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As Long as We Remember...

June 21, 2011

Itís not about the math!

Nick Diaz

Hours and days and months we spend in math class, working on numbers, equations, operations, transformations, number systems and a bunch of other skills. Yet, it’s not about the math.


These are all tools we use to deal with mathematical problems. The lessons we learn from them have a direct correlation to dealing with life problems.


Over my many years in the classroom, I hold to the belief that my students will learn more through mathematics than they will learn about mathematics.


In any math class, (or, for that matter, any class), there are a couple of students who make it a point to respond to every challenge I present them with the following words, “You know, Mr. D., math is not in my future – it ain’t my thing…”


I suppose they believe this absolves them of any responsibility for not practicing math problems or being successful in math class. While they are not going to be mathematicians or engineers, they might not become musicians, historians, English teachers, or artists, either.


So, I guess that means they should not be expected to do well in music, history, English, or art class as well.


They don’t seem to understand that each of these subjects, and the experiences they offer, are vehicles to teaching them life lessons. Through these classes they learn about dealing with fear, adversity and jealousy. They also learn about encouragement, tolerance, fairness and acceptance. Collectively, these lessons will make them better individuals; better individuals make better mathematicians and engineers, but it’s not about the math. The successful performance in math class, and in life, is a direct result of the lessons learned through math class.


I encourage my 8th graders to consider the lessons they learn through their daily activities, whether they are math, history, music, sports, academic or work related. Everyone wants to be a valued member of society. This is accomplished by many hours of dedicated practice and learning through organizations like math competition teams, chorus and band, and basketball teams.


It is not about the math….it is about the life lessons learned through math, or any other discipline. Students who learn these important lessons during their school years are the ones to whom the endeavors of life will bring great joy.


* * * * * * * * *

Now pushing 40, Ed is a former student of mine. Some of them are actually pushing 50, so he’s a young one by comparison.


Ed is a high school mathematics teacher in a neighboring state. He worked for 10 years in the “real world,” military and civilian, before he realized his true professional calling. He is one of the most intelligent human beings I’ve ever met; what makes him outstanding in my book, however, is not his smartness, but his goodness.


Ed and I exchange e-mails fairly often. According to him, the two of us would liven up a faculty lounge, (or, even better, a bar lounge), with our observations.


We both believe in the importance of family, and the value of good friends.


Ed and I are mathematics educators, passionate about our students; we are both life-long learners, passionate about mathematics education.


While he plies his trade among high school freshmen and sophomores, trying to teach them how a rhombus is actually a “squished square” (whose diagonals are perpendicular to each other, and therefore the area of a rhombus is simply the product of the diagonals, divided by 2), I prefer the rambunctiousness of middle schoolers – we both believe the work mathematics teachers do on a daily basis is the key to student success.


We are both great advocates for the importance of mathematics education, as a vehicle for teaching lessons of real life. In a recent e-mail exchange, we reminded each other that, while we sometimes feel like the rebels, it is important that we continue to send our message.


We care deeply about the art of teaching and demonstrate that in every facet of our being.


Last summer, Ed and I had the opportunity to share a couple of hours together, joined by his beautiful and charming wife. It was a joy to see my old former student and friend and have a few moments in which we could catch up on family and old times, and talk math and math education.


This summer I’ll fire up the big white Yamaha again, and pay Ed and his family a visit. His young children love to sit on the motorcycle and go, “Vroom, vroom!” Who knows – they each may become outstanding motorcyclists in the future.


I cherish the time invested with my young (38 young?) friend because it is one of the relatively few times in my life in which I can interact with someone who speaks the same language, both personally and professionally.


Ed has had a huge impact on my life, more than he’ll ever know; I hope I have had a similar impact on his.


This is why I love my profession.



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