I remember freezing up in math as I was growing up. I mean, thankfully, I caught on to the arithmetic–you know, the adding, the multiplication, the subtraction, etc. I learned all kinds of fancy multiplication tricks, and I amazed one of my tutors in how to tell if a number is divisible by three or nine. Those were my two favourite numbers. I especially felt a special affinity to any number divisible by 3 (I still do until this day!). I adopted those numbers as my close cousins, so to speak. Take a number like 456, for example. We know it is part of the 3 number family because, when you add 4, 5, and 6 together, you come up with 15, which is divisible by 3 by way of 5.
Another math trick I learned was with my 9 timetables. Back around the cold winter of 1978, I recognised something. My tutor, Mr. Wineman, was fascinated by me for this very reason. I had decoded one basic mathematical law: Numbers divisible by 9 are easily found too, by a method called casting out nines. This refers to adding all the numerals of a given number up, and seeing if they add up to a number divisible by 9. For example, we don’t have to know anything about 9216, except the fact that 9+2+1+6=18, which is 2 * 9.
Another area of math that I was a whiz at was the perpetual calendar. The perpetual calendar has a certain rhythm–a system by which dates and days of the week repeat a given alignment. Within a century, that cycle repeats itself every 28 years. Between centuries, if the century number is not divisible by 400, the cycle is every 40 years. A person born on Saturday, July 20, 1776 could not expect to have a leap year birthday that falls on a Saturday again until age 40–in 1816. The fact that 1800 was not a leap year messed up the 28-year cycle, for 1800 was a normal year beginning on a Wednesday. Had 1800 been a leap year, his or her birthday would have fallen on Monday. But because 2000 was a leap year, the 28-year cycle is in full effect. Wednesday, January 30, 1980, was my 14th birthday–for my 42nd, it will also fall on Wednesday. So essentially, leap years occur every four years–eight years between centuries, unless the next century year is divisible by 400. For this reason 2100 will not be a leap year. It will be a normal 365-day year beginning and ending on Friday, which means that Christmas that year will be on a Saturday.
The calendar and multiplication are not the only uses of math. But besides addition and subtraction, as well as exponents, this was the only math I really shined at. Don’t get me wrong, basic algebra and some geometry I know. Late last year, I substitute taught in a geometry class–a feat I didn’t know I was capable of. And let’s just say I held my own.
But to tell you how hard it got for me as I advanced in math–my college algebra math teacher became so concerned about me being able to pass that he encouraged me to drop his class. I had met my math requirements by then, and it was time to let her go. I agreed. Precalculus and trigonometry have not been my best friends.
I am not ragging on people who are better in English and history than in math and the sciences. I am one of those unfortunate souls. However, parents, just think of the careers that will wind up being closed to your little kidlets if they are not as sharp in math as they would like to be. Indeed, doctors, nurses, scientists, musicians, astronauts, and engineers all need to be proficient in mathematics. In addition, most managerial/supervisory positions require a strong mathematical background, especially if money counting and payroll management are involved. These are all fairly higher paying jobs. Indeed, nurses are in high demand these days, and they command a fairly high salary.
So what do you do if you find out your son, Junior, is not really good at math, not for his lack of effort, either? Do I punish him? Do I browbeat him as the big bad parent? NO! That is the WORST thing you can do. I remember when I sought help from my Dad for math, and he slapped me across the face because I couldn’t catch on right away. It didn’t make me catch on any faster; in fact, that incident from that snowy Valentine’s Day in 1978 caused me to distance myself from math just a little bit more.
I would advise, instead, seeking some help for him or her. That may mean encouraging him to ask the teacher to stay after school to help him, as Mr. Croy did. I really liked Mr. Croy, who was one of the most patient math teachers I ever encountered. I was saddened to see him go. I heard he went to pursue his first love, computers. He was very funny, down to earth, and personable. Mind you, he was tough when he needed to be, towards whom he needed to be. He was willing to help, but he wanted his students to know that math was no “blow off” course. If you were going to make the grades, you were going to pay your dues.
Or if your child’s teacher does not have Mr. Croy’s patience, how about hiring a private tutor? There are tutoring agencies that will send a private tutor to your home at a reasonable rate. One company I’ve tutored for is A to Z Tutoring. There are others, too, like Club Z Tutoring. If these agencies are not available in your area, cruise the internet for an agency near you. Yes, lots of them are pricey, but out of all of them, I am sure you will find the one which is a perfect fit for your child. Another company I am familiar with is Sylvan Learning Center, who advertises their services on TV. So please don’t lose heart just because your child’s grades look poor right now.
But no amount of tutoring will help if you don’t do one basic thing. One principle I learned from Diette, my first real college crush. Now mind you, Diette was a whiz at math. She said, “The only way to get good at doing math problems, is to do a lot of them.” Diette’s words stuck with me, they guided me through the really tough GRE tests, as well as the Basic Skills for Teaching Test.
So with parental care, lots of tutoring, and lots and lots of practise–difficulty in math may look like a steep mountain, but it is a mountain that can be climbed and must be conquered on the way to some of the hottest careers of the day.