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Monday, September 13, 2010

Attack the killer-psycho-maniacs that teach mathematics!

What does the word "algebra" make you think of?

Do you picture your math teacher? What does he look like?

Is he just as evil as any horror movie psycho-killer and yet still makes Ben Stein seem like America's next runner up on Last Comic Standing? Have you ever caught him or her plotting another twisted homework assignment that will take hours but not teach you anything?

"Welcome to the government-style-K-through-12-approved-mathematics-curriculum-for-brain-washed-vegetables . . ." he says on the first day of class. Not with words maybe. But you know he was thinking it (and grinning on the inside) . If you know exactly what I am talking about, keep reading. This blog is for you! Those guys have turned math mind-numbing piece of muck. Or at least they try as hard as possible to make it look that way.

My opinion on algebra now is that I was never taught why it is so amazing. It was too hard to "see" since it was just letters and numbers with one of these symbols: =, >, < etc. Most of the K-12 math teachers and teaching that I experienced was very left-brained and technical. Right-brained folk like me hardly stand a chance.
My hope is that I can take the technical left-brained stuff that I was taught and turn it into pictures, stories, and anything else from the artist's world. I am currently attending college working toward a BA degree in mathematics. Why? because after algebra, I took trigonometry and calculus (right-brained stuff like that geometry class you liked) from an amazing teacher who helped me visualize it. I discovered how creative and fun this stuff was. I just had to muddle through the first 18 years of the pre-fun math.
So . . . with all that stuff out of the way, I want to tell you how I picture algebra now.

Algebra looks like this:

(except I don't picture the hanging chains holding the baskets, just bowls bolted right to the balancy-stick)

In class, picture it. But instead of drawing out the whole thing, your math teacher wants you to use a less-fun symbol:
  • if it balances, you say that with one of these: =
  • if the left side is heavier, go with a "greater than" >
  • if right is heavier, then use "less than" <
Did you read those bullet points with your best Ferris Bueller's Day Off voice? Because you can if you want. I won't be offended. But just so you know, That is almost the whole of what algebra is. Once you got that down (and it took me a long time to realize this is what it is) you'll know probably most of what is going on in class.
  • Just so you know, if you take something out of one bowl, take it out of both bowls. ( ". . . subtract [whatever blah blah blah] from both sides . . .")
  • Same with putting stuff in the bowls. This is a really strong scale. It can hold heaps and heaps of stuff as long as you put it in both sides.
  • If its already not balanced, you still might have to add the same amount to both bowls. When it is tipped to one side, it can be something really really small and it can still looks just as tipped (tipsy?) as if there was an extra elephant in that bowl.
  • Most of the time, you don't want to change the position of the scale. (don't go from balanced to unbalanced or the other way around)
What do you think? Does that help?


  1. Have you ever heard of Asimov's Guide to Numbers? It's a collection of essays by Isaac Asimov that addresses mathematical topics in unconventional and highly approachable ways. It may give you some ideas or material for future entries in this blog.


  2. So can you give us a synopsis of Algebra? Maybe in a way that's like a play's synopsis. (Something I understand better.) I'm the type of Math person who can understand it but not explain it well. I follow your imagery, but I don't think I could repeat it back to you. Can you sum up Algebra in one or two sentences?

  3. Thank you for the suggestions! I'm going to check out that book and see what I can do about a synopsis sheet.