No, I'm not going rail against the state of our democracy or the demise of our Earth (again), but I am going to take on a polarization of positions that is just not serving us any longer.
It's that divisive notion that in this world there are word people and there are math people and that they are fundamentally different.
I shouldn't have been quite so slow to get here, since both my offspring are walking talking reminders that you can have a natural knack for both spelling and calculus, for both algebra and narrative. But I was raised (through absolutely no ill intent on the part of my parents) to understand that I was a word person, a poet, and that I would not be good at math. When they took me out of kindergarten because I could already read and put me in first grade, I cried on Mrs. Walker's lap because I knew I was "smart," but there was something about subtraction that, try as I might, I just couldn't get.
Now, developmentally speaking, that was true. I was not ready at 6 to travel easily backwards on the number line, and I WAS a person who needed concrete models that were not offered to me. The whole 100 chart did not lie open before me in my mind's eye, the way it does for some of those kids whom I would have called, as recently as last year, math brains. I couldn't get it--YET.
So I struggled through, taking no fewer than 4 years to memorize the multiplication table because it was only that for me--memorization of unanchored phrases, not representations of numerical relationships. I learned the logarithms of borrowing and carrying without understanding what they achieved as a computational efficiency. (When I finally encountered Base Ten blocks at the age of 22 in a Math for Teachers course, it was a moment of Great Enlightenment!) No one ever said to me, "Heidi, math is a language, and you're good at languages. Off you go."
And then last year, aged 52 and teaching 2nd grade for the first time, I realized that I had never really understood the function of the equal sign. Seriously. I had been teaching my kindergarteners about number "sentences" which are special "because you can read them left to right AND right to left," because I myself had never come to my own solid understanding of what "balancing an equation" really means, an equality on either side of a fulcrum. Now I'm finally getting that the grammar of math may be different than the grammar of English (or German or French or Spanish, all of which I get), but it's still a system, with--as my math major daughter will attest--a lot less need of fuzzy uncertain interpretation than English!
Imagine learning all this anew in the middle of middle age! Now I'll just let you watch this video that in ONE WEEK transformed all of my students' attitudes about who is and who isn't, who can and who can't be, strong mathematicians. It came to me through colleagues who are studying this "duh-obvious" yet only recently explored idea of growth mindset, a concept which I knew but had not really applied to myself until I began to think about me and math. It's long but it's worth it.
Now you may be asking, "What has all this to do with POETRY?" Last summer I started planning a collection of math poems for young readers, but its concept was very different even eight months ago than it is now. Now I'm positively excited to explore some of my own math development through poetry, and I'd like to ask for your help with a National Poetry Month challenge for myself.
I'm going to try to draft a math poem each day in April, and while some of the poems will be specifically about number and operations, I also want to write about experiences of math learning. Will you help me gear up by leaving your math thoughts, questions, anecdotes and confusions in the comments? I'd love to have a trough full of math fodder to dig into as I embark on my project.
I leave you with a poem I wrote when my mathematician daughter turned 8, and with thanks for sharing your mathemagical moments if you choose to!
(c) Heidi Mordhorst 2007
According to my calculations, Catherine is our host today over at Reading to the Core. Off you go, in search of the only solution to the problem of dichotomy...you know it's POETRY.