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The Equation That Changed My Life

When I was a freshman in high school, I took a sophomore class, Geometry Honors, for math. Some very cute and popular sophomore boys were in that class. (Too bad I don’t remember any names, because those who went to high school with me and read this blog may recognize the names and say to themselves, “Oh yes.”). We were assigned seating according to our last names, which put me right next to two particularly fine examples of cute sophomore boys. Unfortunately this seating arrangement also put me in the back of the classroom.

Our teacher was a Chinese woman with a heavy accent, so I could barely understand anything she said. Given the company I had in the back of that classroom, I refused to wear my glasses in class, so I couldn’t see anything that the teacher wrote on the chalkboard. I had absolutely no idea what was going on in that class beyond a two foot radius of my desk.

When mid-term reports were sent home, my parents were shocked to learn that I was failing math, a subject I had never had trouble with in all my previous years of school. I finally got the contacts I’d been asking for and my parents sent me to a tutor.

It turned out that we’d been working on Cartesian geometry and the equations for a line (one of which is y=mx+b, which may ring a bell to some of you). I got it right away and I’ve had little trouble understanding math since then. I majored in math in college and I worked for many years as a math teacher. It turns out that Cartesian geometry is the basis for a lot of more advanced concepts in math, so until you go beyond three dimensions, you can do a lot of math by understanding how lines and graphs work.

Lines remain my favorite mathematical concept – both to teach and to think about. Even now, when my years of teaching math are far behind me, I lie in bed and think about how I would explain the equations for a line to a friend or even a stranger at the post office.

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  1. nina
    June 20, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    I also took Geometry Honors as a freshman and had Frank Mays. I too understood nothing for several weeks and was getting D’s. The tutoring idea never occurred to me and my parents (who were artists). Happy ending: I switched to Geometry Regulars and met some cute sophomore guys.

  2. June 20, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    Back then, we thought that cute sophomore boys were so unique, but now we realize that most 15 year old boys are cute, especially compared to nerdy, insecure 14 year old girls (speaking for myself only, of course).

  3. Ann
    June 23, 2010 at 10:16 am

    I loved math in high school – took all the courses I could and considered it as a college major. I even almost became a high school math teacher back in the 80s thru alternative certification. Now math and geometry are mostly absent from my life and I miss them! Thanks for the math rumination.

  4. dina
    June 27, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    The only two math teachers that did not speak Goobledy-greek to me were Denis Arendt and Eric Boardman. Mr Arendt was very tactile and would build models until I “got” it and Mr Boardman was flat-out funny. Unfortunately, these gentlemen were our lower-and middle-school teachers! From highschool on, math has been a foreign language. Too bad, because I think that I would have gone further in science had my math skills been stronger. Reading how you, Julie, (whom I never thought of as a geek,) actually loved math and excelled in it, amazes me. It reminds me of just how diverse languages can be. Oddly enough, it’s also reminding me that our own personal languages can often sound like Goobledly-greek to others…like to our husbands! lol All of that from a math equation that I’ve never heard of!

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