Thursday, October 10, 2013

"Well, you're a numbers guy."

Actually, no, I'm not. I'm not very good at arithmetic and the very idea of statistics (beyond high school level) makes me queasy. I find the theory of numbers fascinating, but that's not the same thing as being a "numbers guy".

The assumption made by many of my students and most of the people I meet and a lot of the folks that I interact with daily is that I love everything to do with numbers because I teach math. The numbers part of math is what I find the most boring and mundane. It's the ideas that count. The ideas, the concepts are amazing. The numbers? Hate them.

And maybe it's not really so much the numbers as it is the assumption that I both love and excel at arithmetic. I don't. When the check comes when I'm out to dinner with friends, someone always glances my way like I'm supposed to jump at the chance to perform some feat of computation. I routinely joke that I don't do arithmetic on the weekend. Mostly I'm trying to save myself the embarrassment of getting the answer wrong. Then I'll have to endure the taunts of, "You're a math teacher and you can't divide 102 by 7?" You know what? I can't. And I'm OK with that. Somehow, I've managed to graduate from college, get a series of teaching jobs at both secondary and post-secondary levels, acquire a master's degree (in math) and get so close to the completion of a doctorate (in education) that I can almost taste it and I can't do a lot of mental math. But I can help kids learn the ideas that really make up math and let them know that it's OK to suck at arithmetic if you understand the underlying concepts. We have machines that are much better at computations than humans will ever be. But those machines are pretty bad at identifying similarities and creating analogies. That's where a person comes in.

1 comment:

  1. I'm stealing the "It's the weekend; I'm off-duty" line, Mike. Seriously, though, finding 15% -- 10% plus half of that -- should not be seen as magic.

    When I used to hand out papers to a row/group in my classroom, I'd usually be off by one. Kids used to tease me about it as if having a degree in mathematics meant that I was really good at counting. Told 'em I took Counting 101 at university once or twice and barely passed.