…and so it begins

02Feb10

My idea here is to start blogging about what a parent might want to know around how to have their kids be excellent at mathematics. For me, excellence in math means the following:

  • Passion for the subject: I firmly believe that every kid starts out being interested in the world and how it works. Generally, over time,  parents and teachers bore them to death, paralyze them with fear, and deny them any truly rewarding experiences around math. All the while telling them that they *should* get good at it. Or alternately, we tell them that there’s nothing wrong, they are just not “mathematically oriented”, and that they should focus on being artists or whatever. Meanwhile, all artists are mathematicians, for the correct definition of mathematics.
  • Mastery of the tools of mathematics: the concept of the naturally gifted genius is pretty much the wrong metaphor. I know plenty of “normal people” who have extraordinary facility in mathematics. I’m an average joe myself, but I’ve far surpassed any reasonable expectation I had of myself, by dint of keeping my eyes open and (on occasion) working hard. The correct metaphor for mathematics is that of a craftsman: by a cyclical process of facing new problems, working steadily, acquiring tools/techniques, and stepping back every once in awhile to consolidate and attempt to generalize on what you learn, you become a master over time.
  • Living connection to the subject: use it or lose it. Here the correct metaphor is something like running. You could brag about having run a marathon years ago, but if you haven’t run in the last 3 months, are you actually a runner? Probably not. Same goes with mathematics – there are (sadly) many math professors who haven’t done math for years; they aren’t currently in shape, but are getting by via memories of their glory days, regurgitating cool stuff they learned in their youth. Not to say that this can’t be valuable, from a pedagogical and/or historical perspective, but this isn’t what I would call excellence in mathematics, per se.

I have a vague notion of writing a book on the topic of helping parents guide their kids from pre-school to – well, at least thru college mathematics. I basically plan to use this blog as a whiteboard space for exploring themes along the lines of this book. Hopefully, I’ll learn more about this topic from my exchanges with you folks, and the final book will be better for it. And actually, I don’t care about ever publishing a book, but I do think that there is a lot of knowledge that I and many others have on this topic, that nevertheless is known to only a small sub-population. If I expand that sub-population by any margin, this project will have been a major win.

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3 Responses to “…and so it begins”

  1. I’m so looking forward to following this project. And I got something out of it already. Evelyn is a craftsperson (wood carving) but says she doesn’t like math.

  2. 2 dipankar

    You point out a useful follow-up post: examples/illustrations demonstrating the craft-y nature of mathematics. Thanks!

  3. That was a half finished thought–I’m always sending half done messages from my phone. I was going to say that she might find the comparison useful. She sees how her skills have improved slowly with carving, but gets easily frustrated with math when she doesn’t get it instantly. I would be very interested in a follow-up post on the topic. Looking forward to this whole project.


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