Remembering High School Maths
D’s maths teacher sent through ten maths problems for him to solve over the weekend, and helping him with this has taken me back to my maths education at high school.
I never liked maths. I was always a word kind of person, enjoying English the most out of all of my subjects (although I never really liked the required reading texts much). I always struggled with maths and the different concepts presented, possibly helped along in no small part by the belief that I wasn’t a maths person. In Year 7 the problem sheets we were given for homework were always difficult and challenging but being the kind of student I was, I hated getting red crosses for anything so diligently put in the effort to solve them correctly.
Despite not liking maths and not considering myself good at it, I got excellent grades until Year 11 when we were able to choose our subjects. At Year 11 level there were two levels of maths, Further Maths, which was dubbed veggie maths, and Maths Methods, which was far more technical and demanding. My friends were all science-maths types and they convinced me in joining them in Maths Methods. From the very beginning that was a bad idea. I was in a class with all the kids who went on to become engineers and scientists, people for whom complex mathematical equations would be part of their university degrees. I had no such ambitions and really should have taken veggie maths along with the other students who were aiming for business degrees.
My Year 11 Maths Methods class became hell and I the demon who terrorised it. I mostly copied the work from my friends, still not understanding anything or how it was applicable in the real world. I spent great chunks of time distracting other students, which for my goody-two-shoes student persona was a huge departure from my reputation at school and I developed a bad attitude. In one particular class, a fellow student complained to the teacher that my wandering around the classroom and loud voice was distracting so the teacher gave me an ultimatum, to sit down and focus or leave the classroom. So I defiantly packed up my books and chose to leave the class, surprising everyone including the teacher who still considered me a responsible student.
I do not know how I managed to pass the year, but as it came to selecting subjects for the final year of school, I was not swayed by my friends’ encouragement to continue with Maths Methods, that I would make it through. So I dropped down to Further Maths at Year 12 level and discovered an interest in maths I never knew I had. Maybe it was the wonderful teacher, maybe it was being back in an environment where I understood the mathematical concepts or maybe it was because I could apply percentages and probability and the like to real life needs for problem solving. I aced the class and ended up with the best Further Maths score from my school, 49 out of 50, which equated to getting a couple of questions wrong on the end of year exam and was way higher than any of my other preferred subjects. Only years later when I organised an event of the Premier’s VCE Awards for my state celebrating excellence by giving awards to the students who received study scores of 50 out of 50 did I realise just how well I had done.
Nowadays I rely on Excel formulas for most of my maths problems, but that interest in percentages, probability and statistics remains. So helping D with his homework on fractions is interesting and something that I get. Unfortunately, though, he doesn’t get it.
I had printed out the sheet of problems from the teacher and left it for him to work on yesterday morning while attending an Escuela de Padres (Parents’ School) on values at his school. I was in a bit of a bad mood about this, as I usually am regarding Escuelas de Padres, and especially since they set it for a long weekend and with mandatory attendance, although there weren’t many parents there.
I came home to find that D hadn’t done the maths homework because he didn’t understand what to do. So this morning we sat down to the first three problems.
“If Juan, Antonio and Carlos each received 12, 36 and 48 respectively on the test out of a maximum 96, what fraction did they each receive.”
Cool! I thought. We had discussed fractions expressed as percentages yesterday while cooking lunch when I asked him to fill the saucepan 3/4 full and I checked to see that he had understood.
Unfortunately he still couldn’t work it out as I explained the problem and what he needed to do. I wrote the equations he needed to do with long division (something I never ever understood and cannot help him with, but D seems to be good at long division). He eventually solved the problem and I said how he could learn little shortcuts to help, things like how 96 is close to 100 and 48 close to 50, so 48 should be about half of 96 and that you can figure this out at a glance if you use these kinds of logic tricks.
We moved onto the second question about needing 1/8 of a gallon of paint diluted in 1/16 of thinner to paint 1 door, and therefore how much is needed to paint 3 doors. This also escaped him and we spent a good 15 minutes on it with diagrams of bottles broken into eighths and sixteenths to colour in the levels.
The third question was much more difficult, but structured in a way of being able to check your answer doing a few additional equations, yet my patience evaporated as no amount of explanation seemed to help him. I guess the additional check equations confused him rather than helped and he then couldn’t go back and put his finger on which one was the answer to the question.
So while he copies out the answers to the first three questions on a fresh sheet, trying to remember exactly which scratchings on the scrap paper are the relevant ones, I sit here typing in my blog about the time I hated maths, hoping to soothe my impatience because we still have another seven questions to go.