The “M” Word

By Lenore Balliro, Director of Programs, First Literacy 

I had the great pleasure of observing a recent two-session workshop at First Literacy called Math Instruction for High School Equivalency: De-mystifying Algebra for the Math Phobic. I should say that the pleasure part kicked in after my fear and trembling subsided. The highly skilled facilitator, Marilyn Ginberg, shared hands-on approaches for teaching algebra with other math teachers who are helping their students prepare for the HiSet test. Pairs of teachers assembled timelines, played with math vocabulary and symbols, and worked out equations. They talked about the distributive property and parabolas. I was daunted by, and ashamed of, the gaps in my own knowledge base around math: what I didn’t remember and what I was never taught. I have always hovered around words, not numbers. A rekindled empathy kicked in for adult students who feel stupid and blocked from learning new material. Even when Marilyn said, “You are not stupid,” I sure felt that way in the company of these skilled math peeps. Because I was an observer, I could float, and I found myself jotting down mathematical vocabulary in terms of metaphors I could use in my poetry writing. Dilation. Congruent transformations. Amplification. And, of course, parabola. I came away from the workshop determined to challenge myself by revisiting math concepts and problem solving. Marilyn pointed out to me, as she does to her students, “You know more math than you think you know.”  I’ll take her word for it and forge on. After I have written a poem about parabolas.

Interested in learning more about changing the way you think about math? Read this wonderful article by Tonya Mosley at WBURChanging Your Math ‘Mindset’ Can Boost Your Math Performance