Sunday night I attended a workshop with company members of Green T Productions, to bring them up to speed on the discussions Kathy Welch (Green T Artistic Director) and I have been having about the “History of Calculus” project. I was afraid that the company members would find the topic dry or not see any connections to their lives, but they were very articulate about their history with math. It seemed to call up some pretty deep feelings, too. One common theme was that a move between schools could seriously disrupt math learning – either you’d be thrown in at the deep end of material you’d never seen before, or you’d be rehashing stuff you mastered two years ago in the school you came from. No two school systems seemed to agree about what a third grader, a sixth grader, an eighth grader should know.
The stories reminded me of some of my own experiences with disruptions in math learning, which I haven’t thought about in a while. Midway through second grade, I was skipped into third grade. The school year that I missed evidently included long division, which I had to try to figure out on the fly (and which I still suck at). In – I think – eleventh grade, I was skipped from the first half of (I think) Algebra II into the second half of Pre-Calculus. My very first day in Pre-Cal, there was a quiz. “Just give it a try,” said the teacher, who was a kindly man. “It won’t count toward your grade.” I still remember the near-to-tears feeling of looking at that quiz and having Absolutely. No. Idea. what the questions were even asking.
Dislocations and frustrations like this seem to be common math experiences – which tells me we are on to something, here.