Math is an Art, but need not be a Performance Art

It’s a genuine feeling of inferiority. I detect it in students who aren’t the fastest to solve the problem.

It’s a genuine feeling, but not a genuine inferiority.

Perhaps you joined your math club because you kind of like math. A practice problem is put up on the board. You’ve barely finished reading the question when the kid sitting next to you shouts out, “576!”

What should you do?

Ignore it and focus on solving the math problem yourself.

And, if the teacher won’t do it, turn to the kid and say, “You’re so good at this! But please stop giving out answers because I want to try to solve the problem too. Thanks!”

If the teacher doesn’t let you have the time to work on the problem yourself and doesn’t encourage you to persevere even if you feel like you’re taking a long time and doesn’t help you figure out a way to get unstuck should you feel stuck, then stop going to that math club because it isn’t doing you any good.

If you want to improve at math, you have to make a sustained effort at solving problems.┬áBy thinking about the problem yourself, you are making your brain build whatever organization it needs to solve problems. If you are lulled into passive learning where you hear other people solving problems and presenting their solutions, you won’t be exercising the part of your brain that generates ideas and observations. You will be hindering your own progress.

If you cannot solve the problem, you will still benefit from your thoughtful efforts even should you arrive at an incorrect answer. The mathematical process is self-correcting. Eventually, your errors will reveal themselves in contradictions. Discovering your own errors by running into contradictions is a highly effective way to improve.

Protect your time and space to explore your own thoughts and ideas. Resist the temptation to look up the answer. When you do get an answer, polish it. Take the trouble to write out a beautiful solution. Furthermore, ask yourself: What else does it make you think about? Explore that too. Take breaks. Do other things. Come back. Keep coming back. Interest and perseverance make progress.

And don’t feel inferior or superior. However genuine those feelings may be, they don’t solve problems. Just focus and think.


About girlsangle

We're a math club for girls.
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One Response to Math is an Art, but need not be a Performance Art

  1. leidem says:

    I may not be a girl and this comment may be half a year late, but I can surely relate to this. One thing I’ve noticed though, is that those people who know the answers straight away face the same problems when they reach a level where they have to think hard about the matters as well, meaning suddenly that we who persevered are now the ones teaching them, since we have more training in such a perseverance. That sort of gives a motivation to keep on pushing those limits.

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