# Elementary School Mathematics Education Mysteries

Since these two problems are really the exact same problem, in two different forms, why not just use “x” to teach it, from the beginning, in elementary school, instead of using the little box? The two symbols have the exact same meaning!

To the possible answer, “We use an ‘x’ for multiplication, instead, so doing this would be confusing,” I have a response: why? Using “x” for multiplication is a bad idea, because then students have to unlearn it later. In algebra, it’s better to write (7)(5) = 35, instead of 7×5 = 35, for obvious reasons — we use “x” as a variable, instead, almost constantly. This wouldn’t be as much trouble for students taking algebra if they had never been taught, in the first place, that “x” means “multiply.” It’s already a letter of the alphabet and a variable, plus it marks spots. It doesn’t need to also mean “multiply.”

Why are we doing things in a way that causes more confusion than is necessary? Should we, as teachers, not try to minimize confusion? We certainly shouldn’t create it, without a good reason for doing so, and these current practices do create it.

These things may not be mysteries to others, but they certainly are to me.

[Note: for those who do not already know, I am a teacher of mathematics. However, I do not have any experience teaching anything at the elementary level. For this particular post, that’s certainly relevant information.]

# My New Middle Initial and Name: A Mathematical Welcome-Back Gift from My Alma Mater

I just had a middle initial assigned to me, and then later, with help, figured out what that initial stood for. With apologies for the length of this rambling story, here’s an explanation for how such crazy things happened.

I graduated from high school in 1985, and then graduated college, for the first time, with a B.A. (in history, of all things), in 1992. My alma mater is the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, or UALR, whose website at http://www.ualr.edu is the source for the logo at the center of the image above.

Later, I transferred to another university, became certified to teach several subjects other than history, got my first master’s degree from there (also in history) in 1996, and then quit seeking degrees, but still added certification areas and collected salary-boosting graduate hours, until 2005. In 2005, the last time I took a college class (also at UALR), I suddenly realized, in horror, that I’d been going to college, off and on, for twenty years. That, I immediately decided, was enough, and so I stopped — and stayed stopped, for the past ten years.

Now it’s 2015, and I’ve changed my mind about attending college — again. I’ve been admitted to a new graduate program, back at UALR, to seek a second master’s degree — one in a major (gifted and talented education) more appropriate for my career, teaching (primarily) mathematics, and the “hard” sciences, for the past twenty years. After a ten-year break from taking classes, I’ll be enrolled again in August.

As part of the process to get ready for this, UALR assigned an e-mail address to me, which they do, automatically, using an algorithm which uses a person’s first and middle initial, as well as the person’s legal last name. With me, this posed a problem, because I don’t have a middle name.

UALR has a solution for this: they assigned a middle initial to me, as part of my new e-mail address: “X.” Since I was not consulted about this, I didn’t have a clue what the “X” even stands for, and mentioned this fact on Facebook, where several of my friends suggested various new middle names I could use.

With thanks, also, to my friend John, who suggested it, I’m going with “Variable” for my new middle name — the name which is represented by the “X” in my new, full name.

I’ve even made this new middle initial part of my name, as displayed on Facebook. If that, plus the e-mail address I now have at UALR, plus this blog-post, don’t make this official, well, what possibly could?