That Ol’ Algebra Thing Again

The kid (my awesome step-daughter) has begun taking high school algebra in school and I have been spending a good bit of time throughout the past week helping her study and practice the new math skills.  So far it has been going pretty well and her confidence and familiarity is improving daily.  It is very rewarding to see your kid prospering and learning something new.  However there are still challenges, and no doubt we’ll run into some more difficult bits here and there throughout the year.  All and all I can emphasize with her a heck of a lot.  When I first took algebra in high school I loathed it and I remember well the stress the accompanied me in my pursuit of learning the subject.

Throughout grade school (K – 12) as a public school student I was pretty smart but never quite the cream of the crop.  Personally, with some hindsight, I suspect I could have done much better, especially in high school, if I had applied myself a little more thoroughly (I hold this conclusion in part because of how successful I was in my college education, earning far higher grades, all the while with a higher work load).  All and all I coasted through my public school experience earning decent marks.  There is one place of exception in this, one area of study in which I really struggled and earned, for me, relatively low marks.  That area of studies was mathematics in general, and algebra in specific (in fact, I actually performed quite well in both geometry and statistics, even going on to take additional statistics classes in college).  Looking back I am not really sure what it was about algebra that I really struggled with.  personally I think that it was just a bit too abstract for me at the time (I have always been rather literal about things, even in m creative endeavors, my grasp of reality is very much driven by things fitting into an orderly and sensible system).  Add to that the distractions of a hormonal and anxious teenager lifestyle, a life long defiant personality, and a reasonable amount of healthy procrastination, and I think I just was not in a place t do very well in a class on algebra.

Of course I still felt the pressure to succeed.  My parents held my brother and I to high standards, and any grade below a B was generally quite scrutinized and followed up with rigorous expectations of better studying and practice (honestly, while I thought my parents were strict about this, I actually see that in comparison to some parents they were pretty mild.  All around I am thankful for my parents having taught me to hold myself to high standards when performing any task).  This stress of desiring to succeed, paired with th parental emphasis to succeed, and then tempered with the low grades received regardless, made algebra a very unlikable experience in my life. 

Unfortunately, my poor experiences in algebra in 9th grade tainted my personal perspective of math, as well as my evaluation of my own math skills, for many years to come.  It has only been during the past several years, since I have been out of college, and had an opportunity to apply a bit more mature reasoning, that I have begun to come around again to an appreciation of the study of mathematics.  Honestly, I think a big part of this newly found appreciation of maths is due to having to apply them in many real life situations.  While my life and work is far from math saturated, there is enough of a presence that I get regular practice.  So much so in fact, that a few years back, I began regularly reviewing a lot of different math functions and equations, so to better be able to perform them myself (including a lot of algebra). 

And now that I am helping the kid out, I am getting even more practice and review.  I can understand how it is hard to remain positive about a challenging subject like algebra, I’ve been there, but I keep trying to remind her, that someday it will have uses, and that learning anything new is something to be excited and proud of, and not to loath in entirety.  Hopefully I can impart some of my good experiences with learning and using math on her, so that she will not come out of the subject with dread or distaste, but instead understanding and appreciation.  We’ll see.

Have a good Labor Day weekend if your USAers.

~ by Nathaniel on August 31, 2012.

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