Teen Thursday: A Girl Needs Math

When I do school visits and author events, I'm often asked what advice I would give young aspiring authors. Of course I tell them to take creative writing courses, ask friends and teachers for feedback, practice revising their work and start trying to get pieces published in various outlets. The obvious stuff, right? But one thing I find myself recommending, which surprises even me, is "Pay attention in math class!"

When I was in high school I HATED math! Didn't get it. Didn't like it. Didn't think I'd ever have to use it out in the real world. "I'm a word person, not a numbers person," I said, thinking I was all cute and clever. "And if it has to do with money, then my dad will help."

I was actually really stupid to think that way. Because one thing that few people tell aspiring authors is that this is a BUSINESS. If you have any degree of success, you are going to need to deal with things like the IRS and royalty statements and freelance invoicing and the IRS, and did I mention the IRS? If you're a teen reading this, chances are good you haven't had to pay many taxes yet. And, if you're lucky, your dad or mom is handling other money issues for you. But sooner or later you're going to reach a point where you have to take care of that stuff yourself. It's not rocket science, but it is math. The sooner you get rid of your "I'm creative, I don't have to understand percentages and algebra" attitude, the better!

And it's not just personal finance where Grown-Up Me has been surprised by the need for math skills. When my symphony chorus performed Bach's B-minor Mass, I could not for the life of me figure it out until I made myself approach it like a math problem. I had to count. I had to understand the structure of the piece - and it turned out to be one of the coolest experiences of my life. Once I looked at it that way the music opened up and became, almost literally, three dimensional. It was like singing architecture! Trippy!

Actually, I wish some of my teachers had thought to teach math through music. If I'd understood the real-life applications of all those boring, two-dimensional problems, I'm sure I would have grasped it much easier. And maybe we don't all need to master college-prep calculus, but we do need the basics. If I had my way, every school would require students to take a personal finance class, and offer a beginning business course as well.

So what about you? What courses do or did you hate in school? Do you see any practical applications outside of academia? And how might that assumption be challenged once you're out on your own?


Micol Ostow said...

I was HOPELESS in math and science in high school -- truly, those were my only lousy subjects, and I am so happy to have married a science guy. Now my daughter has a fighting chance!

SM said...

There's a channel on Youtube run by a girl who identifies herself as a mathemusician, and she posts great videos that show mathematical concepts in neat visual or musical ways, like this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DK5Z709J2eo&NR=1

Lydia Sharp said...

Math was the only subject I struggled in during school, and not even really until I got to high school--never got beyond trigonometry level. I even did really well in the sciences... until I had to take physics senior year, which requires a LOT of math skills (who knew?) with all those darn formulas.

But my mother took the initiative to instill some practical skills in me before I graduated. She made me get a summer job at age 16 and opened a checking account for me, then showed me how to keep a ledger. I also learned how to fill out my own basic 1040 form for taxes. Those are probably the only math-type things I learned as a teenager that I still use.

It would have been nice to have a personal finance course offered senior year, though. Even if only for a semester or quarter. Not everyone has a parent who is willing to (or realizes they should) teach their teen how to do it themselves.

mathinenglish said...

It's indeed amazing that many girls hate math. Why would that be? I honestly believe that a good and engaging teacher can interest everyone in his/her subject.
But maybe I underestimate the boredom factor of math
ESL Math teacher

E. Arroyo said...

Ha, Glad to know I wasn't alone! I still use my, um, fingers and toes. LOL

Lauren said...

I hated math as well. I just didn't get it. Once I learned that all you do is plug numbers into formulas, I got it - I still didn't like it though. The other day I saw Danica McKellar's math book at Borders and flipped through it. It's cute! It applies math to real life - I think I really would have enjoyed something like that.

Jen Klein said...

I actually liked math (geeky), but I also started playing piano when I was five. I believe there have been studies showing the correlation between math and music. I don't know if it goes both ways, but it makes sense to me. Music is kind-of this wonderful combo of math plus passion.

Sarah Darer Littman said...

I think there's a big difference between abstract math (which I completely suck at) and accounting type math (which I'm really good at). Abstract math like trig and calculus I could never grasp the concepts and so when I tried to do the problems I didn't know if I was getting a right or wrong answer. But accounting is more like a puzzle - if you can fit the pieces together it makes sense. I've told my kids that they must take an accounting, a microeconomics and a macroeconomics class no matter what field they go into, because they need to be able to understand a balance sheet, profit and loss and they need to understand how the economy works because then they can make informed voting decisions - all of this stuff impacts them and it's so easy for politicians to talk rubbish in soundbites if you don't understand economics. Witness the current debt ceiling debacle

Adeeva Afsheen said...

Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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