Solving For Why

I miss the days when Math was as easy as 1-2-3, and I could rattle off my times tables without missing a beat. Now, I despise anything to do with math – even simple measurements and counting money. When I reached grade 7, I was taken out of mainstream math classes in order to be taught by my vision teacher. I was told that this was because math is a highly visual concept, so therefore my vision teacher would be able to teach it in a different way. I was uncertain about this as I am a very visual learner and need to see things laid out in front of me, not to mention the fact that my vision teacher was not a qualified math teacher. I left this alone though, believing that professionals always know best.

Needless to say, I needed up getting a C- in my math classes and even failed a few years. I was being taught how to memorize formulas and plug things into them, rather than “why” this was being done. I was also taught to do these equations without the visual methods used by other students who would draw out the triangles, or would have a picture of what they were trying to solve for. This confused me because as a blind individual you are already missing out on the visual world around you, thus it is not surprising that I didn’t understand graphs and the shape of triangles by simply being told about them. I am someone who needs to physically see a graph in front of me and look at where the change is happening , or feel a triangle and understand how an isosceles version is different from a normal one. I never would have realized this until I was put back into a mainstream math class.

In Grade 10, it was determined that perhaps a mainstream math class would either help me achieve a higher grade or I couldn’t do any worse then I was. Therefore with the support of a SEA (Special Education Assistant), I entered a class with the rest of my fellow high school students. I am glad to say I got a B in that class, and I believe that it was due to the difference in teaching and the willingness to get creative and try new methods of teaching the material. Rather than be excluded from the visual elements of math, I was exposed to various different components which provided me with a gateway in gaining a better understanding of certain concepts such as graphing and being presented with a more clear picture of the reason behind triangle measurements.

My support in the class got creative and not only did we purchase braille graph paper, but we used a common kids craft material, Wikki Stix, to construct tactile lines on the graph to create different shapes that correlated with each math problem. This was also done by using puff paint or a hot glue gun to create both the Y axis and X axis on which sticky dots could be placed to indicate each point on the graph scale. I was clearly able to see what was occurring in the math problem and visualize the concept in my head, and was especially useful when dealing with parabolas as I had no idea what they looked like. Additionally, we created tactile triangles out of cardboard that I could use when solving equations.

I remember when I wasn’t understanding how a triangle could represent the side of a building and the measurement from the floor to the roof, so my SEA took me to our library building and showed me how connecting a rope from the floor in front of the door going up to the roof created one side of the triangle and that the building itself was then the other side. These interpretations into visual concepts I could use to guide me through the math problems were not only life savers and equivalent to what my peers were doing, but helped me understand real-life concepts as well. If I never explored, then I wouldn’t have learnt how things such as building sides are measured and what it physically looks like.

I was really grateful at the end of high school when I was getting 93 percent in my math class and somehow ended up receiving the Top Student Award for that subject area, even though I still believe that I am unable to do Math. I believe that this stems from what I have heard all my life and from some comments that it was my SEA who earned the grade. The fact that blind students are also discouraged from heading into this field may also contribute to this attitude as well.

Although I believe that Vision Professionals hold a very important job with us students, I strongly think that limiting our interaction with an actual classroom teacher who is qualified to teach educational materials inadvertently hinders our chance of success. As demonstrated above, sometimes the student themselves not only know how they learn best, but can highly benefit through mainstream education rather than having a sole focus on the vision aspect. Adapting math can be thought of as an equation itself. If you are trying to solve for why and how, simply build an equation that works for the student and fill in the blanks until you get the desired answer.

by Harjinder Saran (Jinnie)