If you tell yourself you’re no good at math, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. That’s why when my son asks for help with his math homework, I NEVER say “I’m no good at math.” I say, “Go ask your father.”
My husband is a former elementary school teacher whom I once caught thumbing through an old calculus book for fun. I never took calculus and I remember nothing of algebra or geometry. I take that back. I do know a rectangle when I see one. But I’m a Journalism major/English minor who did not realize until recently that telling yourself you’re no good at math is a self-fulfilling prophecy. (Oh, and if you catch any grammar errors in this piece, remember it’s an English minor, not an English major.)
Thankfully, it takes all kinds; it just takes some kinds longer to do math. And at my house, that’s the kind that’s usually around at homework time. As a liberal arts person, I have to say, my least favorite of all math problems are story problems. Story problems take something I’m very fond of – stories – and turn them into something I’m not fond of at all: math problems.
I realize story problems are real life problems and that we encounter them on a daily basis. Take this example: Dorothy is baking a chocolate cake. The recipe calls for . . . oh wait. Bad example. I never bake cake, though I do eat cake, sometimes multiple pieces.
But let’s try another example: Mrs. Rosby’s son needs $250 for the camp he’s attending this summer. He also needs a new pair of shoes which will cost anywhere from $20 to $50 depending on what kind of mood Mrs. Rosby is in the day they go shopping. Mrs. Rosby has $17. How much money will Mrs. Rosby need to win on scratch tickets in order to pay her son’s expenses? And how many years until he can get a job so he can pay them himself? (Oh, and don’t call me Mrs. Rosby. It makes me sound old. How many years older does it make me sound?)
When I help my son with story problems, the liberal arts major in me can’t help but come out as you’ll see from the following story problems taken from actual math worksheets:
Problem 1: Each week Sarah washes dishes three nights, washes clothes one night, empties trash cans two nights, and cooks supper one night. If you stop by randomly one evening, what are the chances that Sarah would be cooking dinner? A math person would say 1 in 7 — I think. I say, “What are the chances that Sarah could come to my house a few nights a week?” (I like stories with happy endings.)
Problem 2: David can walk 12 blocks in 5 minutes. If each block is 50 feet long, how many feet will David walk during the 30 minutes he walks his dog?” A math person would say 3600 feet — or something like that. I say, “I don’t know. Does the dog have to pee?”
Problem 3: Dorothy has 22 math problems to do. She completes one problem every three minutes. In hours and minutes, how long will it take Dorothy to complete all 22 problems? A math person would say, “One hour and six minutes.” I say, “One problem every THREE MINUTES? Are you joking? That’s no self-fulfilling prophecy; that’s a miracle.”