The Math Muscle

 There are some remarkable analogies between getting strong and getting smart. In many ways, they serve to highlight what a good math program should look like.  Seeing as working out is so familiar, and math class is seemingly so foreign to so many, I think it makes sense to shed light on the topic from this angle.

What happens if you work out for nine months and then spend ten weeks on the couch?  

This is what happens every summer (in math terms.)  Luckily, kids are still developing in other ways, so overall they’re at least not getting dumber.  They’ll develop socially, physically, and linguistically.  They’ll be significantly better at their favorite video games.  But the math muscle atrophies.  

What would happen if you worked out just one time per week instead of taking 10 full weeks off?

It kills me how much better kids could get overall if they just didn’t lose all that over the summer.

What would happen if you worked out for two and a half months then took one full month off?

Welcome to Christmas break.  Same story.

How many pull ups do I have to do to have a stronger squat?

Math is made of several subdisciplines.  There’s plenty of overlap, but don’t expect nine months of algebra to do anything for your geometry muscle.  Or visa versa.

When I get students ready for the SAT, most of what I cover was already presented to them in Algebra 1 two or three years earlier.

If my grade depends on how much I can bench press, what exercise(s) should I do?

BENCH PRESS.  Then BENCH PRESS more.  Maybe include some variations on the bench press like changing angles, weights, or speed.

If you want to do well on the SAT- don’t go back through your algebra book!  Do practice SAT tests.  Vary things like the time you give yourself to complete a question, or the difficulty of the questions.  Maybe try to go fast enough so you just finish the last problem as time runs out.  Or try disregarding time altogether and make certain you understand all the moving parts of each question.

If I can squat X pounds, how much should I be able to deadlift?

There’s a correct balance between what the muscles of the body should be able to do in relation to each other.  When that balance is disrupted (say, by only doing squats and neglecting other exercises) injuries tend to occur.  

This is where testing is important.  Testing allows us to objectively find out what is weak and what is strong.  Then we adjust our training (studying) accordingly.  

Johnny can squat 400 pounds, I can only squat 200.  What’s wrong with me?

There’s nothing wrong, and there’s nothing you should change based on what Johnny can do.  Testing to compare students is stupid.  It’s also inevitable when we give them grades the way we currently do.  We’ve got to be careful how we approach tests and grades.  Maybe we shouldn’t give kids the results of tests at all… Maybe we should grade them on their effort, integrity, what they contribute to the team (classroom), or any number of things more important than the results of a test.

How much do I need to squat to be successful in life?

My answer should be obvious by now.  

If your child is currently prepping for the SAT (or anything else), take a deep breath and remind yourself everything is going to be OK.  

If your child has low grades, find the life lesson in it.  Then let it go…

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