Mathnasium 34776 US Hwy 19 N, Palm Harbor FL 34684 (727) 400-4772

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News from Mathnasium of Palm Harbor

A Student's Struggle with Mathematics

Jul 29, 2020

It occurred in 1989 when I was 16. I was sitting in the back row of an Algebra II class that faced a window to an oak tree and grass amid a sunny sky. With Chopin’s Nocturne in F major playing in my head, I thought, “Why do I need this and where am I going to use math?  I hate Algebra and this is completely pointless and useless to me. I am going to be a great composer like Chopin. What do I need this for?”  I looked up and saw the teacher dance back and forth (he had a bad back, but did his best) across a chalkboard very passionately showing math. He hoped he would reach the “geniuses” in the room, while not paying extra care for the others who didn’t want to learn. 


I was bored, so I decided to secretly open the textbook. I opened it to page 24 and there I saw the proof for -a x -a  is positive a. I stared at that proof for a few minutes and thought about it. Then it made sense! I understood it. For two whole years, I could not understand Algebra, and now, finally, there was hope.


This got me thinking some more. Why do we need Algebra, Geometry, and other forms of math? I was looking out the window and admiring the sunny sky, cumulus clouds, and that oak tree...wait! What if mathematics represented the best model of why the universe works the way it does? What if through mathematics one could find the answers to the big questions of philosophy? I could know why things work as they do. I can apply math to music, and I could make music that heals people! The possibilities are endless.


I rushed in during the last period of math after class was over. I begged the teacher to teach me Algebra.  He looked up at me from his desk like I was an alien from outer space.  


“You’re kidding, right?”


I showed him page 24 of my textbook. “No! I have never been more serious in all of my life!  See this? It clicked! I know I am very far behind, but I really want to learn this! Please, there has to be some way!’


“Okay. Let me make you an offer. You’re a junior, right? We can set up a teaching assistant role for next year.  If you help me with a few chores, like carrying my folding chair sometimes, as I have a bad back, I will let you in my class. You can learn at your own pace and ask me questions when I am done lecturing.”


“I will be there next year. I promise!” I almost yelled with excitement.


So the journey began.  Every time I thought I understood a concept, my teacher would question me on it socratically and forced me to think about that concept. For example, one day, to understand the slope formula, I stayed in a dark practice room and stared at a wooden wedge to keep a door open. I was able to solve linear equations but never understood what a slope was.  After 30 minutes, I jumped up and down realizing that it is the ratio of how far up or down in comparison to how far left to right!  Now it made sense, and I came back and answered my teacher the next day. He smiled. Towards the end of the school year, my teacher surprised me by telling me that one job of a teacher’s assistant is to teach a lesson to the class. I was scared, I did not have much practice with public speaking. I was, however, confident in my understanding of the topic, so I successfully taught logarithms to the class.  


This journey was not easy. There were numerous times I wanted to give up.  I kept trying my best, and through seven or eight years in college, I managed to eventually get a Bachelor’s of Art in Mathematics. It took this long because I was still a music major and wanted to compose music. I eventually switched to mathematics because I did not enjoy the music that the 20th century offered. 


If only there had been a Mathnasium near me all of those years ago! This center could have helped me. In 1989 it did not exist. I have firsthand seen that this place can help any student!  What that teacher taught me back in high school was how to think a little like a mathematician, which is precisely what Mathnasium does. The instructors teach in a socratic way to provide math enrichment to students. The students are not just taught how to solve problems, but how to think of the right way to solve the problems and why to use those techniques. Mathnasium makes that process fun and even humorous. Our curriculum provides the right concepts, tricks, and techniques to make the student think of how he or she got the answer. The instructors help that process along by guiding the student so that the student eventually gets to the answer and then realizes that they did most of the work. This improves their confidence to tackle slightly more challenging problems. Also, Mathnasium does something else that many tutoring centers do not: Mathnasium fills the gaps and lack of knowledge along the way so that the student has a better foundation to stand on their own!