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Explaining the Why of math to a reluctant teen


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My ds is a why guy? Explaining math previously was easy, we use it everyday, numbers are everywhere. He used to be good at math. It comes easily to him, but he's frustrated. We're in year 2 of algebra and he gets it, he's just annoyed with math. He hates writing down steps, he solves things in his head. We've changed programs a few times, had a hard time finding the right balance between the way I teach and the way he learns. I think we've found the right program finally. We even took a couple week break and ran through some geometry problems, he didn't respond well to those either.

 

He's a right brain leaning learner and does better when he understands the importance of a subject. He's not buying my threadbare reasons for algebra and above. :glare: So how would you address this? Why do you think math is important, not just for schooling but for life?

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Why do you think math is important, not just for schooling but for life?

 

I see two avenues of explaining here.

 

1. Math for the everyday guy in everyday life.

Geometry and trig is needed for any construction project.

Exponential function is needed to understand compound interest, to estimate whether it's worth refinancing your mortgage, how to invest for retirement etc. Every business owner is faced with optimization problems.

Statistics is necessary if you want to understand data in newspapers and studies - you need to have some basic knowledge to judge whether the information is useful or whether it is utter nonsense because, for instance, the sample involved too few subjects so that the standard deviation is larger than the effect.

 

2. Math is essential in science. A deep scientific understanding will require mathematics. Higher math, that is - not just arithmetic.

So, if he wants to be an educated person who understands how the world works, math will be necessary.

 

And if he wants to have options for his future, he needs to make sure to have all the math that will enable him to choose any major in college - maybe he is pragmatic enough to accept this as a reason to study math. Not just for science and engineering fields. A future veterinarian needs to take algebra and trig based physics in college. A future pharmacists must have calculus and calc based physics as an undergraduate in order to get into pharmacy school.

Edited by regentrude
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You got me. I don't see the importance of *algebra* in life, much less algebra 2.

 

How do you handle finances? Mortgage interest? Investing?

Yes, of course on can outsource these things - if you trust your financial advisor. That can end very badly - as it did for many people.

But by the same token, I could outsource shopping and would not need a knowledge of how to add.

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I see two avenues of explaining here.

 

1. Math for the everyday guy in everyday life.

Geometry and trig is needed for any construction project.

 

 

2. Math is essential in science. A deep scientific understanding will require mathematics. Higher math, that is - not just arithmetic.

So, if he wants to be an educated person who understands how the world works, math will be necessary.

 

And if he wants to have options for his future, he needs to make sure to have all the math that will enable him to choose any major in college - maybe he is pragmatic enough to accept this as a reason to study math.

 

I agree, he's seen the construction issue in previous work with dh. He's very scientific minded, but his disdain for math in the last semester is hindering his desire for science.

 

Living in the diverse community that we live in, my #1 answer was that you don't want to be scammed. You need to understand money - how to borrow, how to invest, how to grow, how to make an offer for a good. You need to understand product life - when should you put more money into that car, and when should you sell and when should you junk it. You need to understand insurance. My #2 answer is that math makes your life easy. How much of X do you need? Easier to figure that out before you get to the store. Number 3 - expands your mind and develops thinking skills. Do you want to be prepared to study at the college level in math and science? If yes, do you want to do that now for free in high school or would you rather pay for it yourself in college? Number 4 - expands your sales skills. You will be pitching yourself your whole life...practice on developing and pitching a good solution to a problem now, while being a learner doesn't affect your ability to eat well.

 

He's a born negotiator, he also has been getting allowance since he was about three (seriously). He handles money very well, recently bought his own TV with some savings and a little help from his favorite grandmother. He shopped for six months to find the right deal.

 

The testing out of some college might might be motivational.

 

You got me. I don't see the importance of *algebra* in life, much less algebra 2. Unless he's going for a career that requires higher maths, then you might have to stick with "because colleges want to see it on your transcript when you apply.":tongue_smilie:

 

He probably will end up in a career that requires higher maths. I've tried the "because college want to see it" and that doesn't phase him. It might in a few years when there is more at stake, but not right now.

 

I think it's the incremental nature of algebra that is driving him crazy. He prefers to see the big picture and work backwards. That is easier to do is some subjects.

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Maybe you could appeal to his sense of economics. It doesn't sound like he's headed for a STEM major, but IMO most students should keep as many options open as possible as you never know if/when they will change their mind. Here's a list of the top paying BA majors - and he'll see that most require math.

 

http://www.online-degrees-today.com/blog/2009/03/11/top-15-bachelors-degree-jobs/

 

Other than that, it's not just about the content learned in higher math, it's learning how to solve problems and how to think mathematically/logically at a higher level. This skill translates well with just about anything you do later on in life. :)

 

Oh ... and thirdly - the ol' "because I said so." :lol: Dd loves math, but when she began with algebra she also balked at having to write down all the steps - it's a common problem - especially when the student can easily see the right answer without doing all those steps. But the time will come when the problems are so abstract that the solution won't be clear, and applying the tedious process of writing out each step is the only way they'll come up with the right answer. Skipping some steps may get them close, but a sign will be wrong, or ... Writing it out neatly makes all the difference.

 

ETA: I just now saw your post above, so if he's planning on a science major, mathematics is a must!

Edited by Teachin'Mine
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Maybe you could appeal to his sense of economics. It doesn't sound like he's headed for a STEM major' date=' but IMO most students should keep as many options open as possible as you never know if/when they will change their mind. Here's a list of the top paying BA majors - and he'll see that most require math.

 

http://www.online-degrees-today.com/blog/2009/03/11/top-15-bachelors-degree-jobs/

 

Other than that, it's not just about the content learned in higher math, it's learning how to solve problems and how to think mathematically/logically at a higher level. This skill translates well with just about anything you do later on in life. :)

 

Oh ... and thirdly - the ol' "because I said so." :lol: Dd loves math, but when she began with algebra she also balked at having to write down all the steps - it's a common problem - especially when the student can easily see the right answer without doing all those steps. But the time will come when the problems are so abstract that the solution won't be clear, and applying the tedious process of writing out each step is the only way they'll come up with the right answer. Skipping some steps may get them close, but a sign will be wrong, or ... Writing it out neatly makes all the difference.

 

ETA: I just now saw your post above, so if he's planning on a science major, mathematics is a must![/quote']

 

Thanks, I will show him that link. I don't know where he'll end up, but somewhere in the tech side of STEM, maybe graphics designer, would be my guess. Whatever it is computers will be in there somewhere, although he tried programming and didn't care for it too much.

 

Writing it out neatly is a whole other issue (sigh). I will try appealing to the problem solving side too.

 

This is helping, thank you all.

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How do you handle finances? Mortgage interest? Investing?

Yes, of course on can outsource these things - if you trust your financial advisor. That can end very badly - as it did for many people.

But by the same token, I could outsource shopping and would not need a knowledge of how to add.

 

Hey, you might want some algebra for shopping, too. What if you can get 8 ounces for one price and 12 ounces for another price, how do you know which is cheaper? That's a good reason for developing those algebra muscles.

 

Writing it out neatly is a whole other issue (sigh). I will try appealing to the problem solving side too.

 

You know, I've just decided it's not a horse to die under, or whatever that saying is :tongue_smilie:

 

I know the mathy folks here will faint, and my own son the engineer scolds me, but I'm not fighting over writing things out with my youngest. He knows the loss of partial credit and is fine with that. He says he doesn't want to do any higher math if it just means lots of writing. He's very good at math in his head and I figure some of those Edisons and Einsteins and such didn't write out every problem, either :confused: So in college, he'll either find a professor he cares enough about to do it his way, or find a professor willing to work with students who do math in unusual ways.

 

So that's one option... to let that part go. Running away from tomatoes now :auto:

Julie

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You know, I've just decided it's not a horse to die under, or whatever that saying is :tongue_smilie:

 

I know the mathy folks here will faint, and my own son the engineer scolds me, but I'm not fighting over writing things out with my youngest. He knows the loss of partial credit and is fine with that. He says he doesn't want to do any higher math if it just means lots of writing. He's very good at math in his head and I figure some of those Edisons and Einsteins and such didn't write out every problem, either :confused: So in college, he'll either find a professor he cares enough about to do it his way, or find a professor willing to work with students who do math in unusual ways.

 

So that's one option... to let that part go. Running away from tomatoes now :auto:

Julie

 

:D Hm, you're on to something. We have a giant Einstein poster on our wall, and my dad is a huge Tesla fan, so we have lots of discussions on Edison vs. Tesla. He's very much a lone wolf, but I hesitate on the math writing. However, that is when he started balking loudly, when I started making him write out more. Maybe we could compromise for the rest of the year and see how it goes, write out some, don't write out others.

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:Maybe we could compromise for the rest of the year and see how it goes, write out some, don't write out others.

 

How about talking through some? Ask why and how.

 

Your son is doing Algebra, right? Require that word problems have great pictures displaying the given information.

 

Just make sure that if he is skimping on the writing, what he is writing is accurate. If he says two things are equal, they better be equal. Let him use an arrow to mean one thing implies another. This might serve as some reasonable shorthand.

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Thanks, I will show him that link. I don't know where he'll end up, but somewhere in the tech side of STEM, maybe graphics designer, would be my guess. Whatever it is computers will be in there somewhere, although he tried programming and didn't care for it too much.

 

Writing it out neatly is a whole other issue (sigh). I will try appealing to the problem solving side too.

 

This is helping, thank you all.

 

At one point when I got totally frustrated, I told her that I wouldn't correct any work which didn't show the whole solution. I had her use graph paper as that makes it take up less room and keeps the work neat as the lines work well for number lines, graphing, etc.. Before that, I'd correct work with her and ask her what her second step was, but she had to do the whole problem over as she had done most of the steps in her head. It made for simple errors. With writing it all out, the number of simple errors was reduced and correcting took a lot less time. In the long run t's a battle worth fighting, but not easy. :tongue_smilie:

 

ETA: All day I've been reading the OPs and then posting instead of reading through the threads first. : P Julie I just read your post now. No tomatoes were intended for you. lol Each of them learns and works in a different way. : )

Edited by Teachin'Mine
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How do you handle finances? Mortgage interest? Investing?

Yes, of course on can outsource these things - if you trust your financial advisor. That can end very badly - as it did for many people.

But by the same token, I could outsource shopping and would not need a knowledge of how to add.

I learned how to do that stuff in my 9th grade business math class.

 

Y'all can call it "algebra" if you want, but I don't remember anything in my algebra class that I could actually recognize as real-life math.

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How about talking through some? Ask why and how.

 

Your son is doing Algebra, right? Require that word problems have great pictures displaying the given information.

 

Just make sure that if he is skimping on the writing, what he is writing is accurate. If he says two things are equal, they better be equal. Let him use an arrow to mean one thing implies another. This might serve as some reasonable shorthand.

 

Algebra, yes. Most of his writing is accurate, his errors come from computation errors mostly, or forgetting to make something negative. We discuss a lot, so I know where he's not getting it, but he's not always going to have that luxury.

 

At one point when I got totally frustrated' date=' I told her that I wouldn't correct any work which didn't show the whole solution. I had her use graph paper as that makes it take up less room and keeps the work neat as the lines work well for number lines, graphing, etc.. Before that, I'd correct work with her and ask her what her second step was, but she had to do the whole problem over as she had done most of the steps in her head. It made for simple errors. With writing it all out, the number of simple errors was reduced and correcting took a lot less time. In the long run t's a battle worth fighting, but not easy. :tongue_smilie:

 

ETA: All day I've been reading the OPs and then posting instead of reading through the threads first. : P Julie I just read your post now. No tomatoes were intended for you. lol Each of them learns and works in a different way. : )[/quote']

 

He's a delayed writer, which was from being a delayed reader, so I required less in previous years. I might have piled on too much this year. I'm having in service days this week. I might evaluate this further.

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Algebra, yes. Most of his writing is accurate, his errors come from computation errors mostly, or forgetting to make something negative. We discuss a lot, so I know where he's not getting it, but he's not always going to have that luxury. .

 

These types of mistakes are very typical. It may help if he sees that writing things out will help with these sign mistakes. If they are an issue, we found colored pencil helpful.

 

If he is able to do all the math in his head, the problems are too easy. The best way to sending the message that one has to write down steps is to assign a multi-step problem that is impossible to solve unless he does so.

Because that is the real reason why we insist on writing stuff down: so that this technique is in place before the problems get so hard that the writing down is absolutely essential.

I recall a certain algebra 1 problem on linear optimization that took DD several hours and pages to work (insert evil grin)

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He's a right brain leaning learner and does better when he understands the importance of a subject. He's not buying my threadbare reasons for algebra and above. :glare: So how would you address this? Why do you think math is important, not just for schooling but for life?

 

Knowledge of math will only open doors for you in college and beyond. Lack of knowledge will definitely close doors. You need to keep the doors open because you never know what door you will want to walk through in the future, even years down the road.

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DS has pretty much wanted to be a scientist from day 1. He was a delayed reader and writer. He struggled with math. Not too long ago I wondered how in the world he would ever manage a science career with his attitude toward math and his reluctance to write.

 

He started watching MIT open course ware videos a couple of years ago. Most of it he didn't understand but he kept at it, particularly the physics and chemistry videos. Eventually this played into his motivation to apply himself more to his math. When he was doing pre-algebra/algebra he began showing his work at my request, but I know he still didn't even believe there was value to doing so. When he started to take an engineering class and a chemistry class at the high school, his attitude toward math and showing work really changed. The questions contained far too much information for him to keep it all in his head and he did not want to have to redo it all if he made a simple error. Having the applied practice in his science classes reinforced the notion of needing to show his work.

 

Recently DS #2 was working on his algebra and asking about showing his work. DS #1 started talking about his chemistry problems and needing to keep track of all the data, etc. Then DS #1 finished off his mini-lecture by singing out, "Math is Awesome!", a phrase I never thought I'd hear him utter.

 

So, for him, it was an incremental development, fueled by his interest in science.

 

And just as an aside, previously DS has looked at programming books and basically said, "meh, looks boring." In his engineering class they did a bit of programming on a sumo robot and now he is eager to take a computer programming class. For him, the application of the math is what excites him enough to make him work harder at the abstract part.

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These types of mistakes are very typical. It may help if he sees that writing things out will help with these sign mistakes. If they are an issue, we found colored pencil helpful.

 

If he is able to do all the math in his head, the problems are too easy. The best way to sending the message that one has to write down steps is to assign a multi-step problem that is impossible to solve unless he does so.

Because that is the real reason why we insist on writing stuff down: so that this technique is in place before the problems get so hard that the writing down is absolutely essential.

I recall a certain algebra 1 problem on linear optimization that took DD several hours and pages to work (insert evil grin)

 

The bolded has been explained to him ad nauseum. :glare: He'll play Minecraft and spend hours figuring out how many blocks he needs for something (I just remembered these conversations), but if a math problem in a textbook is too hard, I get a whine.

 

Knowledge of math will only open doors for you in college and beyond. Lack of knowledge will definitely close doors. You need to keep the doors open because you never know what door you will want to walk through in the future, even years down the road.

 

This is my mindset in several subjects. I don't think he quite gets that yet, however, even though it's been explained.

 

DS has pretty much wanted to be a scientist from day 1. He was a delayed reader and writer. He struggled with math. Not too long ago I wondered how in the world he would ever manage a science career with his attitude toward math and his reluctance to write.

 

He started watching MIT open course ware videos a couple of years ago. Most of it he didn't understand but he kept at it, particularly the physics and chemistry videos. Eventually this played into his motivation to apply himself more to his math. When he was doing pre-algebra/algebra he began showing his work at my request, but I know he still didn't even believe there was value to doing so. When he started to take an engineering class and a chemistry class at the high school, his attitude toward math and showing work really changed. The questions contained far too much information for him to keep it all in his head and he did not want to have to redo it all if he made a simple error. Having the applied practice in his science classes reinforced the notion of needing to show his work.

 

Recently DS #2 was working on his algebra and asking about showing his work. DS #1 started talking about his chemistry problems and needing to keep track of all the data, etc. Then DS #1 finished off his mini-lecture by singing out, "Math is Awesome!", a phrase I never thought I'd hear him utter.

 

So, for him, it was an incremental development, fueled by his interest in science.

 

And just as an aside, previously DS has looked at programming books and basically said, "meh, looks boring." In his engineering class they did a bit of programming on a sumo robot and now he is eager to take a computer programming class. For him, the application of the math is what excites him enough to make him work harder at the abstract part.

 

Thank you, I may need to approach this from the science angle. We spent several weeks discussing Einstein and Relativity earlier this year. Some of the higher math went over both of our heads, but the understood the concept, he's a logical kid who understands abstract thinking. He learns so differently from me, and math has been chugging along well until earlier this year.

 

We also read Nature's Numbers earlier this year. I may need some more books like that. Hm, off to see what is buried on my shelves.

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Knowledge of math will only open doors for you in college and beyond. Lack of knowledge will definitely close doors. You need to keep the doors open because you never know what door you will want to walk through in the future, even years down the road.

 

This is the answer I give coupled with the point that people who say they don't use the math they learned beyond a certain level (say prealgebra) in everyday life probably didn't really learn math beyond that level well enough to do so.

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My ds is a why guy? Explaining math previously was easy, we use it everyday, numbers are everywhere. He used to be good at math. It comes easily to him, but he's frustrated. We're in year 2 of algebra and he gets it, he's just annoyed with math. He hates writing down steps, he solves things in his head. We've changed programs a few times, had a hard time finding the right balance between the way I teach and the way he learns. I think we've found the right program finally. We even took a couple week break and ran through some geometry problems, he didn't respond well to those either.

 

He's a right brain leaning learner and does better when he understands the importance of a subject. He's not buying my threadbare reasons for algebra and above. :glare: So how would you address this? Why do you think math is important, not just for schooling but for life?

 

Innumeracy is an excellent book that we should all have on our bookshelves for just this occasion. It does a wonderful job of stating the case for math in our lives.

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This is the answer I give coupled with the point that people who say they don't use the math they learned beyond a certain level (say prealgebra) in everyday life probably didn't really learn math beyond that level well enough to do so.

 

I like this, thank you.

 

Innumeracy is an excellent book that we should all have on our bookshelves for just this occasion. It does a wonderful job of stating the case for math in our lives.

 

Off to check it out, thanks for the recommendation. Thanks, just ordered it.

Edited by elegantlion
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I agree, he's seen the construction issue in previous work with dh. He's very scientific minded, but his disdain for math in the last semester is hindering his desire for science.

 

It might just be that he's 14 :001_smile:. Both of my boys went through a bit of a rebellious phase about their school work when they were in the 9th grade. The work load picks up in high school, yet they were a tad too young to really grasp what it means to their future. At that point, we got through it mostly as an obedience issue -- "Mom says you have to do math, you might not like it, but you have to do it" for awhile until they matured a bit and were able to see the point.

 

Also, once they get into higher science (chemistry & up), they will begin to see the applications of the math (if their math text doesn't have a lot of applications problems).

 

Best wishes,

Brenda

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It might just be that he's 14 :001_smile:. Both of my boys went through a bit of a rebellious phase about their school work when they were in the 9th grade. The work load picks up in high school, yet they were a tad too young to really grasp what it means to their future. At that point, we got through it mostly as an obedience issue -- "Mom says you have to do math, you might not like it, but you have to do it" for awhile until they matured a bit and were able to see the point.

 

Also, once they get into higher science (chemistry & up), they will begin to see the applications of the math (if their math text doesn't have a lot of applications problems).

 

Best wishes,

Brenda

 

This could be too. He's a very compliant child normally. It's easy to get him to help in the kitchen at this age, immediate results. Clean dishes, you eat. Help prepare the food, you eat sooner.

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He'll play Minecraft and spend hours figuring out how many blocks he needs for something (I just remembered these conversations), but if a math problem in a textbook is too hard, I get a whine.

 

 

:lol:

My kids do that with Minecraft as well. Apparently the block height limit will be increased in an upcoming update; this has resulted in an ongoing discussion of new block numbers, etc.

Last week they were sitting at the computer trying to figure out compound interest. Turns out they were planning a minecraft banking system.

 

 

 

 

Richard Feynman is another scientist who has inspired them. Our library has some of his autobiographies and lectures on audio which the kids listen to frequently. Moral issues are also brought up as he worked on the Manhattan Project and was involved in investigating the Space Shuttle Challenger failure.

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:lol:

My kids do that with Minecraft as well. Apparently the block height limit will be increased in an upcoming update; this has resulted in an ongoing discussion of new block numbers, etc.

Last week they were sitting at the computer trying to figure out compound interest. Turns out they were planning a minecraft banking system.

 

 

 

 

Richard Feynman is another scientist who has inspired them. Our library has some of his autobiographies and lectures on audio which the kids listen to frequently. Moral issues are also brought up as he worked on the Manhattan Project and was involved in investigating the Space Shuttle Challenger failure.

 

I kept hearing about the people that recreated the Mines of Moria for the longest time. He built a glass walled house on a beach, a pyramid, a walled city, I'll have to ask him about the increases.

 

I'll look into Feynman as well, thank you.

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