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Learning to Like Math

Date: 12/04/2002 at 19:27:05
From: Lindsey
Subject: Concentrating in Math

Well, I cannot concentrate in math. I always get bored and I start 
to play with pencils. Everyday I am in LA LA land. I cannot 
concentrate in math, no matter how hard I try. But, I have a test 
soon. How can I pay better attention in math?

Date: 12/04/2002 at 19:52:04
From: Doctor Ian
Subject: Re: Concentrating in Math

Hi Lindsey,

The best way is to learn to like math.  I know, that probably sounds
weird, but if you can swing it, it will work for sure. 

What subjects do you find it easy to concentrate on?  

- Doctor Ian, The Math Forum 

Date: 12/04/2002 at 19:55:36
From: Lindsey
Subject: Concentrating in Math

I can concentrate very easily in reading and in science. In reading, 
we all are doing something fun, and we are talking. In science, we 
are always doing a project or we are writing an essay.

Date: 12/05/2002 at 10:15:24
From: Doctor Ian
Subject: Re: Concentrating in Math

Hi Lindsey,

Thanks for writing back!
If you like science, then you should learn as much math as you can,
because math is the language that scientists use to talk to each other.  

At this point, your projects probably don't involve much math, but as
you continue through school, they'll become mostly about taking
measurements and then computing things that you can't measure directly.

But that's in the future.  What can we do to make math interesting to
you _now_?  You say that you like writing essays.  What do you like
about that? 

- Doctor Ian, The Math Forum 

Date: 12/05/2002 at 11:03:49
From: Lindsey
Subject: Concentrating in Math

I like writing essays because it is most of the time about something 
interesting. And, I like writing. I always wanted to become a writer. 
That's why I like writing in science, and in reading.

Date: 12/05/2002 at 13:00:41
From: Doctor Ian
Subject: Re: Concentrating in Math

Hi Lindsey,

I like writing too.  (I'd better, considering that I spent a lot of
each day writing email to people like you!)  

One of the things that helped me start to really like math was
something a colleague said to me one day when I was working at NASA. 
I was telling him about how I always hated doing proofs in math, and
he said:  "That's strange, because you're good at writing, and you're
good at [computer] programming, and both of those are really the same
thing you're doing when you're constructing a proof, or solving any
math problem, really."

It took me a while to understand what he meant, but he was right.  In
early math classes, you spend a lot of time just cranking through
operations on numbers - add this to that, multiply this by that - but
as you get into later classes, you'll start to work on more
interesting problems, where solutions will require several steps. 

And here's the thing:  Solving a multi-step problem, and writing down
the solution in a way that someone else can understand, is _exactly_
the same as writing an essay!  In an essay, there's some information
that you have, and you want to present the information to someone else
in the way that makes the most sense - which means that you have to
decide what to include and what to leave out, and what order to say
things in.  

Now, what happens if you look at each math problem that you have to
solve as a little 'essay'?  What happens - at least for me - is that
the problem suddenly becomes more interesting, because it makes me
realize that there are _lots_ of different ways to solve any problem!
Some will be very straightforward and dull, while others will be very
clever or elegant.  And so instead of just doing the first thing that
comes into my head, I stop and think about what the _best_ approach
would be.  Sometimes it means I end up solving the same problem in
different ways, so I can compare solutions. 

Here's an example of the kind of thing I'm talking about.  Don't worry
too much if you can't follow all the math, because that's not really
central to the point I'm trying to make:

  Factoring vs. an Equation

One of the things that is fun about writing an essay is trying to
present information in a way that your readers probably haven't
thought about.  Solving math problems can give you the same kind of
opportunity.  For example, here is a situation in which I tried to
help a teacher look at division in a new way:

  Changing Decimals to Whole Numbers when Dividing;

What I'm getting at is this:  If you can learn to see math as a chance
to do the same things that you do when you're writing essays, then
math should become a whole lot more interesting to you.

Does that make sense? 

- Doctor Ian, The Math Forum 

Date: 12/06/2002 at 16:07:23
From: Lindsey
Subject: Thank you (Concentrating in Math)

Thank you for your help. I really understand how to 
concenrate in math better. Thanks.
Associated Topics:
High School About Math
Middle School About Math

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