Sunday, October 28, 2012

Running is like Math

Being a female engineer, I often wind up reading articles about women and math or science. Things like why aren't girls attracted to math. I also find the topic interesting because I have two daughters. I started thinking about it more recently because a little boy in Kaylee's class keeps asking her why she has a Star Wars lunch box? He keeps telling her "girls don't like Star Wars." She said to me, "Isn't that crazy, mommy? Why wouldn't girls like Star Wars?" Why indeed...Naturally my mind started to wander to the whole girls and math thing.

I started to think about my own experiences in math. I came to the conclusion that I have no idea why girls (in general) tend not to be interested in math, but that as a whole our society has this weird attitude towards it. We have a tendency to think math is hard. We also tend to believe that either we're good at it or we're not. If you're not endowed with math skills, forget it, you won't ever be good at it. I don't think that's true. And here's why...

Upon entering high school, I was placed into intermediate Algebra. Everyone takes a placement test, and that's where the test said I should be. I did extremely well. Really the class was too easy, but when my teacher suggested to the vice principal (VP) that I move to the honors class, she said no. It would be difficult for me to catch up, and so I stayed where I was. At the end of year, we had to select classes for sophomore year. I wanted to take both honors Geometry and Honors Algebra II/Trig. I had goals. I needed those classes to accomplish them. The VP said no. It would be too hard for me. I complained to my mother, who called said VP. After their conversation, my mother told me if I really wanted to take those classes, then I would need to fight for it. So I went into the office and declared that the school was basically telling me I could flush my dreams and goals down the toilet at the age of 15 (yes it was very dramatic). At which point, they agreed to allow me to take the classes if my parents signed a waiver stating that the school wasn't to blame if I failed. Awesome.

Well, about halfway through the first quarter I was failing.  Both classes. It was awful. I went to extra help everyday after school, and obviously it wasn't enough. To make a difficult situation worse, the extra help made me late to cross country practice. My coach was irritated with me. Why did I need so much extra help? Didn't I do my homework? Couldn't I schedule it some other time? I had to push back hard and told him as much as I loved running, my priority was school, and if that was an issue then I couldn't run. He backed off. Then my mom saw my progress report, and that I was failing. She gently suggested that I move down to lower classes, and I threw a complete teenage drama tantrum. I told her that I felt like I was drowning and everyone could see me sinking, but no one would even take the time to throw me a life vest. She felt bad and a bit helpless too, I think.

I did manage to pull off a C+ in each class by the end of the first quarter. By the end of the year I had a C+ in one class and a B- in the other. In my math classes,  I struggled to earn a B- the next two years. So math in high school was really hard for me, but all the hard work eventually paid off. When I entered college it was like a veil had been pulled away, and what was once so very hard, become easy and clear. I received A's in all my college math classes: Calc I, II, III, Differential Equations, Complex Analysis...and I became a math tutor.

The point is, I'm nothing special. I don't have a natural knack for math, but I did have the drive to want to be good at it. Looking back though, I realize there wasn't  a heck of a lot of support for me wanting to be good at math (at my school). And maybe that's an issue. Math is hard for many people (boys and girls). Most people can be good at it though, even if it doesn't come naturally, with hard work. Math is a lot like running. Sure everyone has different capabilities, but even those of us who are not naturally blessed with talent can become reasonably good at it. It takes a lot of hard work though. Practice, determination, drive.

I know this is a running blog, so maybe my math is a lot like running analogy isn't all that interesting, but I wanted to share it with you anyway. It's sort of a big part of who I am, and something that I often think about.I promise more running posts to come! I do want to share a bit of my training for my last marathon, how recovery is going, and what I'm planning next. Oh, and good luck to all those running MCM today!


Michelle said...

Love that Kaylee has a Star Wars lunch box! My 10 year old has a pink iTouch case because he likes the color pink-he is my football playing rough boy who likes pink--why shouldn't boys like pink?

Loved this post. I consider myself a mediocre/Ok runner (especially when compared to you!). I am better than I used to be- For many, many years I was a 10 min/mile runner. I was thrilled to break an hour at a 10K. I am quite a bit faster now after speedwork, etc, and can break 50 min for a 10K ( you know my marathon times). While I know I could never be as fast as you, even if I was able to run 70/wk, I probably could be faster. Maybe one of these days!

Ana-Maria RunTriLive said...

I had a similar experience Katie. I grew up in Romania where you learned from an early age that boys are smarter at everything, including math. I grew up with a brother who is a math genius, or close to it. Even though I Aced all my tests (no options for advanced placement in Romania) I always thought that I was not good at math. Then in college in the US I was asked to be a TA for Advanced Statistics. What???? It was because of prof Miller that I started to believe that I am actually good at math and at that point I started to enjoy it.

So what is it with the US girls and math? I think there are still engrained believes about girls not being as smart as boys, even though people do not opening talk about it. But, if you look at the statistics with college admission tests and graduations, there is a strong trend for girls doing better and better than boys across the board (which makes me worried about my son!). Researchers do not clearly understand why this is, but some hypothesis are increased use of computer games for boys (and connection with ADHD, etc), hormonal changes due to pollution, etc. In any case, it is my strong belief that women are going to surpass men within the next 10-20 years. Interesting to watch.

And running it is a bit like math. You have to practice and practice and want it and want it.

You have such a fighting spirit and your math story is such an indicator of that!

Karen said...

I felt the same way about math growing up. It all began with long division for me. I didn't quite get the hang of it and and my dad tried to help me. He's not the most patient person when it comes to not understanding things, so he'd try it to me once and then walk away frustrated. Kinda stuck with me until well into high school...

Pam said...

I love your attitude! I can relate to this (not the enjoying math part), as I just thought I was bad at math... I thought either you got it our you didn't and that was that, so I always blew off my math homework. My husband always tells me (now, 15 years later) that I could be good at math if I wanted to be and as much as I think he's crazy, I also get it- I'm not a naturally talented runner, but I'm above average because I like to work at it.

I went to an all-girls prep school for high school where there was an emphasis on giving girls the opportunity to excel in math and science and I had a couple of fantastic teachers, but I think by that point, my mind was made up- I was bad at math and I hated it, and I wasn't willing to work hard.