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Math Lessons

Last night, Simon and I sat down to work on math word problems. He was supposed to to learn the following:

  • How to use addition to solve a problem;
  • How to use multiplication to solve a problem;
  • How to combine the two in to solve a multi-step problem.

Instead, he learned this:

  • It’s hard to do math after soccer practice when it’s late and you are tired;
  • Math is doubly hard when you didn’t eat enough dinner;
  • Math is the absolute worst when the person who is supposed to helping you behaves poorly.

In case I am being too subtle here, let me just state baldly that I was a beast last night.

Here’s a sample problem we struggled with: Sally wants to buy two books for $5 each, another for $8, and a third for $4. She has $18 saved up. How much more money does she need to buy the books? Simon quickly answers “$4″

“Great,” I say. “Show me your work.”

“Five times 2 is 10; 10 + 8 + 4 is 22. She needs $4 more dollars.”

“Yes, but what is the final math sentence you did in your head to get that answer?”


“No, 4 is the answer. You had the 22, you had the 18, you figured out the 4. What was the equation?”

“18 + 4 = 22?”

“Simon, are you even listening to me? Four is the answer. NOW MAKE A SENTENCE WHERE YOU HAVE 22 AND 18 AND COME UP WITH 4?”

Perhaps this doesn’t sound so bad. Let me assure you it was bad; monotone, loud, and audibly irritated. What’s more, I had sounded the same or worse on the proceeding 2 questions, where he misread one problem and erroneously added answers together for two different questions in another. For whatever reason, all of Simon’s math sense flew out of his brain last night, he couldn’t get anything right, and I was completely irritated at and out of patience with him.

There were tears, and he didn’t want me to be the one to tuck him in last night. So while Matt took care of bedtime duty, I washed up the dishes and faced up to some home truths. Namely:

  • I would never have treated another student like I did Simon;
  • I would be angry at any teacher who talked to him the way I did;
  • I would have been devastated myself if someone had treated me the same way I did him.
  • It was late and he was tired. I had set him up to fail.

Oof. Today we had to finish the sheet as part of Simon’s homework. This time we did it soon after coming home from school, and today he didn’t have soccer practice. Before we ever started, I sat him down, apologized for how I treated him last night, and promised that tonight I would be his helper and give him the patience and respect he deserves.

We were set up for success from the beginning, and indeed Simon knocked out the problems with ease and with no help needed from me. Today he learned how to set up and solve multi-step problems, how to combine addition and multiplication in the same problem, and that sometimes adults behave poorly and have to apologize themselves. Somehow, I think that last lesson might be the most important one of all.


One Response to “Math Lessons”

  1. goldsteinrita says:

    Don’t beat yourself up. You are one of the best moms I have ever seen. We all have our bad moments that we wish we could do over.

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