Sunday, February 22, 2015

Homework with Sam

How long since you've done long division?  Me too.  I usually just pull out my iphone.  Or guess.  And so far, it's worked pretty well for me.

I often found math in school boring - I mean, once you've grasped the concept why keep droning on?  Let's move on, people.  There's lots more interesting stuff out there.

One evening not long ago, my friend Sam rang the doorbell.  He is in fourth grade.  His mom and sister were doing mom and sistery things, and they were taking too long, so he brought his long division to me.

It was an act of faith.  I have not done long division since the invention of the calculator, that thing we used before phones became so smart.  But I was not going to let my friend down, so I had him explain it to me (we did not have all those little boxes for placeholders; we did not have to be so obsessive anal precise in just exactly how we showed our work.)  (And by the way, "showing our work" is a euphemism for "let's make it easier for the teacher to figure out I probably didn't cheat".) 

But I digress.  Surprise.

So Sam and I got some scratch paper (remember paper?) 
and worked things out, and it came back surprisingly fast, along with the smell of floor wax and stale lunchroom sandwiches.  

We used scratch paper so we could figure out how to:
1. solve the problem, and
2. put it in the teacher-approved format.

Do I sound snarky?  I had a very lazy middle school math teacher who gave us a box of cards and told us to work at our own pace.  From addition to algebra.  I could do the last cards, the really hard ones, and they were interesting.  But you had to do the first cards first, and I was not interested in doing first grade addition.   Or subtraction.  I already know how to do it, all he had to do was look at my grades to see that.  I didn't see the point.   So I went to the library and read instead.  

I learned a great deal about early American history, and the Curies, Pierre and Marie.  About how if you read several biographies of the same person they often contradict each other. And about lazy teachers.  

The next year the principal intervened, and I got to write complicated schedules for school-wide events, and I learned a lot more math doing that than I had the year before.

Sam caught on really fast - he is a whiz at math.  And he also didn't understand why he had to do dozens of long division problems when he's got it.

I wonder what's next.  I wonder if he will love algebra as much as I did - and do.  I wonder if he will zone out - as I did - because he can tune back in and catch up and not stick around for the droning on bits.  I wonder what will catch his interest, what he will study in college.  

But right now?  I am happy to have some time with Sam.  Even if it means doing long division again.

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