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Filling the Mathematical Jug in Our Minds

During your early formal education, you had a one-gallon jug that was labeled "Mathematics." This jug represented your capacity to learn and understand math. When you finished your formal education several years later, the one-gallon jug contained a half-pint of knowledge. The rest of it was empty. You may have known individuals whose jug was filled to overflowing. (They grew up to be actuaries, CPAs, engineers, mathematicians or the Unabomber.) Many of us, however, never came close to filling up the jug.

This analogy brings home the fact that most of us were (and many are) capable of better mathematical understanding and ability. Mathematical skill levels for many of us are simply not up to the skill levels we enjoy in other academic areas. We may be excellent readers, outstanding spellers and great at English grammar, but we are terrible when it comes to math!

As an early learner in elementary school, much of the learning activity involved the use of vision, hearing and touch. You had an excellent memory. You were able to remember your colors, certain words and the spelling of your name. You could also count from 1 to 100.

The problem that probably occurred in the development of your mathematical ability was the requirement that you had to think about math. You had to reason and ponder the relationships between numbers. You were forced to deal with theorems and formulas. In the early years of your formal education, it may well have happened that you were told or taught what to think, but not how to think.

You were forced to use a new tool (your mind) and to perform a new function (mathematical thinking). This is not to imply that you were a non-thinking vegetable as a young learner. It's just that now you had to think about relationships and equations, and you had to think at a different level using your mind in a new, unfamiliar manner. And you began to fall behind, especially when "arithmetic" turned into fractions, percentages, formulas and algebraic equations.