Desperately Seeking a Maths Solution!


We’ve all been there; we have all “hit a brick wall”. We simply don’t understand, and ask ourselves: how is it done, how does it work?

Often, when it comes to Maths, when we reach that point, we blame ourselves; we think of ourselves as “dumb,” sometimes so much so that we are scared to even ask for help, in case someone laughs.

The first thing we need to understand is that we all have different talents. This means that what some people find easy, others do not. I am okay with Maths, but useless at anything that involves a good aim, from football to even pouring a cup of tea. I am also a shocking cook. What is truly stupid is to laugh at other people’s difficulties while ignoring your own.

So, you don’t get it. What can you do?

Well, there are in fact a number of things we always do when we have problems with conception or understanding. We usually simplify. Instead of despairing, we try to solve a similar problem. Similar, but simpler.

I once had a complete disaster trying to make a Black Forest Gateau. So, instead of giving up, I make a chocolate sponge cake as a substitute. That one was broadly edible. After making a few of those, I found out what to do to make it lighter and to improve the taste. Then I tried filling and icing. Not prefect at first, but it got better. Now I can, at a push, put together a cake that passes for a reasonable Black Forest Gateau.

Somehow, however, when it comes to Maths, this eminently sensible approach of simplifying often eludes us.

If an algebraic expression looks too crazy to make sense, ask yourself: have I tried to simply replace the “x” with a number to see what it says then?  Or have I tried to make sense of a simpler but easier expression first?

Let me give you an example:

You have equation to do:

3x – 6= 30

As the bit with the x is an unknown number, why can’t we call it “something”?

“Something take away 6 is 30” – ok, that is no problem, it must be 36. We can check: 36-6=30

But what about the “3x”?

Well it means “3 lots of something”

We already know how much it is: 36… so now we have “3 lots of something” or “3 times something” is 36. That is also not so bad…  3 times 12 is 36. So the x must be a 12…

So when you have a Maths problem you seem to be stuck on, try a similar, but simpler problem first. That may be all you need. Make it concrete.

This is not to say EVERY problem will get solved this way. Sometimes you will need someone like your tutor to just point you in the right direction; remember that ANYTHING is difficult if you are new to it, and that everything  you have done many times before is easy. Remember the first time you tried to release the clutch in a car? Now you probably don’t even notice when you are doing it.

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