Why Engineers Make Bad Math Tutors

I was at my dad’s house the other day and decided to pull out my new Math’d Potatoes game to see how my super-gaming family liked it.

The kids in the house were too young to play, so my sister and I asked Aunt Linda and our stepmom to play with us.

They quickly claimed they were “math Neanderthals” but agreed to play anyway. My dad, an engineer, was asleep.

The game has simple rules.

You play Math’d Potatoes by drawing a card, rolling five dice and making an expression that “satisfies” the card.

The card requests various types of “answers”:

  • Even or odd
  • Equal to a certain number
  • Between two numbers
  • Less than/greater than a certain number

Everybody got into it.

Aunt Linda and Louise (my pet name for my stepmom) both agreed that it was a fun math game. This is in spite of the fact that neither one of them like math, and Aunt Linda doesn’t even like to play games at all!

My dad saw the game the next morning.

I had intentionally not waken up my father to play with us the night before. My decision was validated the next morning.

My dad is an engineer, and as such tends to use the phrase “all you have to do is,” and the word “just.” He’s a very smart man, and I’ve learned lots from him through the years. And one of those lessons is: “Keep an engineer away from sensitive math learners.”

Sure enough, when he saw the game, he eagerly said, “What’s this? Are we going to play it?”

When I explained we played the night before he responded with, “Why didn’t you wake me? I totally would’ve won.”

Math learning is slowly build, and quickly destroyed.

When we were playing, Aunt Linda and Louise were both starting to warm to the idea of math. They were enjoying the game. My sister and I were holding back just a little to give them an opportunity to discovery their own skills. (We both experienced the engineer–math–dad super push growing up.)

So by the end of the game that night, they were excited, confident, and enjoying themselves.

Had I woken up my father to play the game, he certainly would have won. He might’ve turned it into a competition, or he might have tried to help a little too much.

Either way they would’ve lost interest. Their confidence would have been destroyed. And two beautiful, smart and happy women would have their, “I’m a math Neanderthal” thoughts validated.

You can use this with your children.

If you or your spouse are in a math related field, or was “always good at math,” be aware of your potential intimidation factor. Hold back. Don’t help. Allow discovery and confidence to come at its own slow and natural pace. Your children will learn math, in their own time.

Don’t force it, or you might destroy it.

Note: They sent me this game for free. This is not a review, per se, but still – you should know how I got it.



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