A Math Story.

Once upon a time, I was really good at math.

And I mean, really good.

On the first day of 9th grade Geometry, we took an Algebra test. The teacher wanted to know our math aptitude. Algebra made so much sense to me. It was easy, and when it wasn’t easy, finding the right solutions was so satisfying. Math was like putting together puzzles, and I could always complete it with dead accuracy.

On the second day of 9th grade Geometry, the teacher announced that one person scored 98.5 out of 100 possible points on the test. She smiled as she handed me that test and she said, “I expect good things from you.”

And perhaps hubris led me to wait so long to get help in Geometry–I didn’t want to go to the teacher who had high expectations for me–but it didn’t take long for me to realize Geometry was not my wheelhouse. Nothing made sense. Everything was abstract. The puzzle pieces I loved in Algebra didn’t exist in Geometry.

When I finally did go to her for help, sometime in the 2nd quarter of school, after several minutes of trying to explain a problem to me and my still not understanding, she became exasperated.  I can’t remember her exact words to me, but I left her room knowing I was stupid and had no business taking math.

I’m pretty sure my mom had to fight to put me into advanced Algebra 2 for 10th grade, because my Geometry grade should’ve put me in regular Algebra 2, if not remedial Geometry. But advanced it was, and I did fine, and I had a teacher who was patient and kind and slowly that year, I remembered I was good at math.

But the damage from Geometry was fairly permanent, and any math synapses in my brain appeared shut down for good. I was now one of those girls who was “bad at math” and since I was a gifted pianist, I had a fall back anyway, so I threw myself into the performing arts for the rest of high school and left math behind.

Present day: last Wednesday I received my acceptance letter to the Grow with Google scholarship program. This is a coding bootcamp of sorts–a three-month initial program to show the program I “have what it takes” to make it into their six-month program.

The math side of my brain is screaming at me: “Whyyyyyyy? I thought we were done with this 30 years ago! Go back to writing. Go practice the piano. Read a humanities theory book. WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME?”

I’ll admit–I’m in the middle of a project for this class that I worked on for 90 minutes and I still can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong. My brain hurts, much in the same way my muscles first hurt when I started Jazzercise, or the way my ego hurt the when I got edits back on my first published piece, or they way my fingers hurt when I sight-read the score for the musical. And my initial instinct is to give up.

But I know from Jazzercise and writing and playing the piano that the pain isn’t permanent. With practice and consistency, tasks become second nature. So I’m firing up my math synapses, long dormant, and reminding them that once upon a time, they really loved math and solving puzzles–and they can love those things again.

 

3 Comments

  1. Congratulations!

    And I could have written your story about math. I excelled at algebra, and geometry baffled me. Then I went on to advanced algebra, excelled again, and did well in trigonometry and calculus, but the wounds of geometry never healed, and I gave up science, my one true love, and became a lawyer instead, because law school is where smart people who are bad at math go.

    We really need a better math narrative so that people make choices based on their real abilities, not their perceived abilities.

    Like

    Reply

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