Kaity is my daughter. She’s home from school today, with her teacher mom, because she’s sick. This morning she slept on the couch and felt pretty crummy but by the afternoon she was doing much better so I figured it was a good opportunity to talk about what she’s learning in school these days.

She mentioned a math sheet full of problems she found in her dad’s classroom that she wanted to try even though she wasn’t in Grade 8 yet. They were algebra questions. Simple one step problems using addition and subtraction.

She asked me for a sample question to solve and I wrote one down. Then I asked her, how do you solve these? She told me that the letter was a “mystery” number and could be anything. She quickly answered the first question but it was wrong. She said y = 6 when faced with the equation y + 4 = 9. I explained that if y = 6 and we add 4 to it, we don’t get 9. Fair enough, she got it right on the second try. And she quickly figured out that y = 3 when looking at y + 3 = 6.

I asked her why y wasn’t 5 again. How come it’s different? She rolled her eyes (like most kids do) and told me that the letter doesn’t matter. The letter can be anything because it just takes the place of the mystery number.

Then she figured she’d show me what she meant, and she made up her own equations underneath mine.

She even took it a step farther and threw in a couple extra numbers into the equation and used an “m”. Then she gave me an example where M could be the same number but in a different situation. Then she was just showing off by moving the variable around and using an “O” and trying to trick me into thinking it was a zero. And she started using subtraction instead of just plain old addition.

Kaity verbally showed me she now understands how algebra works pretty well. She understands the letter itself doesn’t matter, nor does where it is placed in the equation. She also knows that she has to check her answers to see if they are reasonable.

And she only got the first question wrong. With a bit of quick instruction she tried it again, but more importantly, the fact that she got it wrong didn’t stop her from wanting to know how to do it properly. She pressed on and got it correct the second time.

That’s what we want from kids. Passion to learn and the perserverance to push through even when they get incorrect answers. To verbally explain how they figure out the answers to problems they are faced with. To show understanding of (in this case, algebra) through whatever means necessary to demonstrate their understanding.

But here’s the thing….this is my daughter:

How is it my 7 year old says, please teach me algebra and my Grade 8’s roll their eyes. How is it my daughter, who has a passion for math, can pick up in moments what it takes me days to teach 13 year olds?

Those 13 year olds had to be 7 at one point, begging for someone to teach them something. At what point did those 13 year olds stop asking questions? Stop wanting to be taught? When did school become something they “have to do” instead of what they “want to do?”

My daughter is intelligent but I have no delusions that she is “gifted”. She’s just passionate about learning and so she picked this up pretty quickly. And all I can do is pray that she hangs onto that passion for learning for as long as we can keep it going.

Although she’ll probably ask her dad to stay home with her the next time she’s sick……

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