I spent years watching how students dealt with problem solving challenges. The majority of students were confident in the beginning, especially after spending time with the theory until it made sense to them. With the theories studied, they would move on to tackle complex problems with their new toolbox of Physics laws and mathematical formulae. But, in their haste to engage the challenge, they would leave behind all the simple, everyday skills that they would need to create the rock solid foundation for using the formulae and laws.
Imagine being summoned to a battle at the top of a mountain. You decide you are going to order some fierce “big guns”. You have them delivered at the foot of the mountain. In preparation for the battle you study those big, heavy monster guns, getting to know everything there is to know about them. You walk around them, you touch them, you knock on the metal, you sniff it, and you even practice pulling the trigger. On the day of the battle, you wake up knowing you are ready to use your weapons to defeat the enemy. Just as you do every morning, you use your bicycle to ride to the foot of the mountain. You and your guns are ready for battle, right? So, let’s go do battle at the top of the mountain. Oh, wait. That’s a problem, isn’t it?
Apparently there is no problem. What don’t the students see? The students will happily report for battle without realizing that they will not be able to use their “big, heavy guns”. Why? They didn’t organize any trucks to transport the guns to the mountain top for the battle. If you are thinking, “who would be so empty headed as to omit that very important step in the process of winning the battle?” you would be joining many other teachers who suffer this frustration daily. Isn’t it obvious to everyone that no matter how big your guns are, they will be useless to you unless you can carry them into battle with you? How can something so obvious be left out of the process? Perhaps the answer lies in the conclusion that it isn’t obvious at all.
This oblivion to the obvious happens constantly, and the result is that many young people drop out of science and mathematics classes, feeling “stupid”, disillusioned, and defeated. They have all the scientific and mathematical tools they need to solve the problems assigned to them, yet somehow none of the tools seem to work. The students stand on the mountain top, crushed, their faces ashen with their sense of betrayal, shamelessly whining about the useless guns that couldn’t be trusted in the heat of the battle. Can this disappointing end to the story be avoided? One of the objectives of this blog is to help students and parents of students find ways to “bridge the gap” on their journey towards successfully studying mathematics and science.