As a recovering mechanical engineer, math always came relatively natural for me at least until I got somewhere around advanced differential equations and matrices. Those issues however probably had more to with my college liquid consumption habits than my ability to do math, but that's a whole different story.
Unfortunately the math gene has not exhibited itself to the same degree in the rest of my immediate family. Helping my children with math homework has long been a struggle especially when it comes to algebra and geometry. Max seems to have more of an affinity for basic arithmetic and doing general calculations in his head than his older sister, but both have had a hard time coming to terms with some of the slightly more advanced operations like solving quadratic equations. Wrapping your head around many of these ideas and coming to terms with what they really mean is a struggle for many people.
The problem appears to be the way math is taught by most teachers. Even for me, numbers were always presented as something concrete and immutable when in truth they are abstractions of other ideas. Cornell math professor Steven Strogatz has begun a column in the New York Times titled the Elements of Math where he goes right back to the fundamentals and builds up numbers and what you can do with them in entirely different than I have ever seen before.
In part 2, Rock Groups his explanation of odd, even and prime numbers is absolutely brilliant. Whether you are a math whiz or a dud, it's a worthwhile read. Those who already know how to solve systems of multiple equations with multiple unknowns will likely gain some important insights that could make it easier to explain stuff to those that need assistance. Those that are struggling with traditional teaching methods will likely finally have that proverbial light pop on.
Steven Strogatz on the Elements of Math – Series – The New York Times
Articles in the Steven Strogatz on the Elements of Math series from The New York Times.
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