My New Math Brain




As a high school student there was pretty much one thing that caused me to completely stress out: math. If I wasn’t getting ten minutes for a “pop quiz” I was getting 50 minutes to take a test that was worth 70% of my semester grade while leaving me feeling grossly ill-prepared. Often, these tests involved concepts that were dictated from a podium for three months and never explained or made relevant to my level of understanding. Not surprisingly, after I graduated avoiding math became somewhat of a science for me. It helped me choose my career path, steered me away from certain friendships, and guided the kinds of books I liked to read. I wasn’t exactly a math-phobe, I just didn’t get why so many people in educational institutions felt it necessary to stuff it down my brain stem when there was no chance of my becoming an engineer.

Fast forward thirty years and I recently looked into enrolling in a graphic arts program at a local community college as part of a new career direction. As an exhausted counselor created my file I learned I would need to take a math placement test before I would be accepted.

“Can you take it right now?” she asked innocently, unaware I was slipping into “the math zone” where I automatically made an excuse about being unavailable to take the math test until after the weekend. I knew this would allow me time to sort through a few math problems and possibly attain a math ranking above babbling idiot. We agreed to schedule the following Wednesday at noon sharp as she stuffed the test overview into my hands and I headed back to my office.

What immediately struck me was how much the available math resources had grown since I was in college. A site located at not only tutored you for free, but gave hints in a degree of steps for those problems with which you experienced difficulty. I also went online and met a chat friend who “enjoyed” math challenges willing to help me with sample questions on the review. I was no expert by the following Wednesday, but I did notice I was not my usual math self as I entered the campus building for the test.

I walked in with two sharpened pencils and scratch paper only to learn that my test would be on a computer. A calculator was carefully set by each keyboard for my use as well. I laughed at my stupidity, but still felt better prepared going old school than punching simple formulas into a calculator. There was another observation as I proceeded in taking the test. My brain had changed. The different centers had finally connected and were communicating with each other. What had once been painful had become more of a puzzle or a challenge to my natural reasoning. I calmly pulled apart the equations and plugged each answer into the formulas before reviewing my work and confirming my best answer. Math actually became a little fun. The x’s and y’s seemed to present more of a challenge than a source of stress. As I left the testing facility I was confident I was right in there with most of my answers. I truly felt as if I advanced another step in the progress of a lifelong learner: growing intellectually as I maintained a healthy sense of investigative curiosity.




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