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Q&A #19627


Imagination and improvisation in higher math - How to teach this?

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From: Claire (for Teacher2Teacher Service)
Date: Jun 12, 2008 at 12:05:38
Subject: Re: Imagination and improvisation in higher math - How to teach this?

>Hello,
>
>I've ran into an issue with a student that I have not been able to
>overcome. I have a student who is slightly autistic (she volunteered this
>information) that has retaken Precalculus three times, and I think I've
>discovered why she has had so many problems with it, although not what to
>do about it exactly.
>
>It appears that when it comes to any math related subject she is incapable
>of thinking outside of the equation. If you show her how to perform a
>calculation with a given formula, she has no difficulty memorizing it and
>repeating it with any given set of values, however when faced with a
>problem that uses a very slight modification of the formula in the way the
>information is presented, she has no idea how to accomplish the calculation.
>
>Another odd thing about this is that she's a former Art student with quite
>a bit of imagination outside of Math. She has passed College Algebra I, II,
>and III but has now ran into a wall with Precalculus due to the more
>flexible nature of the problems that are given. She passes her homework
>with high marks and has slightly above average grades on her quizzes. She
>excels at Chemistry.
>
>I'd be grateful for any advice or reading material on dealing with a
>situation such as this. She has not given up and neither will I.
>
>Thanks for your time.

------------

Hi, Jason --

Thanks for writing to T2T. This is an interesting issue. I applaud your
persistence. I'm not an expert on autism or college math, so I'm opening your
question for public response.

Autism seems to affect young people in one of two ways regarding math. I have
heard of many young autistic children who can memorize algorithms but not
apply them in problem solving situations. Language processing seems to be the
culprit, especially oral. That seems to fit the descriptions of your student.
The other category seems to be "inflicted" with math genius.

I found a pdf of a PowerPoint presentation on strategies for helping autism
students with math difficulties which might help you:
https://www.healthcare.uiowa.edu/autismservices/mathstrategieshandouts.htm
It seems to deal with young children, but you might find some of the
suggestions adaptable. Since your student is artistic and imaginative, the
ideas related to making the math more visual might be helpful -- using
graphic organizers and manipulatives to help her "see" the math. These will,
of course, be at a much higher level of sophistication than the author has in
mind, but they may help her understand the concepts behind the calculations.
Conceptual understanding is critical if she is going to make the connections
that allow her to look at a problem flexibly, and not view every problem as
an entirely new situation.

You might gather some more insight that you can transfer from:
http://www.eduqna.com/Special-Education/450-Special-Education-7.html
There is an article by Temple Grandin, cited on the above page, at
http://www.autism.org/temple/genius.html
It won't help you directly with your issue, but it adds interesting perspective.

I hope this is helpful. Please write again if you have other questions.

Good luck!

 -Claire, for the T2T service


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