Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Trouble with Numbers

I've never been good with numbers. I did all right with multiplication, subtraction, addition, and division, but when letters got involved with numbers, that's where things took a bad turn. I remember in high school, when my dad, who is incredibly smart with numbers, tried to help me with geometry, I would bawl and bawl because I just didn't understand it. And I also figured, why do I need this? I will never use it in life because I'm going to be a writer.

Well, I really haven't had the need for geometry, but I figure the whole experience just made me stronger, right? And I also have fodder for my books since my math teacher was just like the teacher on The Wonder Years - very monotone and practical. It was incredibly rare for him to even crack a smile.

But now my daughter is learning multiplication and division, and she's struggling. We made some flashcards last night and I told her that the easiest way to learn multiplication is to memorize the facts. As a mother, it's so hard to see her stare at the flashcard and have no idea what the answer is, even though I can see her mind adding up all the numbers - and when the fact is 9 times 3 and she's adding up 9 threes (instead of 3 nines), that can be incredibly frustrating.

I think, like her reading problems, she has a different way of learning. I wish I could unlock the key to what that way is. I know her teachers are aware of it and I am hopeful that they will be able to figure out how to teach her so she understands. I know that with her reading, we put her into Reading Recovery and it made a huge, HUGE difference for her. She now reads just fine. I pray that it will be the same with her math.

So far, I haven't had the need to know lots of math problems except for the basics. After all, I'm a writer. But just wait until I have a character come knocking on my door who just happens to be a mathematical genius...


  1. I always had a terrible time with math, especially geometry. If it's part of a chemistry or physics problem, there's no problem, but if it sits there like a math problem, I can't do it. I learned geometry when I learned set design -- suddenly, I had a context and it made sense.

    And now I use it quite a bit when I'm creating settings.

    Maybe it's the same with you -- if you put it in a context, where it has a reason for being, it will get easier.

  2. Your math skills sound just like mine. And so far, it's not made a difference...

    This post, in regards to your daughter, really strikes a cord with me. Just this morning (as I refused to let our start to the day be like every other) I told myself each child is different in how they see and do things. And I think I finally "unlocked" (I even used that same term in my thoughts!) what it is that will make my daughter stay on task and get things done in the a.m. Once we look at things in such a way and, if we're able, adapt our approach, things become so much easier for them - and ourselves.

    Best of luck with Li'l Lady's math!

  3. As a former special ed elem. teacher, I can say that finding the key (and that requires inserting a lot of duds into the lock first, usually) is really necessary. Saves a lot of head banging time too. Have you thought of peer tutoring? My youngest son tutors someone who has dysgraphia & dyslexia. Sometimes working one-on-one with a near-aged tutor just makes things click.

    PS I don't do no maff either!

  4. I loved math, but geometry was a killer for me. I hated it! It was too creative for me. The thing I loved about math was how everything added up so neatly.

    Good luck with your daughter!

  5. I hate math. I can still help my 9 year old but my son...forget it. I can't believe I have forgotten that much algebra. Oddly enough I always tested high in math aptitude. Unfortunately my attitude didn't match.

  6. I'm utterly useless with anything to do with figures and always see them the wrong way round.

  7. I can so totally sympathize with you both. I HATED math (and my dad was a physicist, so you can imagine what homework time in high school was like - he just couldn't understand how I didn't understand). I too hope the teachers can find a method of teaching math to your daughter that will make sense to her.

    Of course, I ended up using at least some rudimentary math during my years at CANEX and then with my dad's company. So ironic.

  8. I totally sympathize. Math was ok so long as it was useful. As soon as we got to geometry, forget it. I couldn't see the point. Thankfully, I've never needed to show my ignorance.

    I hope the teachers persevere with your daughter. As Devon said, once there is a valid context, I'm sure it gets easier.

  9. Okay, here's a tie-in with your daughter's math problem and Wonder Years. Danica McKellar played Winnie Cooper on Wonder Years. Now as an adult, she is an advocate for promoting math in girls' lives. She's written savvy books directed at young girls' ages, and maybe they'd help your daughter. Here's Danica's web site

    Click on the book link.
    Let me know if it helps!

  10. WOW! You've got some great comments! and help already! I have no real advice for you. EXCEPT I love the reading recovery program my oldest son is now an AVID reader because of it... and yeah, geometry was my downfall too. I wish i could've mastered it. My hubby on the other hand took calculas (sp?) & Trig for fun in High School! LOL! But he hates reading--go figure.

  11. First, I love that picture! I'd frame something like that.
    And oooooh do I remember trying to do math with my daughter. Not fun! My husband is the math wizard and I did the English but he wasn't always around so I would do it. What helps is eventually they get it enough to pass and like my daughter, they find jobs where they don't need it or use a calculator!

  12. It looks like the consensus is that most writers are bad with numbers. *grin*

    Thanks for all the advice, everyone. I'm happy to report that last night when we did the flash cards, my daughter had improved quite a bit - and actually WANTED to do them, which is always a good sign!

  13. Joanne, that's brilliant! I saw a review of her math books. They look great.


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