Wednesday, June 12, 2013

More Math Tears and Tales

"You are allowed to not understand, but NOT allowed to not learn."

Summer has arrived in our house; my college courses finished a month ago, public school and even many homeschoolers are wrapping up their school years. These things are always harbingers of the start of more formal schooling in our household. Naturally the joy levels in the house are through the roof as Mom puts her foot down and holds it down. I make sure to place it in semi-permanent cement, tough enough to hold it there but leaving just enough flexibility to wiggle out as needed.

Math has been the biggest obstacle recently: M had been creatively avoiding doing math for the past week. She had been zooming along previously; and with her requests to shower, go to the library, walk the dog, and even take her little brother to the playground, I unwittingly fell right into her avoidance tactics.

Until today. (duh duh duh duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuhhhhhh—ya know, that dramatic music as the plot thickens…)

I asked her if she had taken the Lesson test yet; she replied with "yes! At least, I think I did. Wait, did I?" I asked her if she needed me to check her lesson work. She replied "I think I checked it already. Wait, I think I did."
"Hmmmmmm," thought I.

I asked M exactly where she was in her book and received equally vague answers. It was time for me to look things over. The work wasn't horrible but it was clear something wasn't clicking. This was a lesson that Mr. Demme ( Math-U-See )gives several options for solving the problems, which further increases my love of this math curriculum because the main focus—the ONLY focus—is complete understanding and mastery of each topic. I could see that even on several problems M answered correctly she took a long route that had far too many bends and curves and even got her lost a few times. The concept of "how" was missing.

As I backed her up to go back to go over a couple of the problems, her frustration flared almost immediately. She was instantly angry and insisting that she do it only the way Mr. Demme showed on the video. We've been doing MUS long enough that I knew if the teacher's manual answers were showing alternative routes to the answer, then there were alternative routes presented along the way. I wanted her to do one of the pages that included a "Quick Review" and she was furious and just wanted to move forward. Voices rose, tempers flared, and I knew it was time to defuse when I heard the dreaded "I CAN'T DO THIS, I JUST CAN'T DO THIS!" (and some typical teen "whatever" and eye rolls and, well, I’m sure you get the picture) I gave M the job of clearing the dining room table, while I defused by hitting Facebook and played Bejeweled Blitz. ;)

Tears and further statements to how she could not do this ensued, including "did you ever think that maybe this is just something I CAN NOT DO?" She did not want to look at what she was seeing as a new or different approach to tackling the problem. I kept telling her of course she could do it, and of course she'll move forward, and of course she was smart enough. This brought more tears; calmer tears, but still there. Her last outburst about math was that she just wasn't smart enough.

My response was, "You are allowed to not understand, but NOT allowed to not learn." Where those words came from is anyone's guess, though I'm certain they were heaven sent J

I had M leave the math for a bit and move on to science. She quietly got that accomplished quickly and then moved back to math, but there was still some reluctance. I reminded her that this was not a test and not an exam—she could have me right with her to work it through, so that's what we did. About halfway through the 2nd problem her the tone in her voice picked up, and by the 3rd problem there was even a hint of optimism. I got out some of the Math-U-See manipulatives to show here even more alternatives and, although she almost shut down, she stayed open and not only saw it but grasped it! I reminded M that people that are willing to learn are the smartest of all, and that she is one of those people.


I am forever grateful for days like today. I'll take all the frustrations to witness these moments of learning and understanding; there's plenty of hair dye in the world to color the grey hairs the sprout! 

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