The ultimate mission for The MathRoom is to provide a webspace devoted to discussing, tutoring, exchanging and learning math so that every teacher, student & devotee of mathematics who visits the site, can smile and say
We live in a world ruled by numbers -- yet our societies condemn illiteracy, but condone innumeracy! (used here to mean lack of math skills) It's not only sad, it's dangerous and self-destructive. It's time we do away with the myth that mathematics is exclusively for geniuses and statisticians. The down and dirty, honest to goodness truth is that we all need and use math every moment of our lives. The three basic units of measurement in your life and mine are pulse rate, time and money -- all of them have to do with math. The microsecond you leave your mother's body to enter this world -- we start with the numbers. We count fingers and toes -- weigh you, measure you -- write the date and time of birth on an official document and file it under an alphanumeric code.
But since most folks find mathematical concepts beyond multiplication impossible to grasp, we accept innumeracy as the norm -- while showing great respect and reverence for the few "math brainiacs" among us. The attitude is: "It's okay to be a math dummy -- everybody else is too -- it makes me a regular guy." And the "dummiest" attitude of all -- "What do I need to know math for?? I'll hire an accountant." Yeah talk to the former employees and investors at Enron and all the other victims of accounting fraud disasters in recent times.
Here's an excerpt from an e-mail I received from "Monster Pig" -- a kindred spirit who performs with an entertainment troupe on cruise ships throughout the world. This is what he wrote after his first visit to The MathRoom.
I don't know anything about math, and to be honest(I know you're not gonna like reading this but.....) I never was interested in maths. But travelling in your mathroom makes me want to learn maths. I simply LOVE the way you talk to us. The way you explain things. The images in your texts are so clear and colorfull. I LOVE IT!
I clicked the "reply" button and wrote this line:
"Now you're telling me lies"and I went on to explain to Monster Pig that he couldn't be a good musician if he didn't know anything about math. Music is the sound of math..... blah, blah, blah ...
So why are we in the current state?
For many reasons -- the chief one being the myth -- but also -- the stringent discipline and formality that usually accompanies the presentation of mathematics. It gets so BORING!! Only an egghead could read more than 3 lines without falling asleep. One math book by your bedside and you never need Sominex again. Right?
Well, it doesn't have to be that way. Math can be fun, exciting, stimulating and most of all relevant in every aspect of our lives -- including bowling, driving and music production --
In 1984, after a horrendous strike, I resigned from the college where I'd taught math for 15 years because I needed a break from the indifference of "educational" administrators. As I was preparing to depart on a solo drive across Canada, I ran into one of my former students at the mall. We talked for a moment and when I said I was no longer teaching math, she said this to me:
"of all your talents, the greatest is your ability
to make people laugh while you teach them calculus."
I didn't agree with her since I think my greatest talent is maintaining a reasonable facsimile of sanity in this world full of Barbarians -- however -- she was right about one thing. Laughing students are the finest, fastest, most willing learners of all. And too few math teachers have made their students laugh. A great majority have done exactly the opposite. I had a math prof at McGill whose stock answer to any question a student posed was: "that's trivial". It's an arrogant brush off instead of a lesson -- and it should be unacceptable behaviour for any educator! At the end of the semester, we gave him a gift -- a large rubber ink stamp with -- TRIVIAL -- on it.
So the chief mission of The MathRoom is in the slogan: Math for the Masses in the MathRoom. It's time to debunk the myth that math is hard to understand because it's really the easiest thing in the world -- a language with no exceptions -- much easier than either French or English. And, as proven time and again by math teachers such as Stephen Leacock and Tom Lehrer -- learning math can be tons of fun. When Leacock lectured in economics at McGill, his students had to show up 30 minutes early for the course if they wanted to get in. His lecture halls were filled with audiences -- not classes -- and most often the entire room ended up rolling in the aisles in a state of hilarious abandon. You may not reach hilarity in The MathRoom but you'll definitely find the math more entertaining than you ever thought it could be.
A secondary mission is to bring much needed help to the high school math students currently in Québec -- who are burdened with "lovely-to-look-at" but "next-to-useless" textbooks, and a ministry of education that keeps changing not only the course content, but some of our universally accepted mathematical truths such as "zero is neither positive nor negative". In Québec these days, under the current regime, students are taught that zero is both positive and negative at the same time. Reminds me of the Woody Allen film "Bananas" in which the new dictator gets to make arbitrary rules that apply only within the regime. This same government of course, offers no update training or support -- "formation" as they call it -- to the teachers who are struggling to maintain order in classrooms full of 30 or more animated teenagers. You do the math!
Tutoring is a booming business throughout the world since our school systems have grown beyond the size of sustainability, so they are rotten at the core -- like an oversized potato. We still pay our teachers like chumps but expect them to teach our kids everything they need to know -- in a world where knowledge doubles every 8 years or less -- in the same amount of time that the last 3 generations spent learning a fraction of the current course content. And to help these poor teachers out -- what do we do? Saddle them with text books filled with expensive color photos but very little math. It's nuts!
So, the wealthy pay $50 to $60 an hour to 5 or 6 different private tutors every week to get their kids through high school and into good colleges, and the not-wealthy abandon hope and drop out. My lifetime career as a math teacher, tutor, author, editor and publisher has been aimed at satisfying a persistent addiction of mine. I have never experienced anything as personally satisfying or fulfilling as the vision of a student's face, after a tough exam in differential calculus -- when that face says "Wow -- I did great on that exam! I really know my stuff! I'm smart enough to do math!" I need to see that look -- on lots of smiling, satisfied faces -- even if those faces are in cyberspace.
The wonder of the Internet allows worldwide publishing without arborcide (the killing of trees). It allows the author to sidestep the clumsy printshop employee who drops the manuscript, then collates it in the wrong order, or the Staples guy who collates 12 copies missing 2 pages.... and you don't have to keep replacing the damn cartridge! So The MathRoom is now Online with MathRoom Services and Lessons on topics in high school and junior college math courses, with examples and practice to help the cyber-babies on their road to wiping out innumeracy.
More folks than I can count, in the strangest of situations have said to me:
"If you were my math teacher, I'd be good at math."
With the Internet and this site -- I can be your math teacher and more importantly, with a little effort, discipline and efficiency, you can be good at math!
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( all content of the MathRoom Lessons © Tammy the Tutor; 2002 - 2006 )