Math in Short: Visual Multiplication


Part of the reason I was never a brilliant math student had to do with the chasm of difference between how I was taught math and how I understood it. Art has always been ‘my thing’ so in spite of all my math teachers’ best efforts to learn by the book, I inevitably accessed the subject artistically. Specifically, through patterns.

In school, I was an incorrigible margin-doodler and I would always get mad whenever a teacher scolded me for not showing my work. The crazy cartoon geometry framing my homework showed how I worked the math problems! I never understood why my teachers got so annoyed with me for finding answers in my own way. It was an early and often-repeated lesson in how seeing the world differently is widely equated with cheating.

Now look at me. Parent of a school-aged child and worried sick about the cookie-cutter curriculum he’s up against… Sometimes it still seems that way, doesn’t it? Like it’s us versus classrooms? But kids and parents are better armed these days; we have the internet, and it is full of useful alternatives for students who need them. I even found an example of someone demonstrating multiplication the way I taught myself to understand it. Specifically, through patterns.

Vi Hart is my favorite mathematician and among my top five favorite YouTubers. Her videos are an effective combination of straightforward, smart and charming, and I recommend them highly to geeks of all kinds.

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5 thoughts on “Math in Short: Visual Multiplication

  1. Yes, yes! Three is a triangle, much like a 1-3-5 chord in music is a triangle. Some of mine is purely conceptual,, though. Two is a sort of twice-a-one that isn’t easily described, and I also tend to think in terms of half-ten instead of five, that sort of thing. But ten is a definite visual quantity in my brain, I just SEE the other quantities in relationship to that. I was terrible at math until college when I took a class in number systems; much of the discussion was more text-based, and that was the connection I’d always needed between the numbers on the page and the pictures/concepts in my brain. Delicious words!

    1. The only thing I had going for me in math was stubbornness. I was gonna learn it my own way, and it didn’t matter how many teachers I crossed. Ha!

      But yeah, college was easier. The profs were too busy to care HOW we learned it, and they always seemed happier when we did most of the teaching ourselves. *shrug* I know that wouldn’t work in every elementary classroom, but I’d love Baz to be in the test market for a similarly exploratory curriculum, I can tell you that.

  2. OMG! I was great with math until it Geometry in High School, and then it all went downhill fast for me, and I was left feeling frustrated and stupid. I wish I’d had someone to teach me this way, so much easier!

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