After reading about this week’s “tinkering”, “hard play”, and “growth mindset”, I couldn’t help thinking how I could “tinker” in Algebra? I’ve read many articles about the difficulties students have learning such abstract material. I seem to have a knack for it, and there are others that succeed in this subject. But why? One of my colleagues said it best, I think, the other day. He stated that he feels students who are successful in Algebra seem to be good at following algorithms. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of algebra is “a generalization of arithmetic in which letters representing numbers are combined according to the rules of arithmetic”. It’s right there in the definition, “rules”. Algebra is just following rules! Like a game.
Well, I have tried to teach it in this way, but there seems to be a disconnect with students that don’t see it as a game, or just following rules. As soon as they see “solve for x”, they freeze. I see the same question, but my mind goes crazy to “play the game”. I can’t wait to see how this game will end. There could be several “ways” to win, but there is an end goal. I suppose I have a growth mindset, and engage in hard play. I don’t know why I am like this. There are quite literally many “rules” to follow to play this game of Algebra. It doesn’t help if you forget the rules because you won’t be able to “win”. I have always thought that to be good in Algebra, you needed an excellent memory to remember the rules of play. But it’s more than that. I suppose you need the motivation to solve a problem. You have to have that growth mindset that allows you to tell yourself “I can do this!” I find it difficult to praise students if they don’t remember the rules of Algebra. I find myself reminding students that they could use this rule, or that one. I try to probe what students can remember about the procedures, and encourage trying. But 95% of the time, the students who struggle will continue to struggle and despite my encouragement, they will say “I’m no good at math!”
I suppose the million dollar question is how do you “tinker” in Algebra? I wish I could show students the beauty of mathematics. There is math everywhere. The world and universe follow mathematical principles. If you have a chance to see the following documentary, please do so. It’s called The Great Math Mystery by NOVA. It’s incredible.
It is my goal to show and teach the beauty of mathematics. But it all starts with Algebra!