“Obstacles, of course, are developmentally necessary: they teach kids strategy, patience, critical thinking, resilience and resourcefulness.” ~ Naomi Wolf.
One of the challenges for the teacher of any subject, is trying to show how the topic is relevant, necessary, and worth learning. Most of us went through high school wondering ‘when am I ever going to use this?’. Whenever we were told of the importance of getting a ‘well-rounded’ education, we giggled and pictured ourselves shaped like a ‘well-rounded’ ball! I’m sure everyone can remember crumbs of facts that they learned for an exam and have never been able to use again, unless it was to answer an obscure crossword puzzle clue, or perhaps it came in handy in a game of ‘trivial pursuit’.
When I teach nursing students ‘dosage calculation’ techniques, I will very often have a group of hardcore mathophobes (is that a word?), students whose brains freeze at the thought of having to do math. Ask a student to work out how much IV fluid a patient has received if it is running at an hourly rate of 83 milliliters an hour, from a one liter bag of IV fluid that was hung at 3:30 am (and it is now 7:00 am) and they are lost. But ask them how much I would have to pay them if their hourly rate was $83 and they had worked the same hours, and they can instantly do it! When we are going about our daily lives we use numbers, calculate costs, check our paystubs with no difficulty. But do a math problem? Impossible.
I once attended a workshop for faculty where the guest speaker introduced us to the mnemonic: ‘WIIFM’. It sounded like the call letters for a sports radio station, but it was quite simply: ‘What’s in it for me?’. In order for a student to be motivated to learn something, they must see the value, the relevance, what good will it do them? Of course, every teacher is used to the question ‘Will it be on the test?’ and gets tired of trying to make students understand that a grade is not an end in itself, it is merely a demonstration that you have mastered the concepts you need to know. But with a generation of students who are programed for instant gratification, and who measure success in numbers, the grade is everything.
I can remember a time when I did not want a mobile phone. I could not see the advantage of people being able to contact me wherever I was. Why would I want to be reached in my car? Driving, radio on, away from all responsibilities was my get-away! Now, of course, leaving home without my phone would be like leaving half of my brain! But with the ‘smart’ phone comes all manner of portable distractions, many of which are highly addictive. When I started playing ‘Angry Birds’ some years ago (and then stopped – some of those levels are impossible to achieve!) I remember thinking that somewhere a geometry teacher was saying ‘See, I told you you would need me some day!’ In the game you have to pull back a slingshot and aim a bird (no animals are actually harmed in this game – cartoons only!) at structures which house pigs. Ok, maybe some animals are hurt! But you had to calculate the arc that the bird would follow when released from the slingshot, so that it would hit the structure at a vulnerable spot. You had to imagine the parabola; how far should you pull back? Should you aim it low and long or high and steep? If it hit another structure along the way, how would its path change?
I imagine it is the same for a person who plays pool (snooker in the UK). You have to calculate angles and trajectories; where should you hit the ball at what angle to have it bounce off which side to go where. I have to confess that I know I don’t have the patience (or the back – how do they hold that position, bending low over the table?) to even try it. But I do appreciate the mathematical skill, the hand-eye coordination that it takes.
This thought of using objects to change the path of another object made me think about the path of our lives. Sometimes we are traveling along, certain of where we are going and how we are going to get there when an unexpected event changes our track completely. At the time we may be completely upset, thrown off our game, annoyed at having to come up with a new plan. Years later we may look back and recount the day that our lives changed and see how serendipitous it was, something that set us on a new and positive course.
Of course, it is also possible to live your life blaming such events, using them as the justification for life not turning out the way you wanted it. But ‘if only’ and other similar regrets lead to bitterness and resentment. It was Viktor Frankl who said: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” It is up to us to change the way we view the things that happen to us, to choose to see opportunities instead of obstacles; to find the flip side of every situation. And remember, as they often say in Jamaica ‘It coulda worse!’ (It could have been worse).
This Friday morning I hope you can see the value in all of life’s lessons, even that course in statistics that you have never used! I hope that as you look over the course of your life you can see those events that at the time seemed awful, but which actually changed you for the better. And I hope that when life serves you lemons, you can make a cool and delicious jug of lemonade (in Jamaica we use limes, yet still call it lemonade – go figure!). And thank your Math teacher, they deserve love too!
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!