Math has been my enemy.
You’d think I’d like it because Baba’s a physicist with a Ph.D. in applied mathematics and Mama was a physics major and computer programmer way back in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. But he did physics to please his father when he would have rather studied politics. She was a Chinese immigrant who could speak the language of math and science when English was difficult.
Growing up, Mama often intoned, “Math and science is the way to make it in the world! All my English and Political Science major friends ended up as secretaries and selling shoes.”
But math always felt like an enemy to be conquered rather than a friend to be embraced. And with my parents, I had no choice but to conquer it.
So I learned Geometry in Chinese (math that needs literacy!) when Baba took a sabbatical in Beijing during my 9th grade. When he moved us again 2nd semester of 11th grade, with the help of a math genius friend, I crammed a semester’s worth of Advanced Math into my brain in a week (my new class repeated all the material I’d learned first semester but the final was on the material I’d never covered). I got a 97 on the final, losing 3 points because of a subtraction mistake. Senior year I somehow scored a 4 on my AP Calculus test after getting a D- for my first quarter of Calculus (where I found that missing a whole semester of Advanced math had consequences).
Having vanquished high school math, I went to college and never did math again. . . unless you consider statistics math–it felt uncomfortably similar. In my last grad-level stats class, the professor asserted we were learning stats 85% of working sociologists did not understand. I joined that 85% despite taking the class.
Sadly, my kids have inherited my enemy relationship with math.
And I’ve somehow inherited my parents’ obsession that math is central to their futures. Because if you don’t get 6th grade math, you won’t get 7th or 8th grade math, which means you’ll never get through high school math. Not mastering high school math just might mean you won’t make it to college.
Enter the Khan Academy.
Sal Khan, a MIT/Harvard grad and hedge fund manager began tutoring his cousin in math online. As other relatives wanted in, he created Youtube videos that became so popular he quit his job and founded the Khan Academy, which now boasts over 3100 video tutorials in math, science, finance, and now even arts and humanities. Clickhere to hear Stephen Colbert interview him. Or listen to Sal describe his inspiring vision (20 minutes but well worth it):
After hearing about the Khan Academy on NPR and reading about it everywhere, I’ve hounded my kids to use the resource. 2 weeks ago, one finally did. I sat with him asSal took us through the angle game, and we were off!
Tuesday he asked me to watch Khan Academy with him for our weekly special time. We learned about probability, something despite 3 graduate level stats classes, I’ve never understood that well.
I love it! I love that Sal explains things with humor, a little dorkiness, and can draw a quarter with a reasonable facsimile of George Washington. The Khan Academy has become part of my son’s daily regime. I’m thinking of asking him to go to the beginning (basic addition) and work through it all this summer.
Maybe with Sal’s help, math might become our friend, or even better, lover.
This first appeared on What She Said