I WASN’T a bad math student. I had a pretty good understanding of it in my elementary years, but I wasn’t that fast in operations. I had trouble memorizing the multiplication table at the higher digits. If you asked me to do 8x7 for example, I would still have to tick off the multiples of 8 on my fingers: 8, 16, 24...and so on until I got to my seventh finger, then write down the answer -- I would do that all the way till high school.
I remember that at the start of every year since around grade 4 or 5, I would have trouble remembering how to perform certain operations like adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing fractions and decimals, or how to get the least common denominator (LCD) and how that was different from getting the greatest common factor (GCF).
Despite that, I was chosen to be one of a handful of “math-gifted” students in sixth grade though I didn’t really feel all that gifted. Looking back now, they must have been pretty desperate. We were asked to cut short our lunch break and come in 30 minutes earlier for special lectures on advanced topics. Again, looking back, was that really a reward or punishment for being “gifted”?
I don’t remember much from those classes except that I struggled to keep up and that it highlighted what I hated most about math -- word problems. In all my elementary years, I never understood how to solve a word problem. There was no step 1, 2, 3 to it. At least when multiplying fractions, as long as you memorize the steps, you had a pretty good chance of getting the right answer.
But word problems frustrated me.
Oh I would occasionally get them right but I never felt confident with them and I dreaded seeing them in quizzes or exams. No matter how I studied, I couldn’t prepare for a word problem. Thankfully, teachers didn’t make exams full of word problems, and so I survived elementary mathematics.
Then came high school and the start of algebra. Oh my, here I was trying to remember how to properly multiply decimals and subtract fractions, and now I have to deal with x, y and z, and sometimes a, b and c as well? But given some time, I was able to make some sense of the algebraic rules although factoring left me confused for a good long while, especially quadratic square trinomials.
Somehow, I survived freshman algebra. Now on to my sophomore year.
We began with a review of the basics, how to perform operations with variables, the laws of exponents, and so on. Shortly after that, we were introduced to equations, and then our teacher handed us a page of homework to do over the weekend.
When I got the page, I was terrified. It was full of word problems.
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