When I was in Mrs. Clements’s third grade class at RVA, I had a hard time with math. I understood everything perfectly well, but I just wasn’t fast enough. You know…multiplication tables and all that. We had these timed quizzes and if you got all of the questions correct, you got a star beside your name on a little chart on the wall. I saw the beautiful shiny lines of stars next to my classmates’ names and coveted them. But I never, ever, ever got all the questions right, because I NEVER finished the quiz on time. Except for once. On this particular day, we had a substitute teacher. I finished my last problem just as the time was up and couldn’t believe my luck. But when I got my quiz back, I had gotten one wrong! It was something ridiculous like zero times zero. No, seriously. That was the problem. Zero times Zero. And right below the problem, I had written my answer. Zero.
I couldn’t believe it! I was right! I had gotten 100%. I would get a sticker! But when I showed the teacher my answer, she said she couldn’t give me credit, because my zero looked like a six. I explained to her that our real teacher (I know, I apologize to all subs) had never taken issue with the way my zeros looked, but she wouldn’t budge. And I never got a shiny metallic star next to my name on the chart. I didn’t feel heartbroken. I felt betrayed. I felt persecuted. (My family tells me that my account of my childhood is somewhat biased toward the “persecuted” side.)
Recently, I had to take a math placement exam. I had taken a practice test and brushed up on my trigonometry (thanks, Yohannes!), and the kids were asleep (it was 12:30am), so I decided to go ahead with the actual test. 72 questions, 100 minutes, and no calculators allowed. I never got to the trigonometry. It was the good old multiplication and long division that did me in. I was figuring out percentages and balancing equations, but I just couldn’t move fast enough and only finished 50 out of 72 problems.
But I know trigonometry! And Calculus! I KNOW WHAT ZERO TIMES ZERO IS! I WANT A GOLD STAR!!!! My brain simply cannot comprehend that I could have failed at this, but it has been eight long years since I’ve cracked open a math book. And the last time anyone timed me at multiplication and division without a calculator? Yep. Third grade. Elementary math refresher course, here I come!