From Audie Murphy to Algorithms

I’m beginning to suspect that my child is a mathematical prodigy — at least compared to me!

Our second day of seventh grade started out much smoother than our first.  Whereas she likened me to the Wicked Witch of the West for starting school “too early” (public schools don’t get started for another couple of weeks in our state) yesterday, today it was easier to get started on school work.  I guess we had to climb over the mental hump.  Sometimes I think my daughter pretends to hate school because that’s what she thinks she’s supposed to do.  Yet I know she loves learning.  I can see it when her eyes light up and we engage in conversations about different topics and look up more information to follow up on material that sparks our interest.  Today we learned about Audie Murphy, the most decorated WWII U.S. soldier who “happened” to be from Texas.  As she cut his picture out to put in her Texas History lap book, she mused aloud that it’s too bad he lived such a long time ago! (I think she thought he wasn’t bad to look at — he did go on to be a movie star!)  Then our day was turned upside down as the student became the teacher.  Allow me to explain…

One of today’s math topics was learning how to use proportions to solve unknowns.  I remember I liked proportions in school because there was a specific protocol to follow — as long as I did the computations correctly, I’d find the right answer.  I was all prepared to show her cross multiplication to solve for unknowns because that is how I learned to do it.  I’m a rule follower in all things, even (especially) math.  The ratio of Parents to Children at a bookstore was 5 to 4.  If there were 27 total people in the bookstore, how many children were there?  The information was placed in this table:


The math text instructed students to place the data in a chart and then create a proportion of known value over known value to unknown value over known value, then cross multiply, isolate the unknown, and solve.

Puzzled at the lengthy explanation and multi-step process, my daughter just looked at the chart and said, “27 divided by 9 is 3…so that means there are 12 children and 15 parents when the ratio of parents to children is 5 to 4.”  Somehow her brain saw the answer without needing to go through the steps.

This is the same child who, upon learning the meaning of infinity, asked her father if that means there is a negative infinity…when she was THREE YEARS OLD.  I kid you not.

So. On to the problem at hand.  I forced her to sit and read the explanation of how to solve for the unknown, and I insisted that she watch while I worked a few problems that way.  Although she understood the process, she shook her head at the “inefficiency” of it all when the answer, to her, was crystal clear.

What am I to do as her teacher?  Force her to work the problems the way the book tells her to work them?  I’m afraid if she doesn’t get into the habit of using proportions now, when the problems are easy, she may balk when they are harder.  But maybe not.  I certainly didn’t “see” the answer the way she did.  Math is as clear as mud to me.  It is difficult to be her teacher when she surpasses me in logic.

Don’t believe me?  Another assignment today dealt with compound outcomes in probability experiments.  Arugh!  I could not get my brain wrapped around how to draw the “outcome tree” associated with each outcome…so my explanation to her ended up being HER explanation to me!  The student teaches the teacher.  That will probably be our (math) status quo from here on out!

Or else I’ll have to assign math instruction to my husband, who, by the way, is a mathematical pro himself.  When he applied for his Bachelor’s degree, the university called him to clarify the subject he wanted his degree in: math, or computer science.  This is the man who took math in college for the FUN of it.  Clearly, our daughter inherited much of his brain prowess in mathematical, logical thinking.

In light of these discoveries about her ability to see math relationships in ways I can’t even begin to comprehend, I can tell already that I will have to pray, pray, pray for wisdom just to keep up!  The Lord made me wise today, and I am so dependent on Him to give me wisdom for tomorrow.  When Jesus said he would never leave us or forsake us, did he imagine that I’d need him to get me through seventh grade math…again?  Thankfully, I can count on the Lord, who created everything from Audie Murphy to algorithms, to guide my every step.

2 thoughts on “From Audie Murphy to Algorithms

  1. I think it rather strange that your daughter used the “Old Way” of figuring out this
    problem rather than the “New Math” they are teaching kids in school today. To me it
    makes much more sense in dividing 9 into 27 (result =3) and then multiplying that result
    by the 4 kids to get the correct answer of a total of 12 kids and balance left over of 15
    adults…. To me that is the more “logical” way of solving the problem at hand, either that
    or your daughter is an “old soul” who has been here before and remembered the old
    fashion way of solving math problems… Just my thoughts… Shirley Jean.

    1. I don’t know about the “New Math” being taught in schools today. I just know the way I learned it way back in the Stone Ages and the way it is presented in the Saxon math curriculum we use — I was taught a procedure absent the logic. I love the way my daughter is figuring out the WHY behind the algorithms.

      Thanks for your input!

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