Hey there! How’s it going?
One of the biggest changes in our culture over the last few weeks has been the loss of sports. In fact, many of us really got a taste of how seriously we should take the coronavirus outbreak when we saw the seasons of the NBA, MLB, MLS, and more fall like dominos in mid-March.
We love to watch our athletes, don’t we? It’s thrilling to see hard work pay off in the form of a big win, a comeback, or an underdog victory. But what we don’t see when we are watching the games and matches is the work that went into getting to the big game.
What we don’t see are the drills. The fundamental skill practices. The repetition, repetition, repetition of the foundational building blocks that all come together on game or race day.
Drills are repetitive training activities that hone particular skills in a narrow, targeted way. Drills help, say, a swimmer, perfect tiny parts of each stroke or kick. And guess what? They then come together to make a longer swim faster and stronger, with more efficient effort.
One swim instructor puts it this way: “If swimmers try to put it all together without mastering individual skills they will end up with poor technique and less efficiency when they are trying to swim. Swimming is hard work and an inefficient stroke makes it harder still. I know I want my students to LOVE swimming and if it is too hard it won’t be enjoyable for them. Teaching correct technique will make swimming easy and fun!”
Now, you know that part of my mission it so make math learning fun and enjoyable. That’s not all that different from what John Saxon wanted, either. Now, he was a military man who wrote textbooks with no pictures so I don’t know if FUN was on his educational radar (although perhaps he was the life of the party? Sadly, I never met the man). But he certainly wanted math to be more effortless for his students.
His answer? Repetition.
“The repetition… is necessary to permit all students to master all the concepts. Then, application of the concepts must be practiced for a long time to ensure retention. This practice has an element of drudgery to it, but it has been demonstrated that people who are not willing to practice fundamentals often find success elusive. Ask any athlete, musician, or artist about the necessity of practicing fundamental skills.“
–John Saxon, Algebra 1, 3rd edition
Repetitive training activities build those foundational skills. We must do the drill to get the skill. Help your student embrace that. Help your child see that the practice of the “drudgery” is something that anyone who is great at something technical must go through in order to get whatever form of glory they are speaking.
While math drills may not get our students an Olympic medal or a headlining place on stage, it will make doing math more effortless throughout their academic careers and into the rest of their lives. A little drudgery now will have a great payoff later. And at some point, it may just become fun, too.