Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Middle School Is Hard (or The Math Post No One Will Read)

I just spent the past 75 minutes trying to help my daughter understand this math problem:

Jared normally jogs at 5 miles per hour. He decides to jog to his friend Dave's house. He gets there in 18 minutes. How far away does Dave live?

I did a quick mental estimate so I would know the ballpark answer and also so I wouldn't look stupid in front of my kid ("okay...18 minutes is nearly a third of an hour, a little less than a third of 5 is..oh shit..what's a third of five?...okay...so it'll be close to 1.5. I think"). I then FOOLISHLY decided this would be a great time to teach Stella Algebra! I think I just got excited because I was really doing Algebra and I understood it so much better than in 7th grade! I turned the numbers into fractions and explained how hours and hours canceled each other out and minutes and minutes canceled each other out so the the only variable left was miles (the X for which we had already solved). Stella almost started crying. Oh shit. DUH MOM! Of course she's not ready to think about it in terms of fractions. Fractions suck when you're in 6th grade. I erased the complicated equation (at this point I was starting to confuse myself) and took each section of the problem apart. I had her put the math book away and close her eyes. Then I explained, in practical terms, the concept behind miles per hour and minutes in hours and solving for distance. We got elemental and built up from there, making it a story ("Okay you're driving a sports car 160 miles an hour but you only drive for 15 minutes, how far have you gone?")...until she understood the relationship between all the numbers and what they represented and was solving the hypothetical problems in her head. I hope she gets it now. I think she does. I think I do too.

How would you have explained this problem?

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