Math Class: One Student’s Perspective

Photography by nikki

I was never a math person; I’ll put that out there first. The moment math became textbooks instead of cute little printed out worksheets, numbers just whirled above my head in a panic-stricken frenzy. Don’t get me wrong, I was never bad at math either. When I grasp a concept, it sticks. That’s the beauty of it; unlike other classes where it’s easy to forget a date or accidentally conjugate a verb wrong, with math your hands seem to have the muscle memory to know what to punch into the calculator or where to direct the pencil.

I’m soon graduating from high school and I’ve come to appreciate the necessity of math in the curriculum. Besides looking great on a transcript, it’s also a subject that pushes you to being  a well-rounded student. I feel more balanced. I’ve been to two different high schools, with a grand total of four different math classes (meaning eight semesters of math class, whew!) My first high school made me retake Algebra 1 my freshman year (to help boost my SAT math scores). This was followed by Geometry, Algebra 2, and AP Statistics.

I must say my experience with math wasn’t a great one. I never was great at teaching formulas to myself, so how well my teacher taught it was a huge factor in my success in the class. Unfortunately, you never know what kind of teacher you will get. Additionally, I never had a strong base in mathematics when I was younger, so advancing math classes took a little more effort on my part. Then, of course, comes the standardized testing. In my junior year I had to dust the cobwebs from the lower shelf of my brain and retract concepts from Algebra 1 and Geometry, which had long been forgotten. This, I must admit, was due to my superficial knowledge of the concepts, which I had retained only for the duration of the course. During the months of studying for the SAT, I had to relearn these two classes due to my unstable comprehension of the concepts. This, of course, was a real pain.

As I’m choosing my college courses, I will definitely keep math class in mind. I think if I had a stronger basis in math, I would be more interested, but for now it will stay on the sidelines as a very necessary and significant class.

– Cara graduates from high school this Friday and will attend Boston College in the fall.

2 thoughts on “Math Class: One Student’s Perspective”

  1. Unfortunately, so many students feel the way Cara does. It is easy to conclude she had negative learning experiences, and a couple of ineffective teachers helped create a bad taste in her mouth when it comes to math. When she confessed that she was “never great at teaching herself formulas,” I just sighed. it is very hard to learn a formula and know when to apply it when there isn’t a conceptual base in place. Her teachers failed her. They failed to identify her learning style and present the information in a meaningful way. Tragic.

    Cara will be successful no matter what she decides to do; her writing reveals a bright, introspective young woman who is obviously comfortable in her own skin. But how sad that she doesn’t feel that she is “good at math.” Now her major, studies, and future profession will be limited because of her negative experiences with math.

    I hope teachers read this blog. I hope they finally realize the tremendous impact they have on every student, and then become committed to trying to reach each one.

  2. It’s so interesting when students write about education – it’s a perspective teachers don’t often get. Thank you, Cara! And yes, Scotti Glasgow, it is frustrating when students internalize the expression, “I’m not good at math.” But I wouldn’t be so quick to blame the teachers. The “I’m not good at math” message starts early and in many cases, parents are at least as much to blame as teachers. I can’t count the times I’ve heard moms (never dads!) say, “I’m just not good at math,” or “I’m just not a math person and she takes after me!” I have never heard a dad say this, and I’ve never heard a mom say it of a son. It’s a frequent mom-to daughter message and the girls get it loud and clear.

    I’d like to point out to Cara – clearly a bright and articulate young woman – that her choice of words is revealing. She says, “My first high school made me retake Algebra 1.” I’m guessing she took a placement exam that showed she had not yet fully mastered the curriculum. I wish MORE high schools would “make” students retake algebra I in ninth grade. Far too many push kids into geometry. This is a bad idea for many kids for two reasons. One, eighth grade algebra is very seldom as comprehensive as high school Algebra. Some kids – in fact, I’d say MOST – who get an A in 8th grade algebra but aren’t ready for high school algebra, and should retake it. (That begs the question WHY do we need to give kids algebra in seventh or eight grade…many would benefit much more from a strong, firm foundation in basic math, including fractions, percentages, ratios, and mental computation. ) The second reason why ninth grade geometry is often a bad idea is that although most kids are able to succeed (geometry is no more difficult than Algebra I) it puts them on the path to take extremely difficult courses if they need four years of high school math to qualify for college. Many – I daresay MOST – seniors have no business taking Calculus, but it’s inevitable if they start with geometry as freshmen and need four years. Of course those challenging courses should be offered for students who want them for the intellectual stimulation – but as required material? Why!

    Perhaps the problem lies with colleges that want four years of high school math…why? There are very few disciplines that require calculus, trigonometry, or statistics, and there’s no reason those courses can’t be tackled during the college years. Instead, we shove kids through a curriculum that has little purpose or relevance, then “fail” them when they can’t make the grade. Having taught for quite a few years, I can tell you that many of those A students who regurgitate enough advanced math to pass exams actually retain very little, and don’t know how to use every day math in their daily lives – to figure costs quickly, to estimate distances and times, to calculate tips or figure sales prices!

    Well, Cara, you have brought up some interesting ideas – thank you for sharing your experience, and good luck in college!

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