Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Math Homework

I'm not quite sure why math homework is such a catalyst for visceral anger. John is good at math -- he routinely tests well on it, enjoys reading "The Number Devil" and other math books, and generally has an OK grasp on things such as estimating. But when he's learning a new concept -- such as long division two months ago, and length conversions this week -- it's like drilling a well deep into his store of viking rage.

Here is a typical escalation:

I'm washing dishes. John is at the table doing homework. Maia is either coloring or doing her own math worksheet I've printed off the computer (honestly, sometimes I feel like she does this to bug John).

John: Sigghhhh....grooaaaannn...Um. Mom. Mom, can you come help me?

Me (wiping hands off): Sure, whatcha got?

John: (Sighs again.) I don't get it.

Me: What don't you get?

John: This! All of it! That! I don't GET it.

Me: What number are you on?

John (grips pencil tightly, stares at table, presses lips together): NUMBER. SIX.

Me: OK. You've got 11 feet, and you need to figure out how many inches it is.

John: I know that! I just....RRRRGH! I JUST DON'T GET IT! NARRRRRRGHHHHHH MUST DEFEAT OUTRAGEOUS HORROR OF MOTHER TRYING TO TEACH ME MAAAATHHHHHHH! RRRRRRRAAAAAAAAAWWWWWRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!

Well, that's what it feels like, anyway. I send him outside to walk it off. I go back to washing dishes. He comes back. We try again. We get a little farther until he insists his teacher told him that when you're converting feet to inches you divide by 12. And so on. Tears. Peevish comments. Erasing and re-erasing. Wet, gurgly sniffs. Until finally, he's multiplying by 12s in his head. He converts yards to inches. After supper, he tells us he read that it takes 20 football fields for a loaded train to stop ("No shit," I can see Matt thinking). I ask him how many feet that is, and he stands, looking at the ceiling, and comes up with the answer.

Then it's OK.

4 comments:

  1. Ben's learning long division now. It frustrates him and he needs to be coached through nearly every step of every problem to avoid either a meltdown or an F on the homework. And then! He doesn't listen, doesn't focus, when I'm trying to help him work through it. Dawdles just long enough to forget both the number he's supposed to write down and where he's supposed to write it.

    Gah.

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  2. Poor John. I feel his pain. I remember weeping over my algebra homework in middle school, and then my mom cried because she didn't get it, either, and she felt bad that she couldn't help me, and there we would sit, bawling over stupid Xs and Ys.

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  3. This blog is about issues like the one you write about here. I'm betting that you already do this intuitively but thought you might enjoy reading about the power of the psychological and emotional background of it.

    http://www.6seconds.org/blog/2009/04/15/changing-from-war-to-peace-at-home.html

    Love your writing.

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  4. Cy, thanks for the link (and the kind comments!) -- that blog post at the link reminds me of the book "How To Talk So Your Kids Will Listen and Listen So Your Kids Will Talk," which I recommend to everyone (and have found John reading). Sometimes it's so easy to fall into the trap of pushing each other's buttons.

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