Translation Is Hard

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Algebra isn't hard. You've been doing it from the beginning. So why is it that math is so difficult for some students?

I firmly believe it's because they haven't learned the language of math. Even babies know that if you put one teddy bear next to another teddy bear, close the door and open it again, there should be two teddy bears there. The difficulty is teaching a child that it can also be expressed in the language of math as 1+1=2.


Does the image above look like an equation to you? No, because it's not. But it could be if we translated it into one, or made it a word problem: How many bears are in the picture above? Show all work.

All of math is the same way, you just keep learning more and more vocabulary as you progress. Addition means "put them together/find the total." Factor means "break them into smaller numbers with division." The problem is that we can forget our vocabulary (much like I've forgotten almost all the Spanish I learned in high school). ∃ π ∀ {1:3} are all just as foreign as + - x ÷ to a new student.

So really, when you're teaching a student math, you're teaching them a language. You're training them to read this foreign script. You're conveying the meaning behind the symbols and sounds. And that is why I find we teach the same concept over and over again in the MathTacular DVDs: We teaching them that writing the equation this way ultimately means the same thing as the other.

1 + 1 = ?
2(1 + x) = 4

Bob saw Jill.
Jill's beautiful features were all Bob could think about as he attempted to soak up every aspect of this moment.

Same meaning... one just has more depth.

Math is easy. Learning the language can be tough. And, unfortunately, I still struggle with English sometimes too. Clever and cleaver are far too similar.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Expectant Father

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  1. Pingback: Is Math Confusing? Only If You’re Doin’ It Wrong | Sonlight Blog