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“Good” at Math

August 12, 2012

As I am thinking through what to say to my students on the first day of school, one thing I definitely want to address is the notion that I’ve seen a lot of students hold. Too many students have either been convinced (or have convinced themselves) that they are not “good at math” and therefore don’t think they will be successful in my class. What I want to convince them is that at the level we are working, “good at math” doesn’t come into play. Here’s what I mean (and this is probably what I would say):

One of my friends likes to swim for exercise. Suppose one day she says, “I’m not going to swim anymore. I will never be as fast as Michael Phelps, so I must not be good at swimming.” Sounds crazy, right?

Yes, some people are innately better at math than others. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be good at Geometry. When someone tells me that he can’t do math, it usually turns out that he just wasn’t taught (or didn’t learn) the fundamentals correctly. To go back to my swimming analogy, it’s as if you say you aren’t any good at swimming, but you’d been taught to put lead weights on before you got in the pool.

I’m not saying that the class will be easy, but if you find yourself having trouble, do something about it–ask for help; don’t just sit there and say that it’s because you aren’t good at math.

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