Lessons from the Algebra Classroom | UMC YoungPeople
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July 2014

Lessons from the Algebra Classroom

By: Holli Long

“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,17 ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19 the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” – Matthew 11:16-19

As a former high school math teacher and current Algebra tutor, I am fairly used to hearing the phrase, “Ugh, I hate math!” Unlike so many of my students, however, I actually sort of love math. While I also hold a degree in English, I could never teach the subject - too much gray area. Math, on the other hand, is black and white. And there are no papers to grade, which is probably why I chose to teach this subject. In math, there is only one right answer. (Well, technically, sometimes there are two solutions, or infinite solutions, or no real solution, or...you get the idea). But it is black and white - there is right and there is wrong.

But, often, there are many paths to the right answer.

Sometimes more than one problem solving method will work. Sometimes, for a given problem, one method is rather difficult while another method proves simple. Each problem is unique. And while each problem may have a "best method" for solving it, this “best method” is often not the only method.

During a recent tutoring session, a particularly bright student recalled a problem she answered correctly on a test. "It probably wasn't the easiest way, but I made a graph. And I got it right!"

Had she been so focused on there being only one right way to reach the answer, this student might have not been able to solve the problem. But in realizing there were different ways to demonstrate the laws of mathematics, she was successful.

Wisdom was vindicated by her deeds – or in this case, the correct answer.

As a teacher, I quickly had to learn to appreciate wisdom in its various forms. As long as a student was able to show his or her work towards the correct answer, who was I to judge which method was used? I found it was more effective to encourage a student’s confidence in their problem-solving skills than it was to always demand that my way be followed by all in the same way.

Now, as a tutor, I often have to stop myself from intervening and listen first to my student. More times than not I catch myself being surprised. “Oh, what a creative approach. Yes! That will work.”

Of course, there are parameters. One cannot work outside the laws of mathematics to reach the correct solution. But within these parameters, there can be room for differences.

Similarly, I believe there can be room for difference in the way we live out our faith. God was at work in both John and Jesus, although these men lived their lives and were perceived by others in vastly different ways. While John “came neither eating nor drinking” and Jesus “came eating and drinking,” both were working within the law and were pointing people towards God.

How can we avoid the fate of “this generation” by being so focused on criticizing the way others do things or by thinking that there is only one right way that we miss the wisdom of God right before us?

Discussion Questions: When have you been skeptical of the way others do things? Could there be wisdom in many different approaches to living a life of faith?

See more devotions from Holli and our other Young Adult writers, or find our how you can become a writer yourself at our By Young Adults for Young Adults devotion page.