Posted by: rdkpickle | 01.07.2012

comfort in confusion

This first week back from break has felt dull, slow, and sleepy – I’ve been battling a pretty nasty cold all week (me and half the school, it seems) and was pretty much just going through the motions to make it to Friday afternoon. I always forget how much energy teaching actually takes each day until, all of the sudden, I’m without any of it. This was definitely not my most stellar teaching week.

However, despite my general malaise (and questionable conversational ability) yesterday, I had a really nice chat after school with a student who came for extra help.

I’ve had this student for 2 years now, and I have seen her grow incredibly in her confidence and comfort level with math. She shared with me, after we finished going over a few problems (unprompted)

“It’s so weird to me… I actually like math now. I enjoy that feeling when I break through and get a solution to a problem, or when something finally clicks.”

She continued by admitting that she sometimes felt slow to understand math conceptually, but hangs on for that great moment when the lack of understanding gives way to a clearer picture. Yes! That! That is one of the things I love most about math, and the one I have the hardest time putting into words. Math is not a cut-and-dry mechanical performance: that step from confusion into clarity is an emotional feat as much as it is an academic one, for me.

I pointed her towards this great thread, which I saw online the other day and really enjoyed. I’ve pulled one of my favorite quotes below.

Quora: What is it like to have an understanding of very advanced mathematics?

“You are comfortable with feeling like you have no deep understanding of the problem you are studying. Indeed, when you do have a deep understanding, you have solved the problem and it is time to do something else. This makes the total time you spend in life reveling in your mastery of something quite brief. One of the main skills of research scientists of any type is knowing how to work comfortably and productively in a state of confusion.”

Just another reminder not to be satisfied with stasis; to continue to move forward and be comfortable in the confusion that propels me to grow.

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Responses

  1. Another person saying the same thing, again:

    http://calnewport.com/blog/2012/01/09/intelligence-is-irrelevant-an-mit-alums-advice-to-a-struggling-student/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+StudyHacks+%28Study+Hacks%29

    “The students who are successful, by contrast, look at that challenge, wrestle with feelings of inadequacy and stupidity, and then begin to take steps hiking that mountain, knowing that bruised pride is a small price to pay for getting to see the view from the top.”

  2. For the first time in my life, I have found out, from your post, that others feel the same as I when solving a tough math problem. I always think that I don’t know what I am doing, and am woefully unprepared for success. Then, after working out a solution, that “aha” moment arrives and I feel great!. Now on to the next problem and the same inadequate feelings.

    I realize now that this only means that I am working on the right level of difficulty! Thanks Rachel.


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