Tuesday, February 13, 2007

How Math Class is Like Gym Class

I was doing my physical therapy exercises (nothing is so demoralizing as to struggle against a 1 lb weight), and I considered that I was about as well-served by gym class as many of my weakest students were by their math classes.

While I am not advocating boot-camp for elementary school kids, my own experiences with gym class were quite lacking. I remember that we had physical fitness "tests" but that nothing was ever done about the results. Flexible? Not flexible? Doesn't matter. We'll just write your results down on this clipboard and move on to the next activity. In the gymnastics unit, there was one mount that I never could do; no one told me that it wasn't because I was uncoordinated but instead that I lacked upper body strength. No one told me that these deficiencies made me more prone to injury -- not just the activity-related injuries of active people but stupid, annoying injuries, like my typing-related tendonitis. And I was never given any advice on how to fix these problems. Mostly I just hated gym class and did the bare minimum to squeak by with a C. After high school, I avoided all forms of physical activity for several years, opting to fulfill Dartmouth's phys-ed requirement through things like first aid.

I think of this now as my calculus class is reaching the end of the unit on integration. Yesterday we talked about how to use an integral table, and over the next week we'll finish up with numerical integration and improper integrals. If you don't know how to integrate by now, I'll find out on the test next week. And after that? Whether or not you can integrate, we'll move on to infinite series.