Math needs to be learned in a small, safe place


Learner: Is it...  Can it really be this easy?
Me: Yep.
Learner: *sniffle* I wish... I mean.  Back in school and everybody said... and I thought I was really bad at math....

"I have something to show you," my co-worker said, chewing salad around her words and heading for the white board.  I wasn't quite paying attention because I was trying to get a hot English muffin out of the toaster.


"Do you know how to use algebra to turn a repeating decimal into a fraction?"

"Ow! Ouch! Hot! What? No. What are you talking about?"

And this, sadly, is what suppertime has come to. Once, it was a few learner-free moments during which we could exchange pleasantries, catch up on gossip, complain about the government, mock our elders, or just eat quietly. Alas, no more. Now it's all about poorly chewed food and whatever new bit of math we just figured out.

It started - I forget how - last December.  I know because mid-month I sent myself an email (hastily typed) of remarks she made as we were pondering the use of quadratics in geometry and how, exactly, we had turned into math geeks:
That is why I love small groups. Because I want to be comfortable admitting that I don't know something…. I want to learn. I just don't want to learn in an environment where I'm uncomfortable showing what I don't know…. The last little while, when you throw something at me, I think "This math isn't so scary anymore" or "I'm not going to let it be scary" or something.
Math in a small, safe place.

Nor are we alone in feeling surprised to be enjoying math. It is a thing that happens to our learners as well. "Math kicks my butt," said one last week or the week before.

Feeling discouraged today? I asked.

"Yeah. Sort of."

"Well...  make it an easy day," I suggested. "Do something you're already good at. What are you good at? Social Studies? Science?"

(pause) (sigh) "Fractions."

And yet.

And yet.

None of this has diminished the happenstance of people, approaching their scheduled GED write, becoming nauseous or bursting into tears over math.

I guess that's because the GED test is not a small, safe place.

I have no idea what to do about that.


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