SO NOW I had a page full of word problems which I really hadn't figured out how to solve in a coherent manner, and now I had to solve it using x and equations, which I barely understood at this point.
I was pretty desperate. This was before the internet so you couldn't just go online and Google up a tutorial. I remembered my childhood friend, Arthur, two years my senior and studying in another school. Arthur was always winning math contests here and there so I thought he could really help me.
I called him up, explained my situation and he asked me right then to read him one of the problems, which I did. Then he told me to write some stuff down, never mind if I didn't understand it at that point. Then he explained to me what I had just written down, and how it related to the problem. And as I was listening to him, and looking at the problems, and looking at the solution, understanding slowly dawned on me.
To this day, I cannot explain how it happened. One minute, I was a confused mess staring at a bunch of number problems, coin problems, speed problems, work problems and so on. The next minute, I was seeing them in a new light, suddenly understanding how to translate the sentences into equations, then solving for the ever elusive x.
It was like magic.
Arthur walked me through some more problems but this time, I was writing things ahead of him and checking with him if what I had done was correct. He made some minor corrections here and there but at that moment, I understood what it was all about, and the difference was like night and day.
When we had our next class, I was surprised to find out that I was the only one who had answered all word problems correctly. I always thought there were people in class who were miles ahead of me. I mean, I would frequently be in the top 10 list since my elementary days but I was never at the top 5 or thereabouts, so I always felt I wasn't as smart as some other people who would frequently be in those spots.
My teacher noticed the difference that day it seemed she looked at me in a new way. I was eager to prove to myself that I had really understood this. I attacked the next problem set with glee, mostly solving it on my own now. I still called Arthur for pointers, especially on new types of problems, but I had things mostly figured out now.
It was amazing how that understanding of word problems led to my understanding of almost all the other aspects of algebra that I found difficult before. I made sense of simplifying expressions, factoring, and so on, and I think it was even at this point when I stopped counting on my fingers when multiplying 7x8. I started getting high scores in quizzes and exams.
A few short months later, my teacher selected me and a bunch of others to join the city wide Math Olympiad, competing with other schools. To my great surprise, I finished second place over all.
I felt good. I felt confident. I felt like a rock star.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.