Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Joy of Algebra - At Last!

Cartoon from:-

The above cartoon says it all really.

When I was at school, all those decades ago,
 I managed to get a pass in all the branches of mathematics we were taught,
 but it was merely for the purpose of passing the relevant exams.

I never understood the why, what, or wherefore of any of it,
or it's relevance to real life.

What I did do was live in constant terror of the subject and the teachers.
I scraped by, trying to solve the problems we were set in uncomprehending panic.

I was perfectly able to get many different answers to those same problems, 
 never properly knowing how I arrived at any of them
My "workings out" were guess work and luck,
of which the latter must have been in plentiful supply,
as I managed to keep afloat.

Needless to say, once the need to perform at school was over
 an iron curtain descended over my struggles with maths,
as, like an extinct language,
 the very subject became a distant memory.

The only vibrant memory in connection with the subject
was the picture of our maths teacher in grammar school,
beating his head against the blackboard,
 whilst his faced turned a deep puce whenever one of us
so much as hesitated when called upon to stand and solve an example,
or answer a question put to us.

I was terrified enough at presenting my ignorance to the whole class,
let alone the added fear that he would succumb to apoplexy because of me.

Ever since, I have shied away from anything containing figures, declaring,
as my mind went blank,
"I don't do maths."

Then about a week ago I watched this video, culled from the glorious posts on
Do yourself a favour and check it out.

Well I hope you check out both the site I'm recommending,
and the video below.
The video is a little long but well worth it as it moves into the unexpected.

Now the mathematics Frenkl finally talks about is one I thoroughly understand;
holding no terrors for me.

What did challenge me was in his introduction he says
 how exciting, elegant, and beautiful, the world of mathematics is.
It reminded me I had been envious of a friend 
who said the same kind of thing to me years before.

They both obviously saw maths like this,

image :-

whilst to me that book was definitely closed.

I hated the thought of what I was missing,
so I set about finding a basic maths site to cater for my depth of incomprehension, 
and made a start.

At first my brain rebelled.

I stared at the work sheets in panic.
Even the explanations and examples
 left me baffled.

Perhaps I was past it,
 and the ancient grey cells would refuse to play ball.

Then, just like that moment
 the optician drops the final lens into your prescription frames,
and the symbols on the wall chart pop into clarity,
I saw!

In the great scheme of things nothing huge has happened.
 The algebra I have revised is the most basic.
Absolute beginners steps.

Nevertheless what truly thrilled me was,
for the first time I understood what I was doing!

I saw the symmetry and reciprocity of the numbers,
in their trueness to themselves within the motif unfolding
 as I added, subtracted, multiplied, and divided.
This was me, understanding equations!

Unbelievably,  I began actually enjoying the problems to the extent
I was skipping through the worksheets,
checking my answers, and with one eye on the clock,
wondering how many more I could fit in
 before I had to begin to prepare the evening meal.
Then, once things had been set to cook, sneaking back for a few more.

Of course one swallow doesn't make a summer,
the leopard hasn't changed it's spots,
and the mouse hasn't got all the cheese!

In other words
I know I haven't turned into a mathematician in one fell swoop,
 and never will.

I will doubtless be just as baffled by new problems again very soon, 
and my achievement threshold might well turn out to be quite low.

Heck!  Even in my euphoric state of discovery I was still making careless mistakes,
and my multiplication tables were decidedly rusty.

I know it will take work.
That's why I persevered
 until I had three worksheets in a row with no mistakes.

The wonder is,
the place in my brain I had shut down in fear and incomprehension
has been re-opened to new understanding.

Embryonic, life giving, delightful, understanding.

Seventy three isn't too old to learn after all!

Be Blessed

P.S. If there is something you have struggled with, maybe for a long time, 
why don't you give it a go again? 
 If you have already done so, or when you do,
 why don't you let me know in the comment box below?
  I would so love to share your joy, and mutual encouragement.


  1. Good for you Hazel! I love learning new things and that is the reason I'm back at school doing my Masters in Theological Studies. I have no idea when I will graduate as I'm on the slow track but it is certainly a great journey. Blessings.

    1. Learning is the breath of life to me too Lynda. I know you must be relishing your Masters course, and have been wondering how you are getting on. i always think when i finish a course I'm about ready to begin in earnest. In reality i probably learn more about myself than anything else. i.e. I MUST BE A SLOW LEARNER!