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Math Alive allows children to thrive

EDUCATION

Posted: October 13, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: October 13, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Aaron Hirst looks on as Liam Geelan and Rachel Larimer investigate linear functions using laptop technology.

 

We all remember those days spent trudging through courses named Algebra, Geometry, and even Calculus.

More than once I thought algebra was what grew on ponds and calculus was that film on my teeth in the mornings! Who would ever want to study this?

Mostly because my parents made me, I too sat through what seemed classes of glacial pace only to walk away disinterested and frustrated that this subject has endured the ages as some form of medieval punishment.

It wasn’t until later in life when I went off to college that I realized my encounters with math were not over - by a long shot.

A young and energetic youth, I wanted to build skyscrapers, bridges, and moon colonies! This meant I was going to need some math, a lot of math. Yet, years of boring experiences left me unengaged with the material and I soon realized I was unprepared to pursue my dreams.

Now, each of us knows somewhere before we reach college age that we experience disappointment, but to have your dreams ripped from your clutches is a completely different matter.

Determined to succeed, I stepped back and took some refresher courses and met a man who would change my life. He was someone who was just as determined to teach me as I was to learn. In the course of one semester, he revealed to me the secrets of mathematics in a language I could understand.

Which is when I had my epiphany. If I was struggling with math, so many others had to be experiencing the same thing. From that moment on, I knew that someone else was going to build the moon colonies, because I was going to teach them how!

I entered the teaching program and math became the bulk of my endeavors. Armed with the fundamentals, I was now ready to engage Number Theory, Proofs, Geometry, and yes Calculus.

It was an exciting time in the early 90’s. The computer was becoming a household appliance. Its language is so formally structured just as is the language of mathematics.

I would spend hours upon hours learning DOS commands to get this infernally frustrating machine to do my bidding. It was within those hours I realized that the learning is in the tinkering.

Today, the sophistication of computing technology is exponentially beyond that of DOS. However, those tinkering lessons resound in me as year in and year out as I face wave upon wave of our skeptical yet insatiably inquisitive youth.

You see, it isn’t the children that are indicative of our abysmal math statistics. It is our methods. Each and every year, even the meekest of our children have big dreams. Who am I to deny them of those dreams? It is for this very reason that I refuse to bore a single child with the lessons of old. No, in my classroom, math comes alive so that children may thrive!

Much older and wiser now, I realize the ability to solve problems creatively and collaboratively far surpasses the need to be able to determine the roots of every function under the sun.

I know for a fact that having a propensity for just basic math can mean the difference in a life spent languishing in a routine position and a promotion to management.

For let’s face facts, there are far more of us thriving in positions that do not require the level of mathematical sophistication demanded by a degree in mathematics or even the mastery of algebra.

Thus, it must be true that only one things really counts (no pun intended) - that we endear young people to the subject.

So I say, let them play. Allow them to tinker, think, and enjoy themselves as they experience this wondrous subject of mathematics. Show them the tools embedded in our technological society so that they may exclaim with great joy, as they so often do in my classroom, when they fill a spreadsheet, build a table on the calculator, or translate the graph of a function about the plane using an online app.

Enjoy the moments in history that are steeped in the revelations of mathematical ideas. Bring mathematics alive so that they may thrive!

Aaron Hirst is a mathematics facilitator at the Santa Clarita Valley International Charter School. A former college instructor and high school teacher in the Cincinnati region, he connects children to the tools they require to solve rigorous real-world problems.

 

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