# Math is Not Just for School

Today I was very tempted to take the day off from homeschooling.  It is a beautiful day and we’ve been going full throttle for about 6 weeks now.  Plus, we’ve reached a tough spot in 4th grade math.  Who knew that I would be teaching algebra already?  Here’s an example:

Davina, Jean, and Nancy have saved a total of \$4800.  Davina has saved \$480 more than Nancy and Jean has saved \$330 less than Davina.  How much has Jean saved?

If you can figure out the answer to that problem in less than 15 minutes, you did better than we did!  Our first answer led us to a number that was clearly wrong and so we had to leave it and come back to it another time.  After we conquered another problem that was not as hard (and boosted our confidence a little), we came back to Davina, Jean, and Nancy.  This time, we drew a bar graph and came up with the solution fairly quickly.

Now don’t misunderstand me, I love word problems.  In fact, I love math.  I use it on a daily basis whenever I cook or do most crafts.  If you want to double or triple a recipe, you have to do math.  If you want to know whether you have enough yarn for a pattern, you have to do math.  If you want to know if you have enough money to buy those (insert whatever it is you love to buy here), you have to do math.  If you want to know how many days of school you have left in the year, you do math!

No, my problem is not with math at all.  In fact, I have been doing a lot of math on my own and no one is forcing me.  See?

Over the weekend, I got a little obsessed with a quilt pattern that I have been wanting to make for awhile.  I decided to take the plunge and make a few sample squares.  They did not turn out quite as planned.  So, I had to go back to the drawing board, literally, and graph it out myself.

Unfortunately, my sewing skills are not as good as my math skills.  Want a peek?

If you look carefully, you’ll see that my blocks are a little inconsistent and they don’t match each other well.  This spells disaster in a quilt of this kind because a small error can easily multiply and cause everything to be off.

So, just like the word problem we tackled this morning, I am looking at other ways to approach this quilt pattern.  And this is the difficult thing (not a problem, exactly) about teaching math and problem solving.  Often, there are more ways than one to tackle a problem.  Your first effort may not give you the correct answer or the simplest way to get the answer.

Really, it’s a life lesson.  The challenge for the teacher, especially in homeschooling, is how to teach a child how to learn and, more importantly, how to learn from their mistakes.  Because, there is no doubt about it–we All make mistakes.  There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes, as long as we are willing to learn from them, right?  Well, that’s what I tell the boys anyway.  Somehow, that knowledge is not enough to take the sting out of the pain of making a mistake.

I know.  I can empathize.  It bugs me no end to know that I’ll probably end up throwing away those blocks I made over the weekend.  In the meantime, I’ll keep them around as a reminder that I, too, need to learn from my mistakes.