Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Good-bye Happy Dance

Mastery of anything feels good. Whether it's 15 more pounds on the incline leg press, nailing a new recipe, or finding the perfect rhyme for a couplet, it just feels good to do something right. There's a moment of personal victory when you go for it and it works.

That was one of the things I always liked about Math. Different from other subjects, there's a right answer in Math. Gray areas exist in other subjects, even when I didn't think they did. So I learned to consider the antagonist's point-of-view in English, to determine the motivation of the ruthless dictator in History, to engage the scientific method of thinking to question what seemed to be fact in Biology. But in Algebra, there was a satisfaction that came when the answer came out right. x=3.18. Plug it back into the equation, and Bam! Like the last piece of a puzzle, that satisfaction that comes with mastery.

Sadly many kids today are denied that satisfaction. With an emphasis on keeping to the curriculum map, the objective-a-day-even-if-they-don't-get-it pace of instruction doesn't allow for those moments of triumph. Helping IMG to prepare for a math test I tried to share my excitement when it works out just right. The happy dance when you know you nailed it. She didn't share my enthusiasm. Maybe it is because the week-long chapter on the test encompassed everything from "What is a variable?" to "Which of the following is a non-linear function of x?" . Maybe it's because kids today have figured out that what is valued isn't learning, it's performance on assessments. Or maybe it's because working hard at something until you get it just isn't that important.

This is a generation of kids who can spend all night "pimping a MySpace profile" or downloading just the right ring tone for a mobile phone. What a shame to skip the important life-lesson of the intrinsic motivation that comes with mastery.


MJ said...

I was horrible at math but I still remember the feeling of getting a problem right. It's still kind of fun to break down an [easy] equation. My problem was that I couldn't replicate my success in a test setting.

Good title, BTW.

LJ said...

What the frack? How big is IMG's math book. There are more than a few steps between "what is a variable" and "which of these is a non linear function of x".

EJG said...

Life is all about balance. IG's math teacher should learn how to pick and choose what needs to be mastered, and let her students feel the rewards of success.

Cora Spondence said...

For those who struggle with the Language of Math and I am in that number, Algebra is a lot like that long haul roaming the desert. Without encouragement and an oasis or two along the way within the classroom, you don't have the stamina for the long trek. She's lucky she has you for the nourishment of the home canteen.