Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Nothing like a re-run

I wrote three posts yesterday and to be honest, I'm plum worn out from all that drama. I hope you enjoy this old post from 2005. Seems appropriate since school starts for my kids on Monday. No, they're not happy about it. I'm not so thrilled, either...

Michael's been doing a bit of math to make sure he’s ready for school when it starts next week. Today he needed help with adding mixed numerals. Quite honestly, I didn’t remember they were called mixed numerals until I called Sean’s sister (a former high school math teacher and knower of all things math) and asked, “Um, Jill, I’ve got a number with a fraction and I’m trying to add it to another number with a fraction.”

“Oh, a mixed numeral,” she casually offered.

“Um, sure. That’s what I meant to say…”

Jill did her best to explain it. By the time she was on her third attempt to help me understand I decided Sean should just handle it when he got home. I gave up and said, “Oh, NOW I get it!”

Jill is an excellent teacher. I’m sure Michael would have understood if she’d told him. I bet Rebecca would have understood. It wasn’t Jill’s explanation; it was my limited capacity for numbers.

When the kids realize I don’t know something I’m making them learn, they immediately cry, “If you don’t need to know it, then why do I?!” Quite honestly, I don’t have a good answer for that. My pat answer is, “I learned it in my day; now it’s your turn!” Sean and I often go on to explain they need to learn lots of different things so their options aren’t limited when they go to college.

But seriously, why did I need to learn mixed numerals, if, in fact, I ever did learn them? It was obvious from an early age that math was not my cup of tea. As long as I can remember I’ve enjoyed writing and would ten times rather read a book than do a math problem. (Just to prove the old adage of opposites attracting, Sean feels the exact opposite.)

It’s important to know the concepts of addition and subtraction. And knowing your multiplication tables is good, too. (Although even that is questionable considering the advent of the pocket calculator. I have two right here on my desk.) But beyond that, what’s the point?

If Michael showed a natural aptitude for the number stuff then I would of course encourage him to learn more. I’d find the best tutor for him and, as long as I had the answer key, go over his work with him.

But if it’s already pretty clear that he doesn’t want to be an architect, engineer or accountant, why does he need to learn how to add mixed numerals?

I am a math teacher’s worst nightmare.