gardening, diving and math

Posted on May 10, 2015


So, I have dug holes and planted a dozen tomato plants.

Usually I plant four or so but they were giving htem away yesterday — the unsold orphans of the plant sale at Common Ground Food Coop.

I don’t know how to garden.  My neighbors nearby do.  I wondered whether my attempts caused them pain (in the way somebody saying “irregardless” irks grammarians).  I wondered if they got the urge to teach me lessons.

That brought my mind back to my seventeenth summer, when I was a lifeguard at a small apartment pool with one of those teeny diving boards (in Maryland, you have to have lifeguards… it’s a great “first job”).

I decided I was going to learn to do a flip.   I tried and tried and tried and tried and tried and tried and tried and I kept smacking the back of my thighs.

A man approached the diving board and informed me that I needed to spring into the air before I did that turnover thing. (I had even gone into the shallow end to practice flipping to see how fast I could do it.)   A few pointers and… unlearning what I had been doing and… yes.   I could do a flip and get all the way around and get my feet in the water.

And the next day, to my abject joy, I *could* still remember to jump in the air first and then flip.

To all you fine fine folks who think we Just Don’t Let Our Students Struggle Enough — I had bruises all over the backs of my thighs.

I would not have figured that out on my own.   I thought a flip was about the flip.

Honestly, the task was absolutely positively *NO BETTER* for the 100 leaps when I didn’t understand the nature of teh task.   I already had perseverance and determination….   I was  entrenching motor memories that I would have to quash once I was shown what the problem was.

I could have had a *lot* more practice on the finer points of the flip had I not had to spend so much time on the bruising part.  I might even have learned to do a one and a half.

Now, the price going too far the other way is probably just as bad.   If you’re scaffolding me to eternity then I don’t know what to think about when a struggle comes up, and yes, I could fall into that thing Dweck talks about where “well, if it’s hard, then I can’t do it.”

However, the “struggle” thing is one of the great unequalizers in math education.   Too many students associate struggle with failure.   THey’ve learned that if they’re struggling they’re not going to do well… they shut down    These are the students who, when the light goes on, will sometimes say — “Oh, that’s so obvious!  I must be so DUMB no to have seen that.”   I do explain that this happens to geniuses and brililant people all the time and they marvel at their brilliance… but it’s hard to change that self-perception.

We also talk about strategies for struggling, like underlining the question part of a problem and asking “what *do* I know about this problem?” and drawing pictures and figuring out what the parts and wholes are and… but if a kiddo is in survival mode then they’re just trying to give me the answer that pleases me and aren’t internalizing anyway.

(Can you tell it’s been finals week and I’ve been dealing with pretty much the entire spectrum this week, from the fellow who *did* pull out the A to the folks trying to do last-minute-scrambles for every possible point but… they had to do math to get the points/??)

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