Math and Brain Injuries

Back in 1994, I was run off the road on a dark and stormy night by someone speeding. I didn’t realize it at the time but I messed up my brain pretty badly. I had no visible injuries other than the bruising from the seat belt, so I figured I was ok. Turns out I scrambled my brains pretty good, although I didn’t know it at the time. My job consisted of walking around and writing down the pressure on various gauges, so my injuries went unnoticed. Anyone could have done my job as long as they knew how to read a gauge. Any inconsistencies were noted, and the engineers on day shift did the repairs. Grave shift was there because of the law that said all boilers above 15 p.s.i. needed to have someone on duty at all times. I managed to hide my sudden lack of knowledge behind a combination of feigned indifference and (if anyone pressed me) a little aggressiveness. I didn’t even realize I was doing this.

It was a good 7 or 8 years later when some of my memories started coming back to me that I realized how compromised my brain really was. My first returned memory and biggest regret is not remembering a girl from junior high named Diane who approached me one day when I was on break at work. She was one of the few people who was nice to me in JH. She was of the dominant race in the school and me a minority, and this during the race riots in our area. I’m sorry, Diane. I didn’t mean to hurt you by not remembering you. I wasn’t myself. I may never get the chance to apologize to her. I wasn’t rude, I just didn’t remember her, but I could see that it hurt her. I’ve been hurt and hate the thought of causing pain to anyone, especially someone who showed me kindness.

I guess it was 2007 or 8 that I discovered Khan Academy. By this time, I’d regained enough memories to realize just how bad I was in the beginning, and I was determined to give my brain some exercise to help stimulate nerve tissue growth. I searched online and found a few places but most either wanted you to pay for their services or were not very good or interesting. Khan Academy is different and really stood our for me. They teach a variety of subjects in a wide variety of levels. They teach with videos that explain each concept thoroughly and test with multiple choice questions, and they switch it up so it never gets boring. I decided to start with something that would be easy. Little did I know how steep the learning curve is for the “new” math. I almost failed the kindergarten level, so I decided to go back to the very beginning and study preschool math. Doing this allowed me to grasp the concepts of *how* they were teaching students to do math. Once I got this down, the kindergarten and first grades were marred only by my carelessness.

I have a bad habit of not finishing what I start. This affected my learning at Khan Academy as well as many other things I’ve studied. Once I put something down, I often forget to pick it up again, distracted by something new and shiny. I keep going back to Khan Academy. Sometimes I would leave it for a month, sometimes a year or two, but I keep going back. Now I have them bookmarked in my browser bar, so I have a constant reminder, and since bookmarking them I have been to visit at least 3-4 times a week. This is great progress for me.

I’m now studying 3rd grade math, fractions and division. The going is tough, but as long as I don’t try to rush through it, I’m doing well. Taking it at my own pace means that when something is giving me trouble I can take my time to truly understand it before moving on.

My eventual goal is biology, but in order to understand biology properly I need to understand chemistry, and in order to understand chemistry, I need a solid foundation in math. When I start getting discouraged with my slow progress in math, I remind myself how far I’ve come since the accident, and how important this is to the later subjects that will captivate my imagination completely. And so, I plod on.

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