Make math part of everyday experience

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 17, 2006

Feb. 8, 2006

I dragged myself out of bed Tuesday morning and walked into my worst nightmare &8212; long division.

My very first real day of school with Mrs. Tuccio&8217;s class was spent in math class, and I&8217;ve avoided it at all costs since then.

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They were supposed to be doing science when I went Tuesday. At least that&8217;s what I thought. But apparently Mrs. Tuccio was introducing a new concept, so math time ate up science like the evil monster that it is.

There were 10 problems on the board &8212; the board work the students do each day to start off class. In keeping with my promise that I become a part of this class, I started writing down the problems and working them.

I got the first one &8212; 840 divided by seven. I thought a little harder before I got the next few, but I managed. It was number five that got me &8212; 657 divided by nine.

As my mother will tell you, I never really learned my times tables. Sure I know the 2s and 5s, and some of the ones in between. Nines mess me up.

I&8217;d rather write a 500-word essay on why the number nine is important than tell you what nine times seven is.

I&8217;m comfortable with my math ignorance, and so are some of the fourth-graders.

The class was as quiet as I&8217;ve ever seen them, though, and I think they were really concentrating.

Long division&8217;s stepsister reared her ugly head in class Tuesday too. Fractions. (I comprehend fractions even less than division and multiplication, and I will admit that&8217;s sometimes an inconvenience in life.)

While more good science time wasted away, the kids were learning equivalent fractions &8212; 12/20 is the same as 3/5 and all that mess.

Math teachers must take a clich/ class in college, because Mrs. Tuccio was spouting out all kinds of expressions I know my elementary teachers used all the time.

&8220;I never said this was going to be easy. … I&8217;m just amazed at the people who don&8217;t put forth the effort.&8221;

Dezzie simply put away her math book and started her own mini-science lesson (my kind of girl).

Math is hard. You either have a brain for it, or you don&8217;t. If I understood statistics I could tell you what percentage of America freely understands math. I don&8217;t, and it&8217;s low.

Students in all the Natchez schools &8212; and across the state &8212; historically score low on the math portions of the state test. But I&8217;ve seen no press releases saying anyone plans to eliminate the math portion of the Mississippi Curriculum Test anytime soon. So, we have to beat it.

The key in recent years at the Natchez schools has been teaching students how to answer the questions, not necessarily what the answer is. Principal Fred Marsalis over at Morgantown lives and dies by the MCT coach book, which teaches kids how to take the test.

Mrs. Tuccio did a little of this in class Tuesday. The problem with math is you can have a right answer, and still be wrong. In equivalent fractions, 12/20 is the same as 6/10, but that&8217;s not the end. It has to come all the way down to 3/5.

Jesse &8212; an MCT programmed child, like the others &8212; asked which one of those answers the spring test would be looking for.

Mrs. Tuccio took the chance to warn the students about the test&8217;s answers, saying their first answer may not be a multiple choice option on the test. That thought alone would be enough to make my math-allergic body break into a rash if I had to take the test.

But these kids are smarter, calmer and more prepared than I was. Still, adults have to make math an everyday part of life for our children if we are going to break the curve. Ask your child to figure out the tip next time you go to a restaurant. Get them to help you measure things when you cook. Have them estimate total costs when you go to the store. And throw out all the calculators.

If you don&8217;t, you&8217;ll end with a kid like me who has to make a living writing (there&8217;s no money in this gig).

It&8217;s work, but I never said it would be easy.

Julie Finley is education reporter for The Democrat. She writes a weekly column based on experiences with Marty Tuccio&8217;s class at McLaurin Elementary. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or