As I went through middle and high school, if you had asked me what my favorite subject in school, that was no-brainer: English. Least favorite subject? Just as easy: Math. I didn’t like the rigidity I felt in math class, and I didn’t like formulaic way in which many teachers would show you a single way of doing something, do it with you, hand you a book, a page number, and the assignment of problems 23-52 odd. Math class was dry and abstract (for the most part). Three years ago (2013) I accepted a position as a middle school math teacher. Since that time I have had to do something at which my 15 year-old self would have balked: re-connect with Math.
In the United States many students suffer from something known as “Math Anxiety,” which is essentially a fear of math. It can start at an early age due to a feeling that a student’s math skills are not up to snuff, and from social pressure that math is something that not everybody can do and it should be feared. The belief that there are “math people,” and “not-math people,” is a pervasive attitude in schools, and being “not-a math person” gives students a reason why they should not work in math class (parents and teachers who subscribe to this notion aren’t helping either). In math classes students experience the pressure to perform amongst the social pressures of being in middle school and high school. Now that you’re an adult, and you don’t have those kinds of pressure, it is time for you to reconnect with math!
There are a multitude of reasons to reconnect with math, everything from the practicality of understanding the math you need to measure, cut, and set a supporting beam under your porch to increasing your problem solving and logic skills. As I have reconnected with math, I have found an incredible amount of freedom in solving problems and solving them in different ways than I learned in school. I had some wonderful math teachers in school, but there is an unbelievably good feeling about revisiting something which had been a difficulty for me and owning it.
If your looking for some ways to reconnect with Math, here are some excellent resources. While some of these resources may be geared more towards teachers creating lessons, you can always take on the problem which is being presented like you are a student!
Khan Academy is excellent (and free) if you are truly looking to become a student of math again. You can work your way through grade levels like you are going through school, or just pick and choose the concepts you want to go over. After a few video explanations, they give you a chance to practice the problems on your own. Their system which will track how well you are doing. Exceptionally well designed (in my humble opinion), and every once-in-a-while you even get a problem involving trolls or cupcakes or something like that. If you’re looking for something a bit more whimsical, check out the “recreational Math” section! (Did I mention it is free?)
As a math teacher, I really like what this guy is trying to do with teaching math. Make it interesting! Make problems students want to solve, whether or not they are “real-world” makes little difference. I love the 3-Act Math system, and I am always looking to incorporate that idea into my own classroom
Math talks that will blow your mind. What more do you need to know? Perhaps where go get started? I am big fan of the origami talk. There are some pretty impressive sculptures happening in origami because of math!
Another good place to find intriguing problems to which you want to find the answer. Great problems, but if you want full access, you will have to subscribe to this site.
If you had asked me during my middle school years if I would rather read a book or do some math problems, the answer would have been swift and sure: read a book. If you asked me that same question today, the answer would be just as swift, just as sure, and just the same, but today I am more comfortable with Math than I ever have been in my life. My relationship with Math may be complicated, but now I’m working on a way to integrate the two topics instead of running away from an equation into the comforting depths of a story. Plus, when you understand math, there is a plethora of math jokes out there! Keep learning, and re-connect with Math!