From crammer to solver
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It was annual examination and I was in 8th standard. Gifted with a good memory it was easy for me to ace other exams but maths was a different ball game. The answers weren’t words and they had to be written logically, in steps, then and there in the exam hall. Memory was of less use there. And I had till that time hadn’t gathered enough courage to think and understand things I find difficult. I failed.
My father used to give me last minute tuitions so that I could manage some marks to salvage the aggregate. In frustration I used to cram all the proofs and solutions given in the textbooks, hoping that some questions might come directly. All in all, I was pathetic and helpless.
But this was just maths, I was a decently smart kid otherwise, I liked astronomy and would spend many evenings spotting stars with the Russian telescope my father had given me. Once I got to 9th standard all the senior people started saying that without maths and physics you can’t do much astronomy. Astronomy is not gazing stars and remembering names. I was heartbroken. So, I had to somehow, learn maths. I started taking extra tuitions. At first, I thought I was too dumb to understand. Everyone around seemed smart and quick. I had to step up. Thus started my maths journey.
No solution is ungraspable — the first and foremost lesson that I could get out of my struggling days. It is tough to put your heart into something you fear and hate. So, let’s just learn to face it. No matter how tough the solution might look, if properly broken it can be understood. Many teachers in the name of differentiated instruction avoid exposing struggling kids to tough problems, which might sound perfectly fine in the short term but has dangerous long term consequences.
Doing it — once you know, not fear, it is just about solving, doing problems yourself. Sometimes just solving problems ain’t enough, because everyone does it, and many do it well. So, try to do them quickly and precisely. Learn to train your mind to solve problems. Get yourself around a smart bunch, smarter the bunch, tougher it would be, better it would be. Some people would think that an anxious student might give up if placed in a smarter bunch, but I think otherwise. Once you know you suck, the only way is up.
Fall in love — well, the third step is probably about the heart. Once you have trained your mind, problems would soon start amusing you. When I was in 11th standard I had started enjoying problems. I would take an impossible problem before boarding metro and would keep on solving it till I get home. Parents and teachers sometimes give students an impression that tough problems are things to avoid, but after a point they are the only way to progress. A lot of smart kids that studied with me could solve tough problems because they loved solving problems. Not because they had genius level intellect or gifted genes.
Beauty is in the expansion — once a student starts taking pleasure in solving problems, not solutions, but their form takes the importance. For a problem there could be many solutions, but which path do you take to solve it. Is it quick ? Is it beautiful?. That’s perhaps the culmination of a maths solver. Expressing maths in your own amazing, unique way, the world has never seen.
I didn’t do math for long in college, but I still like solving problems. Maths is a game now. Something I enjoy. Something that makes me believe in the impossible and that how could a frightened 13 year old crammer could turn into a brave solver.
How tough it could be, after all it’s just counting numbers.
By Kriteesh Parashar — Educational Specialist (Memeber of Mindspark Development Team)
Originally published at blog.ei-india.com on January 8, 2016.