Help me learn math, please (SAT, university, middle school, literacy)

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Hi, I'm currently majoring in English/ Secondary Education, and I discovered my math skills are a bit below par after trying to tutor for the math part of the ACT. It was a little embarrassing. I ended up looking through the book and calling certain students to work the problems. I was quite interested myself, because I had forgotten a lot of the work, so I guess they were really teaching me!

I know English teachers generally don't like math, but I think I'm more interested in teaching learning than teaching literature, so I don't know if I will remain an English teacher. Math teachers are more in demand, anyway. To learn math though, I would have to have a way to make the formulas very easy to remember, among other things. For some reason, it's easier for me to sit down with a piece of writing, even dense philosophy, and churn out a paper, than for me to sit down and do an advanced math problem. I can sit down and memorize a long list of words with very little effort, but I can't seem to do so well with a list of numbers. My brain seems geared toward language, but spatial perception, shapes, and numbers all might confuse me easily, especially if they appear together.

I would have a long way to go if I wanted to become a math expert. Even though I've worked pretty hard, I've only gotten past the first half of pre-calculus. I flunked the second part. Math has never been one of my strengths. In fact, I've struggled with it. The math professor at the university I attend complicated one of the classes further by requiring us to make no less than 80 percent on each one of our homework assignments. This means that if you made lower than 80 on ONE of your homework assignments, you failed the class. Talk about pressure. I wish they had an anxiety-free math course for English teachers who want to teach math. Does anyone have any suggestions? I don't think I want to take another math course at this college. It feels like sink or swim, and no one's taught me how to swim. Math is part of the academic core, though. Why am I being taught to hate it?

Start by taking a lower level class from a community college. These are usually much cheaper and offered at a lower level than pre-cal. The courses may not transfer, but if it gets you where you need to be, it is worth it.

Honestly, though, if you are not teaching in your comfort zone, you will not enjoy it as much and that will translate into the entire experience for you and the students. Middle school math is heavy on probability, applying formulas such as area, 2-D geometry using all 4 quadrants, integers and moving seamlessly between pecents, fractions and decimals. High school math courses are what they say they are, at a fraction of the college version. BUT, as a teacher you must feel comfortable operating at the college level of the material if you are teaching the lower level.

There are other high demand areas that may be a perfect fit for you, such as exceptional children. Many students struggle with writing and reading. Maybe a literacy teacher or writing resource teacher is a good fit!

Well, I guess some people really do have trouble with reading and writing, and I might do well in those fields since I can analyze parts of writing that apparently my teachers in high school had trouble showing me, e.g style, flow, structure, etc. Hopefully this would translate into my students' writing, and I would probably be pretty good staying in the field of language arts, but there are just a lot of English teachers in the world today.

If I could learn math really well, maybe I could apply some writing across the curriculum strategies to help my students develop mnemonic devices for the problems or create their own proofs and explanations. The thing that really gets me about math is that no one really explains it that well. For most of the advanced math, I know none of the history behind it, why it was originally used, or what I can use it for in the real world. If I could find a resource that would answer these questions in detail, learning math might be a bit easier, because I would have something to refer to. I had little trouble remembering concepts in science classes, because there was always a picture, a theory, and a word explanation that I could connect with real life. All of the math classes I've taken, though, just don't have that. The teachers I've sat under teach it kind of like an exercise, not a theory or a language. If I could speak math, maybe I would do a lot better, but I'm not into rote memorization.

Although there are plenty of other language based options for me to teach, I feel for people who have had to struggle through tedious math courses only to forget what they learned shortly after ending the course. I also kind of wish there was more writing required in a math course. It might help people remember what they are learning.

Last edited by surburbangirlie; 02-01-2010 at 05:02 AM..

If you approach math as something to be memorized, you can't go very deep. For the most part, forget memorizing. Try understanding.

For example, the quadratic formula: you can memorize it and apply it. But does it feel more like magic than logic? If you understand completing the square, where you're doing the same things to both sides of an equation until you have your solution(s), you can work from that to the quadratic formula. Find a book or website that demonstrates this. Work through it yourself until it makes sense.

A simpler example: Do you know why you do the same things to both sides of an equation? Can you see it as a balance (scale)? 4x + 12 = 2x + 24 means four packages of doodads and 12 unpackaged doodads on the left, two packages and 24 doodads on the right.
Take 2 packages off of each side. Then you have 2x + 12 = 24, but the scale is still balanced.
Take 12 doodads off each side, and you have 2x = 12. If two packages balances with 12 doodads, each package has 6 doodads.

A simpler-yet example - adding fractions: why do you need a common denominator? (Not "because it's the rule.")

If you can work the problems but cannot understand why a particular process gives the right answer, do not teach math. Look in the library for books, look for websites, look for tutors, take classes - but if you don't get to the point of understanding it (and enjoying it), do not teach it. You will be dissatisfied, your students will be frustrated, and you will pass on to them the same problems you have experienced.

If you don't "understand" math by now, you never will. There will always be a couple of students in your classes that will be far more able than you to explain the problems, etc.

Having a math oriented mind is almost like having a talent for a musical instrument. Either you have it or you don't. Don't try to teach or explain math. It isn't the same as teaching or understanding English.

Well, I understand common sense math-math I would use to alter a recipe, grade and average papers, make space in a room, calculate an interest rate, take advantage of a book sale, etc. Maybe if I could put all math in the common sense category by finding situations to regularly use it, I wouldn't have much trouble learning it. I would need to either find really enthusiastic and dedicated math teachers who want to make all math common sense, or I would need to find a book, containing fun and simple explanations of advaced math and real world applications, written by an enthusiastic math teacher. I would also need to find a lot opportunities to practice and understand the formulas and their applications so that if I did go into math teaching, I would be able to help my students. I guess I have a lot to learn. It's not all essays and poetry, is it?

Last edited by surburbangirlie; 02-01-2010 at 11:42 AM..

I've got to agree with Padgett. The good math teachers I have had were rare and LOVED math. I guess if you are going to teach it to really young kids it's not so important but as a parent, I want math oriented people teaching my kids after about 4th grade.

That makes sense. No, it wouldn't be wise for me to decide to teach a subject I didn't have a firm grasp of, but I could start to like it if I understood it really well. I've had many less than perfect math teachers. If I became one, I at least think I would care. Plus, if I completed all of the coursework required to become a math teacher, I might actually like math by that point.

I didn't like math much but after practicing a lot I understood it and now I'm even good at it. (I'm actually taking Physics now LOL). So I firmly believe that even without a "natural talent" for math, you can learn it and of course teach it later.

Maybe you could go to half price books and get one of those texts like "college algebra and trigonometry" and try for yourself. If you need to go before that level, maybe taking math classes in a CC is a great idea. They usually have free tutoring and being the classes smaller, the instructors have more time to help during the semesters.

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