Re: Multiplication Tables

stiobhard (
Wed, 8 Jan 1997 10:08:41 -0600 (CST)

In message Tue, 07 Jan 1997 23:51:55 +0000, Tina <> writes:

> Hi Dale and everyone!
> Since we just "finished" the "Multiplication Table" today with my
> 3rd grader son, I'd like to respond.
> My son enjoys handling money, earning it, spending it, adding it up
> and anything that has to do with it. So Math makes sense to him,
> because it is part of his everyday life.
> The Math book that I am using in school is a German Mathbook. All
> of its Math is based on "why on earth should we know this?"

i would be interested in having a citation for this book for future
reference...i dont know how easy it would be to get in the u.s. but one can
only try. (even inter-library-service is absolutely pathetic when i was
trying to get textbooks from ireland...fortunately i found an excellent
bookstore in new york city that fulfills that need)

this brings up another question too. when i was in school i never had much
luck with math. i never had a math (or a science) teacher who i learned
anything from. they all tried to beat it in to me and regardless of all the
hoops they had us jump through in explanation it always seemed a bunch of
gobbledygook. (a friend once asked why an art person , meaning me, would
have such a problem with abstract thinking...) and this continues to be an
obstacle for me.

at one point i was going to go into linguistics. and its true studying
linguistics and the variety, structure and sound of language is something
that is very dear to my heart. on a number of occasions i did extremely
well with it. but as soon as i got into my first upper level course..which
was phonetics. it was different. i really wanted to study phonetics, there
were things about that field that i had a real curiosity to understand. i had
spent the entire previous semester reading every general text that i could
find on seemed time for me to take a course in the subject
and i saw no reason why i would not do well with it. but from the word go
i did not under stand a single word of it. it did not even slightly
resemble all the material that i had read previously. it was all math and
science stuff that i did not understand at all.
all this technical stuff about anatomy and the physics of sound to day
after day of crunching numbers on a computer based on sound wave diagrams
that didnt seem to explain or prove anything...aand werent very readable
either. i finally bailed out of this class long after the drop date and have had little cause to look
back. i became determined that the university was set on making me fail at
everything that was truly important to me. (unfortunately this was not the
last time they did this...)

again and again i had trouble with the straight math courses, and even a
physics for the scientifically-challenged course i was in seemed nearly
impossible. on a few occasions i managed to run away and visit my dad, who
unfortunately did not live any closer. but he was a math wiz in school.
the two of us could not be more unalike in this respect. he loved math and
carried on with it by becoming an architect. i briefly thought about
architecture myself since i loved art but was put off by the math
requirements so i went on to other things, but to this day in pursuing
history and politics and art, my interest in architecture comes out in ways
that often seems uncharcteristic for liberal arts people. a story that my
grandmother has told many times is that my dad's teachers had said that what
makes his pursuit of math so extraordinary, is that he does not just know
the numbers and the rules for how to get from a to b. but my dad
understands how and why it all works. as a result, anytime he tried to
explain any mathematical point to me no matter how out there it might be,
it made perfect sense. listening to him was like listening to fairy
stories. it just seemed so obvious and so clear after i got his slant on things. to
this day i ask, why couldnt i get a math teacher like that??

there is one exception to this experience. there was one approach that i
found actually worked for me. but on the two occasions that i was exposed to
it, the teacher scoffed and put this down as useless, irrelevant and not
even very interesting. i wanted to wring their necks!! the one time we find
something that works, for once i was actually excited and engaged by math
and for once it all made sense to me and i understood it all. and she says
this is worthless!! if anything put me off it was this. what it was, was to
explain the concepts of math through the history of the important people
who discovered the various key points. i couldnt do algebra or geometry at
all, but if you told me about the rennaissance, and decartes and newton and
copernicus and gallileo and so on. i was excited by that, and it was easy
to grasp. and in the process i got the substance of their important
ideas. but that was useless. oh sorry i forgot, may we go back to things
i have had no luck with now, please? this approach came up twice... once
in a textbook we used in college that had sidebars throughout the book on
important people in the history of mathematics, which our teacher advised us
to ignore...snuffing the one bright point in an otherwise painful class.
the other was a film we saw in high school called the magical mystery
tour of math or something like that. and fascinating though it was, our
teacher appoligised profusely for wasting our time with this boring
nonsense and went back to showing us how to fill out a tax return.

the one other story that occurs to me on this point, is two math graduate
students from boston i knew at berkeley. they loved their field, and
would entertain us at their house with the latest math related puzzle, or
game or magic trick. they also took on themselves as their personal quest
to meet head on anyone who spoke badly about math... and show them how
wonderful it could be. i met them because they were teaching a class in the
evening in rennaissance dances. it was a struggle for me also but i
honestly enjoyed the pursuit of the subject. and i have carried the
experience of that class with me in every class that i have taken since.

well i hope these comments are useful to this discussion.

****Was lange gaert,wird endlich Tuwat****