A gifted individual is a quick and clever thinker, who is able to deal with complex matters. Autonomous, curious and passionate. A sensitive and emotionally rich person, living intensely. He or she enjoys being creative. -definition of giftedness written by the Netherlands Study on Giftedness in Adults

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Math: The Eternal Struggle

Photo of Einstein's desk from Life Magazine,  - note the written-out equations. Even HE couldn't do it all in his head. 
The kidlet is good at math. Really good. He totally gets upper-level mathematical concepts - call it the philosophy of math - and he has for a long time. In kindergarten he was solving simple arithmetical equations using a convoluted algebraic formulation he came up with himself. In his head. But it worked, so he kept doing it. 

Here's the struggle: he won't learn math facts, and he won't write out the problems on paper and work it out by hand. I guess his little algebraic formula is supposed to take care of that for him. The problem is: you can do that with simple equations, but as the problems get more complex, it gets too difficult to keep everything straight as you are walking through the steps. So, his brilliant little math mind is making a complex equation that much harder by sending it through all these extra filters, and since he isn't walking through it on paper, he can't go back and see where his mistakes are - and he is getting the problems wrong. When we sit down and work out the problems with him, he gets every problem correct. I know he knows the process and can work out the answers. 

But he is failing.

And this is the (rhetorical*) question with which I struggle as his parent - do I let him fail?

On the one hand, it would be really good for him to learn what it feels like to fail, to pick himself up and try again. It's not something he is good at (are any of us?), and he doesn't frequently have opportunities to try it out and see where it can take him. Failure leads to discovery, and discovery is all good. And failure builds resilience, which is definitely a character trait the kidlet needs to learn.

On the other hand - this is an expensive (online) class, and I'm not sure we are going to be very willing to pay another hefty sum to have the kidlet retake a class he should have passed the first time. And since the kidlet is already bored and impatient, I can't really imagine trying to do this again. He has been surprisingly cooperative this time around, but I don't see that happening again if he has to retake the class (performance anxiety rears its hideously ugly head). 

And so... the math drama goes on. As I'm sure it will in the next class, and the class after that.  

*I say this is a rhetorical question, because I know that Daddy and I will come up with the best answer for our family. I am not asking for you to answer this for us. Not that I don't appreciate your comments, dear readers, but we will make our decision based upon far more complexity than a blog post can communicate. 


  1. I'm not going to attempt to give you an answer, but I will share that we go through the same sorts of issues, and it's one reason I've avoided the (expensive) online courses! Frustrating, isn't it?

  2. What about doing a "mock" test and have him fail that? This way he can see that he needs to write down the work, instead of doing it in his head... not only to see where the problem happened but also to give him credit for what he did right. And if it's a "mock" test - something you create, then it doesn't affect the online testing.

  3. HA! I knew he could do it. He started writing out the problems on paper (the Einstein picture above helped), and re-did some exercises he'd gotten 33% and 66% on previous two times he tried them. He got 100% - and found that, since he'd written out the problems on paper, he could go back and figure out where he made mistakes and correct them before submitting his final answer. Saves time and effort! Happy boy (and happy mommy!).

  4. Glad you found a way to make it work. My son has a similar reluctance to show his work. I started giving him problems he couldn't do in his head...too many steps to keep track of. It took quite a while but he finally started to come around. I also told him that I am interested in learning his approach (which is often different than mine) and writing it down helps ME to learn it. He was more that happy to share his wisdom with me. :)

  5. Update on the math class: The kidlet has completed the full course in 3 months (a full-year course), and managed a 91% score on the final. With the low grades at the beginning of the course, his final grade is 85%, or B-. He has learned so much and isn't fighting doing the work, or writing it down any more. What a process - but we are so proud of what he has done! Way to go, Kidlet!