What to do When You’re Stuck on a Math Problem (Or Buying a Dress)

This is Day 13 of 31 Days of Math Learning Success. Follow all the days here and check out others that are writing for 31 days here.
For some, getting stuck on a math problem is really anxiety provoking. Kinda like trying to buy a dress for me.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
~ Lao Tzu

As a student, you’ll often have a harder than usual problem that you need to get done.

If you sit and stare at the blank paper, it won’t get done. If you look back-and-forth from the paper to the textbook, it won’t get done.

If you wonder if you’re ever going to figure it out, it won’t get done.

Really, it won’t get done.

Buying a Dress

Say you need to buy a dress.

If you sit outside the dress store, you won’t end up with a dress. If you don’t look through the clothes on the racks, you won’t end up with a dress.

If you wonder if you’re ever going to find a dress, you won’t end up with a dress.

And if you don’t try anything on, you won’t…

Well, you get the picture.

Thrifting for a Dress

I am a fashion idiot. And my thrifty fashion blogger friends Priscilla and Traci seem to think that I, too, can shop. (Not unlike my professional opinion that they, too, can do math with their kids.)

So they gave me an assignment: buy a dress.

I don’t wear many dresses. Bluebell Ice Cream is back and I have been catching up on all the half gallons I’ve missed. And I haven’t been running much. So physically and mentally I wasn’t too excited about this.

Okay, really. I was panicked.

Shopping for a Dress

But Pricilla came along via Blab. It was like sitting next to a tutor trying to get a math problem done. I had my security blanket.

She walked me into the store, despite my stalling tactics. She took me through the rack checking process and I loaded up my basket.

Now all I had to do was try all these on and pick one.

Getting Started on Your Math

So back to math… You’re at your table. With your homework. Book open. Paper out.

And you’re staring at the problem and your blank piece of paper.

1. Step into the store.

Which is mathish for “Write the problem down.”

I don’t care if you aren’t required to. Write it.

2. Filter through the racks of dresses.

Translation: “Write down stuff you know.”

Anything that is from that section – formulas or special definitions. Anything that’s in bold or in a shaded box. Write it.

3. Don’t skip over dresses you like just because they aren’t the right size. Apparently sizes aren’t exact and stretchy stuff gives more. So dump it in your basket – often those things end up being the good finds.

Math talk: “If something looks like it’s not applicable, write it down anyway.” Often those things are the ones that end up being important.

4. Now comes the really hard part – trying stuff on. You may feel ugly, fat and stupid. But one of those dresses just might work. And you can’t know unless you try it on.

For math, this means trying stuff out. Use the formulas and the definitions you copied. You may feel ugly, fat and stupid.

But if you keep trying stuff, one of those things just might work. And you can’t know unless you try it.

The Moral of the Story

Math, like all challenges in life, takes a leap. You have to jump in and get dirty. You have to dive into the racks and start trying stuff on.

And… and this is the big one… you still might not be successful. And that’s okay.

You can always try again the next day.

After all, I left my wallet at home and didn’t even get to buy the two dresses that I ended up choosing!

Watch a brief recap of the adventure below. And if you’re enjoying the 31 Days of Math Learning Success, share it on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest!



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