The faster you can solve the problem, the smarter you are. Not true.

by | Jun 21, 2023 | Blog | 0 comments

I am eight years old, in the third grade in Mrs. Tollenburg’s class at Tozer Primary School in Windsor Colorado. The year is 1964. It’s time for math.

To get our class actively engaged in learning addition and subtraction, Mrs. Tollenburg has us playing a game called Travel. Travel uses flash cards. Here is how it works. One student is chosen to start the game. That person stands up next to one of their classmates who is seated at their desk, which are, of course, in neat rows.

Mrs. Tollenburg shows the first flash card.

Ready? What is 3 + 9?

The winner is the one who blurts out the correct answer FIRST.

That winner gets to “travel” to the next person and stand next to their desk. If you are traveling and you don’t answer first you sit down and your classmate stands up and gets to travel to the next person.

The object of this game is speed. How fast can you get the answer to those numbers on the flashcards?

If you are really good at this, you can travel around the room.

The only person who I remember doing that was Bobby Gilbert. Bobby was unstoppable at the game of Travel. His rapid-fire arithmetic was unbeatable.

I could never do addition and subtraction as fast as Bobby. As a matter of fact, when I did beat someone at Travel, I never made it very far. Whenever we played I spent most of my time at my desk—not traveling. I hated that game. It was humiliating. I felt stupid.

But I liked school.

In second grade my Dad and I made a robot out of my erector set that I brought to school. In third grade, I would “write” and direct little plays that my classmates and I would act out.

So, when I was a failure at Travel, in my third-grade mind, I translated that into being a failure at math. When in reality, I just processed arithmetic a little slower than Bobby Gilbert.

Because I couldn’t do rapid fire math, I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t do math—at all. I made it as far as 10th grade geometry.

When I was in graduate school, I was required to take statistics. I was terrified. If I barely made it through tenth grade geometry, how in the world was I ever going to make it through statistics?

A funny thing happened. I found out that I actually liked statistics. I loved how math could be used to explain and predict things. When I graduated with my Ph.D., I discovered that I had taken enough classes in statistics to get a graduate minor in the field. The third grader, who was a Travel loser, graduated with a statistics minor.

It has been close to 59 years since I endured the Travel game in third grade, and I still remember it. Why? Because it was painful and humiliating. I wonder how the third grader who never got to stand up and Travel felt?

What did I learn from Travel?

I learned that to be good at math you had to be fast. You had to instantly solve the problem or else you were a failure. If you don’t solve the problem fast, you lose.

And there is no room to redefine the problem. Here is the problem, all set up for you, solve it!

The lesson: Most problems we face are much more complicated than a deck of flash cards. Take the time you need to find the real problem before you try to solve it.

It is on its way. My new book, Solve the Real Problem, is now scheduled for release in August. I will be signing all preordered hard copies of the book and you can now preorder the electronic version. Click here to preorder! 

Save The Date

You are invited to the official release of Solve the Real Problem

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Because you are receiving this, you are invited to the official release of the book on Thursday September 21, 2023. The book release party will be at Seneca One Tower—1 Seneca St., Buffalo, NY 14203. Doors will open at 5:30 PM. I will be doing a talk about the book at 6:00 PM then I will sign books while you enjoy food, drinks and live music. More information will be coming soon. Please plan to attend!

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