My colleague Donna Gonzalez and I have discovered that we often have similar points of view. One pet peeve we have in common is that we sometimes hear students (or even teachers!) talk about “tricks” for solving math problems.
Making math seem like magic is no solution to students’ difficulties in understanding mathematics. We have techniques that we use — and teach — but they’re not tricks. One way around this problem is to make sure that students understand why the techniques work (sometimes a hopeless battle); another way around it is simply to refuse to use the techniques that appear to be tricks. I was reminded of this issue recently when reading a post in the wonderful Drawing on Math blog, a blog that I recommend in general. Author Tina Cardone refers readers to the nascent Nix the Tricks website, which already discusses quite a number of “tricks” and proposes alternatives that make more sense, generally avoiding the trick rather than attempting to ensure that it makes sense. This site will be very useful, especially to teachers of Algebra II (like me). Even at Weston the perception that math is a bag of tricks is far too common.