Boys from Hope House hanging out at the local public park.
Math was a topic many of us didn’t like in elementary school. Words were warm, personal and familiar. On the other hand, numbers were cold and distant—used for some logic we didn’t quite understand yet. Maybe what I’m about to say is just me speaking through the lens of a words-guy. Totally possible. There will always be the math geeks and the writing nerds but there is a wide group in between. I seem to remember that among that group, language arts was the preferred choice over math. I can’t find consensus on this from published studies but a quick glance through the literature brings up an apparently widespread “condition” called math anxiety. That hardly needs an explanation. If you haven’t suffered from it, somebody you know has.
It is because of this that I find my students’ attitudes so strange. Not long ago I designed an activity for one of my tutoring groups. There was a list of 10 questions on the board that ranged from “What animal would you like as a pet?” to “A magic door appears in the hallway at school and you step through it. Describe what happens.” All they needed was to choose five questions and answer each with two complete sentences. You would have thought I forced broccoli on them for a week. One little fifth grade wolf, after several minutes of huffing and puffing, told me that he would create his own math problems instead.
Now, what would you rather do if I gave you this assignment? Would you design and solve your own math problems? Or would you bang out a couple of sentences? The answer for my students was: double my mathwork, please!
I didn’t let them get away from the assignment. Writing is important. Math is important. I don’t know why these kids experience “writing anxiety” like I used to experience for math, but I do know that I outgrew it and I am working toward the same end with them.
We’ve started a project to fill in the gap of the boys’ language arts education. I’m excited but we’re still in the planning stages. Keep following us for more information and to learn how you can help stop little wolves from huffing and puffing every time they’re asked to write a sentence.