### Advanced Math

Dear Ms. Foster,

I am ashamed and humbled.

See, my husband is traveling.

He's at the largest conference that his new field of radiosomethingblahblah, MRI imaging has. It's in Chicago. He's there with some of the foremost minds of the world --people who developed the MRI technology and who wear suits to the office every day and make decisions that affect the lives of many employees and other people.

So, last night, when I called him because I could not help Ana with her math homework, I did not do so without really, really weighing the expense of marital capital against the expense of Ana getting frustrated and even more confused under MY tutelage. Because, honestly, all she wanted was to get her homework done so that she could play on Webkinz.com, which I know is probably some anti-education, satanic device that teachers loathe, but apparently, there is nothing more fun than having virtual pets for whom you must earn cash to furnish houses. (This despite the fact that we live in a house with four REAL pets and I can't even get any help letting

Anyway, I called him. Because I am ALL ABOUT education and

It sounded like he was at some sort of networking function but he walked outside and took down the notes:

He was walking me through the algebra when I had another emergency (my head appeared to be exploding) and so decided to call me back.

Fifteen minutes later he called back for clarification on item three.

Yes, these esteemed and seasoned professionals had all walked outside of their important business thing to try to figure out what a basketball cost in this theoretical problem.

Thirty minutes later he called back. They had solved it. Over the speaker phone, he walked Ana through the algebra involved. "Ana," he said, "This is complicated but basically, what they are trying to teach you is a concept called substitution."

I nodded and tried to look wise and supportive.

He walked her through the steps to arrive at the answers to the first clue. We wrote down something that looked like this:

1b + 2f = $28

2b + 1f = $32

2(28 - 2f)1f = 32

56 - 4f + 1f = 32

-3f = 24

f = 8

Which, frankly, might as well have been Swahili to me.

But I tried to look wise and nodded my head several times so I wouldn't be completely busted by my child.

Then he said, "So, Barb, using that process, can you help Ana arrive at the other answers?"

I said, "Ye--s." by which I meant: "There is No. Way. In. Hell."

And then he gave me the answers which I dutifully noted on a piece of paper.

He said, "I love you. I'm sorry I am not there to help." and hung up.

I turned to Ana. "Did you understand what Daddy just said?" I asked, with desperate hope.

She said, "Um...no."

And there I was, see. Completely and totally exposed for the math illiterate I am.

I said, "Gosh, Ana, I am so sorry but I didn't understand either. I don't know. I must be very, very tired or maybe I was absent in HIGH SCHOOL when we covered this, because I got a little lost."

So, I gave her the answers and the equations I'd written down and now I will be resigning as my daughter's math homework helper. (And maybe her mother if you're going to ridicule me to the other moms.) However, I am ALL OVER the Spelling.

Sincerely,

Barbara Cooper

Math Illiterate

PS: Um, also? That whole arrange the toothpicks into four equal squares from five equal squares without moving more than two toothpicks and not creating any triangles? I didn't even ASK Coop about that. Sorry.

I am ashamed and humbled.

See, my husband is traveling.

He's at the largest conference that his new field of radiosomethingblahblah, MRI imaging has. It's in Chicago. He's there with some of the foremost minds of the world --people who developed the MRI technology and who wear suits to the office every day and make decisions that affect the lives of many employees and other people.

So, last night, when I called him because I could not help Ana with her math homework, I did not do so without really, really weighing the expense of marital capital against the expense of Ana getting frustrated and even more confused under MY tutelage. Because, honestly, all she wanted was to get her homework done so that she could play on Webkinz.com, which I know is probably some anti-education, satanic device that teachers loathe, but apparently, there is nothing more fun than having virtual pets for whom you must earn cash to furnish houses. (This despite the fact that we live in a house with four REAL pets and I can't even get any help letting

*out. But I digress.)***them**Anyway, I called him. Because I am ALL ABOUT education and

*especially*, math.It sounded like he was at some sort of networking function but he walked outside and took down the notes:

**A basketball and two footballs cost $28. One football and two basketballs cost $32.

**Six disks cost $18

**One basketball, two pairs of soccer cleats, and one hockey stick cost $71. Two hockey sticks, one basketball, and one pair of soccer cleats cost $64.

**One baseball bat costs $7 more than one baseball. A combination of six baseballs and four bats costs $48.

What is the total cost of one pair of soccer cleats and one of every other item?

He was walking me through the algebra when I had another emergency (my head appeared to be exploding) and so decided to call me back.

Fifteen minutes later he called back for clarification on item three.

*He had the entire brain trust of his new company working on our daughter's fifth grade math homework.*[ Editor's Note: She's in fourth grade but takes advanced math.]Yes, these esteemed and seasoned professionals had all walked outside of their important business thing to try to figure out what a basketball cost in this theoretical problem.

Thirty minutes later he called back. They had solved it. Over the speaker phone, he walked Ana through the algebra involved. "Ana," he said, "This is complicated but basically, what they are trying to teach you is a concept called substitution."

I nodded and tried to look wise and supportive.

He walked her through the steps to arrive at the answers to the first clue. We wrote down something that looked like this:

1b + 2f = $28

2b + 1f = $32

2(28 - 2f)1f = 32

56 - 4f + 1f = 32

-3f = 24

f = 8

Which, frankly, might as well have been Swahili to me.

But I tried to look wise and nodded my head several times so I wouldn't be completely busted by my child.

Then he said, "So, Barb, using that process, can you help Ana arrive at the other answers?"

I said, "Ye--s." by which I meant: "There is No. Way. In. Hell."

And then he gave me the answers which I dutifully noted on a piece of paper.

He said, "I love you. I'm sorry I am not there to help." and hung up.

I turned to Ana. "Did you understand what Daddy just said?" I asked, with desperate hope.

She said, "Um...no."

And there I was, see. Completely and totally exposed for the math illiterate I am.

I said, "Gosh, Ana, I am so sorry but I didn't understand either. I don't know. I must be very, very tired or maybe I was absent in HIGH SCHOOL when we covered this, because I got a little lost."

So, I gave her the answers and the equations I'd written down and now I will be resigning as my daughter's math homework helper. (And maybe her mother if you're going to ridicule me to the other moms.) However, I am ALL OVER the Spelling.

Sincerely,

Barbara Cooper

Math Illiterate

PS: Um, also? That whole arrange the toothpicks into four equal squares from five equal squares without moving more than two toothpicks and not creating any triangles? I didn't even ASK Coop about that. Sorry.

## Comments

Why are they teaching a 5th-grader (a very cute 5th-grader) algebra? Does she need algebra right now? Does she have all the stuff that comes before algebra (percentages, decimals, fractions, long division) down pat? What is the rush? Is she starting high school next year? Tell that teacher you are fed up with the way the school system is pushing your daughter too hard - so fed up, in fact, that you are going to move all the way to NY, where hopefully they know that 5th grade is for fractions and decimals and maybe percentages (and for having fun).

Tell her I said so.

And I love algebra. Intensely. With a passion.

And the toothpick thing. Grr. Argh. Those things make me crazy.

Of course, my kid is probably going to end up in therapy, so what do I know? But at least she'll think I know how to do math!

I DO think that kids are pushed to know too much, too soon these days --before they are neccesarily developmentally ready for it. But I don't think it's just institutionalized schooling that does that--I think it's all of society. Plus, I have to say, I am EXTREMELY happy with our school, which is why I'm keeping my kids in their current school as long as I can and still make sure that they will make new friends before the summer in New York.

In this case, though, my KID was way ready to learn it and *I* was the missing link. It's been a while since I've had a math class.

I do think they are going overboard with pushing kids--we DO need math literate Americans, but some stuff takes brain development time. And I got the "spelling" gene, not the "computation" gene, myself.

In one of the local schools here the kids have to be still and quiet after they finish eating lunch - we ran around outside in the playground after we ate so we could be still and quiet in class.

Plus no PE in many schools - and they have the nerve to say the kids are not active and overweight (not that I liked PE all the time but it was good for us).

Never mind - give me that teacher's number. I'll deal with her myself.

I'm hoping that Ana will come home and explain it to me. I truly AM math phobic, the victim of an "experimental" math program when I was in third grade in Alabama.

I am sorry if I sounded defensive --I once had someone unsubscribe from my column because she was a homeschooler and she couldn't read stories about being separated from kids for school. WTF? Anyway.

You guys would like the teacher--I promise. I'm the original Mama Bear about my Ana and I really love her. In fact, I took her a print-out of this blog post and she laughed like crazy.

"How about if I just write you a note telling the teacher that we had something to do and you couldn't finish".

I SWEAR that's what I said. Wanna know what she said?

"No mommy, I should really do it. It's o.k. - I'll figure it out on my own"

Do I suck at parenting or what?

As I tell people on a regular basis, there's a reason I majored in literature in college. Fortunately B is good at math, so he can help the girls.

But it is impressive that so many of Coop's colleagues were so gung ho about helping with the math problems.

A football costs $8. A basketball costs $12. A pair of soccer cleats costs $22. A hockey stick costs $37. A disk is $6. A baseball is $2. A baseball bat is $9. Therefor, the cost of a pair of cleats plus one of each other item (ps, isn't that the same as saying, one of everything?) is $96.

Is that right?

I don't know how to do that without algebra, though. Although, I started doing basic algebra and geometry in my fifth grade advanced math class.

Was that waaaaaaaaay too geeky of me?

Your husband rocks.

toothpicks?

It might help you to think of math as a language. It actually is one with a very small vocabulary, and very simple grammar. When you're solving a math problem, you're doing a translation, and then you're WRITING various things you know about the situation. Like all essays, the first draft may head in some wrong directions, but as long as you keep writing sentences that are true and make sense, sooner or later, you'll reach a conclusion.

Try making the shift from "math" to "language and writing." I bet it helps.

Marion, I LOVE how you just wrote about this. i never thought of math that way. I bet if I change my perspective, I might learn to actually, um, speak it...

Barb

Maybe I need to just go to bed. 6pm is late enough for bed, right?

http://www.wanderlustgyrl.blogspot.com

For instructions. Cheers!

The children's father was a math-phobe until somebody told him to think of algebra as "just another language", and then he was a wizard at math.

All five of the girls are crazy-high-verbal. Four of them hate math. The one who loves math, can't spell.

If we all had identical gifts and talents, we would not need one another, or appreciate one another.

Thou shalt not beat thyself up.

But really, out of the corner of my eye, I was stretching out my questions timed to 7th Grade Girl Child's unpacking of her backpack. Which included, I had been clued in on the drive home, PreAP Algebra Homework.

"Awww, Boy Child's already in bed? I should go tell him goodnight before he goes to sleep." ((Scurries up stairs.))) (((Comes downstairs))) Dogs? Who wants to go outsiiiiiide??? (7 minute potty trip to the front yard.) (Potty trip myself, but not outside).

Re-enter family living space just as they're wrapping it up.

He's still out of town tomorrow. Math Deficient Mommy is hoping Daddy's lodging includes high-speed wireless so we can video iChat any such nonsense tomorrow.

I feel your pain. In buckets.

1b + 2f = $28

2b + 1f = $32

2(28 - 2f +) 1f=32

56 - 4f + 1f =32

-3f = 24

f = 8

Okay, so are you ready? I decided that I had to master this math thing and I bought a book yesterday called "Math Without Fear."

We'll see. I wish I felt more hopeful.

Last year my then 8 year old daughter (also massively accelerated in math) told me in the sweetest of voices, "No offense, Mom, but you really can't help me with math anymore. Your brain just doesn't work like mine."

No offense indeed!