one of my most cognizant memories as a kid is of math. and math practice. as i learnt numbers, one of the excercises of the day was to set rudimentary math sums, such as finding the integral of sin hx or the second variant of a distribution, and making me solve it. ok, i’m kidding. but whatever was set was just as hard at age 2; as those are today. ok, not really hard. but you get the point.
yeah, and the second one makes very little sense.
initially, it was a game; a matter of encouragement. then a matter of pride when the parent sees division comes as easily to a kid as eating. incidentally, i was a very troublesome eater.. i have pictures that are testament to it. showing off is a natural progression when children show extraordinary ability. i still rememeber leaving some grandparents stumped when i would correct their ‘mahabharata’. and do well at math. yay me.
thatha used to set these all the time, and made it a competition to see who get finish the sums first. the reward was the ultimate goal : more sums.
as schools were joined, and math went up a level; and the concept of exams became a central motivating factor (“Look at ____, he’s topped his exams again. And gotten a centum in maths.”)… the concept of math practice was ingrained. simple sums solved on a handy blackboard gave way to pages of calculations, and exam papers solved to ge the habit of solving them quickly. indeed, one particular exam was stressful enough to cause me to mutter(though my parents say ‘cry’) the immortal words – ‘but the square root of 4 is 1.9’; or words to that effect.
however, credit must be given where it is due. whenever math practice caused books of sums to be inadequate, the exam results would vary between a 99 and a 100. i remember solving such papers almost in a trance, as more than one-third of the sums were done. half the rest were solved in my brain when i looked at them. felt good too.
another exam had me come home and assure my grandparents that the golden 100% was guaranteed, because the paper was dot perfect. in real fact, every sum in the textbook had been solved twice. eventual result was 99.5%, and was one of the few times i fought for the remainder .5%. to put matters into context, i became a guy who at one stage would check post-math-exam that the minimum requirement for passing was going to be satisfied. that’s it.
coming back to chronology, engineering arrived and math marks fell as practice fell. the point was not lost on me, it was just that math was just a chore eventually. a mandatory subject that needed to be finished to complete the course. words drilled into me for 15 years were buried in a flurry of random activities.. and ‘practice practice practice’ could eventually be made part of a conscience that was being ignored.
now, finally, 20 years later.. the real beauty of those words comes to me. once again, to put matters into context.. i’m in a math class again. the difference is i think i understand the equations better (differential equations for those needing to know). a recent assignment had me playing around with equations and poring the textbooks for a day or so. eventually, the human need to sleep had me go to bed; with a coupla questions unsolved. the next morning, it took all of 20 minutes to solve them perfectly. the method just came. the beauty of the method, of the solution and the problem were apparent to me during the process too.. but that is incidental. the previous night had me doubting my ability…’practice practice practice’ was all it took.
ironic that i should take as long as i did to really understand something they try to ingrain in you at age two.
math = practice practice practice. that’s it.