily represent a group or a quantity to them at all.
      This is similar to a student I had that had reading difficulties. He could read flawlessly, even if you gave him a 12th grade novel. The mechanics, the sentence pauses, the pronunciation, those were all done flawlessly. But he had NO idea what he had just read. This was true whether he read silently or aloud. If I asked him questions about it, he would have to re-check at least a half dozen times, even if I had him read just one sentence, and asked him a basic question about that sentence. There was no meaning attached to the words. This is something that he sort of “outgrew” a couple of years later.
      Some of my students have a major disconnect in math, as I described. This makes it nearly impossible for them to memorize their math facts. We are working with counters and charts, so that they can begin to understand and retain the patterns. It mystifies me, it truly does. It frustrates my students!

  4. It is no mystery to me, how they got this way, but surely is a mystery why caring adults are sending them this way. I understand, on a governmental level, why we’d want the next generation unable to function, but it seems every teacher out there just doesn’t get it.
    Well, almost every…

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