Tuesday, February 01, 2011

mathematics suck

no. 2 brings me his math homework to look over. he is in the latter half of 1st grade, and they have moved from adding to subtracting.
any time no. 2 brings me his math homework to check, i have to take a very big deep breath. i have to let it out slow. i have to consciously register my voice at a level that is tolerable, pleasant, and upbeat.
because no. 2 does not get math. he does not get math like i do not get nuclear physics, or quantum theoretics.
i have already told him numerous times that you cannot subtract anything but zero from a number and get the original number as the answer. this is a hard and fast rule of subtraction. and yet when he brings me his homework to look over, he has gone through everywhere and put the first number as the answer: 4-1=4, 6-2=6, 3-0=3. i calmly go through and erase all the answers where zero is not being subtracted and patiently tell him (yet again) that you cannot subtract one or two from a number and get itself. to help him, i say, "ok, this one here. three minus one. what is one less than three?"
he stares at me for a moment as if i have asked him, "donde se entero el cuerpo de hoffa?" then he says, "umm, three?" i sigh, and try a different tack. "what is the number that comes before three?" again, "quantos dientes tiene el tiburon grande blanco?" "umm, one?"
now he is just hitting all around the number hoping to land on the right answer. still cool as a cucumber, i go over to the whiteboard and draw him a numberline, as i have numerous times before, and explain that you count to the left in bumps however many you're subtracting and the number you land on is the right answer. i remind him (yet again) that he himself can draw this numberline right there on his paper and use it to correctly answer the problems.
then he uses the numberline efficiently, and answers the other problems correctly.
but here's the deal, o my beloved non-existent readers: no. 2 appears simply unable to understand that, for the sake of his first grade math homework at least, numbers are constant and unchanging. he seems completely unaware that three comes before four and will always come before four. that five plus five is always ten, and that one of his own hands always contains five digits, and the other always five as well.
and the reason that i must travel into some zen fugue state to help him with his math homework is this: one particularly bad bit of addition homework, on a day when no. 2 was particularly tired and lazy and not wanting to think, ended up taking us two hours to do. two. with tears. with shouted guidance that was neither constructive nor helpful. with exasperated declarations of, "fuck it, i just don't fucking care! turn it in all fucked-up, and fail. i don't give a shit!" which we all know is straight up bullshit because i would go stomping back in there within seconds to try and explain it again in a different way, to be met yet again by the same (teary) blank stare of incomprehension.
and the bigger disconnect that is there can be tied to before, after, above, around. for no. 2, things just seem to happen willy nilly without rhyme or reason, devoid of connections to one another of any sort. "how many days is it till friday, dad?" "well, today's thursday, so how many days?" ("cuantos anos tenia methusaleh?") "umm, three?"
and on that day when the homework was finally in the backpack, and the kids were playing more or less harmoniously and i was outside shakily smoking, i called a friend from high school who i had been venting to about the math. a friend who struggles even to this day with dislexia. a friend who does not do her budget because she is never sure she has done the addition or subtraction right, or even gotten the amounts entered correctly in the first place.
and though i am sure that he will outgrow this, it is yet another by-product of being born early, of getting sick, of being pumped full of narcotics. here he is, 8, and still suffering delays that find their seeds in a four-months hospital stay that started at 30 weeks gestation.
i don't expect him to necessarily be a rocket scientist. or an engineer. then again, maybe he will. i just want him to be a productive, active member of society.
and i want him to one day realize without thinking that three comes before four, that one of his own hands always contains five digits, and that friday always follows thursday.
darth sardonic

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Blogger Sparx said...

Crap Darth, sounds like you are a mountain of patience and understanding. I don't even know how I'd cope - and it sounds like he's actually doing not that badly....

2:17 PM  
Blogger darth sardonic said...

i force myself to be a mountain of patience after the really bad math day. he gets it, very very slowly. and i cope cause i really don't have any other choice. nice to commiserate though

3:43 AM  
Blogger zirelda said...

I have so much to say on this topic. I spent years with Rach trying.

I'll have to get back later though.

Good luck Darth.

2:14 PM  
Blogger Grit said...

i have no words of wisdom, only empathy.

the first and last resource we use round here is cake. cake eating becomes maths, science, chemistry, biology. it's even been known to be geography, if you cut out a cake shaped like africa, then proceed to put the chocolate chips on ghana. all the kids know where ghana is for the rest of their days.

5:51 PM  
Blogger darth sardonic said...

lol ty grit, that sounds delicious and useful. i await your thoughts zirelda.

5:38 AM  
Blogger SM said...

Hi, I can't help but throw in my two cents. I like the cake idea. I think it's excellent. But, maybe there's something else your kid likes eating, drinking, playing with, or drawing etc.

Make him draw, I dunno, rainbows and when he draws two tell him to add another one? And ask him how many has he drawn now, altogether.

Or use Legos to build a fort or something. Then count all the legos you needed to build it then explain to him that's basically adding.

Or have him count oranges and then give one to Mom the other to you and then tell him to count how many he's left with now and why. Tell him he's got less oranges now because in life we say we gave them away/lose them/eat them etc. but in math we just say "we subtracted them".

There's so much things out there. Check some websites. You seem like a very patient guy. I bet you did your share of internet research on this, but I'm a teacher (or better will soon becom one) and I just had to link some stuff.

Just... breathe and good luck!





9:15 AM  
Blogger darth sardonic said...

ty z, nice to see you back, ty sm, (i am fighting hard not to type s&m ha ha ha ha) i am finding math for him to do in every day situations and nearly all the time. his teachers all seem to agree, repetition, repetition, repetition. i hope to spend more time reading your blog soon, the content warning already makes me inclined towards liking it. i really should ask you and blogget how that's done.

6:17 AM  

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