Wild About Math! Making Math fun and accessible

15Oct/074

10 ways to get wild about Math

Some of you reading this blog might wonder how anyone could like Math. Or, maybe you really enjoy Math but a friend, child, or student of yours hates Math. What can you do to increase your appreciation and enjoyment of Math or to help someone else increase their appreciation?

Here are some suggestions:

1. When you are in a helping role - as teacher or tutor or friend - the relationship is EVERYTHING.

People who don't like Math are often afraid of Math and likely have shame about not being good at Math. Do whatever it takes to not judge the person's struggles with Math. Be supportive. Applaud their successes no matter how insignificant those little triumphs may appear to you.

2. Be aware of your preferred learning style.

Different people learn differently. Sounds obvious, doesn't it? Well, schools don't seem to get it. The traditional lecture benefits mainly the auditory learner which comprises only 20-30% of the school-aged population. I could never learn Math via lecture. I'm very kinesthetic and visual. I need to do Math in a very hands on way and I need to draw lots of pictures to cement my understanding. If you're in a class that's taught in a mostly auditory way and you're not a mostly auditory kind of person then takes lots of notes, draw lots of pictures, use different color pens to stimulate your brain and do lots of sample problems. Here's a good read on learning styles.

3. Beyond learning styles, understand multiple intelligences.

In 1983 Harvard Professor of education Howard Gardner developed the theory that the traditional emphasis on IQ was a very limiting way of measuring intelligence. He proposed that there are 8 different kinds of intelligences that promote a broader sense of human potential. You can read more about Gardner's multiple intelligences in this great article. Understanding Gardner's work gives you 8 different ways to teach or learn Math. The work of Mark Wahl is all about Gardner's multiple intelligences.

4. When tutoring, work with the student's preferred learning style, not yours.

Study the attributes of visual, kinesthetic, and auditory learners, identify your student's preferred learning style and spend your time productively using the approach that will best support learning while minimizing the stress of trying to learn in an unnatural way.

5. Create a Math friendly environment.

What does it take to be happy and productive when doing homework, or studying for a test? It depends tremendously on the individual. I do better when there's some kind of music, white noise or other background noise. Other people need quiet. I like having tactile things around - that's probably why I do so well with computers - they're so hands on. Think about having a cozy place to do Math. Choose a table that's ergonomic so as to be comfortable. Have pencils, maybe multi-colored ones, white paper, graph paper, colored paper, ruler, compass, protractor, scissors and whatever else you might need all together in a "toolbox".

6. Manage Math anxiety.

What triggers fear in you or your friend or student? Is it the thought of doing homework? Is it the shame of feeling inadequate? Is it anxiety from there not being enough time? Is it the fear of being judged? Explore relaxation techniques, guided visualizations, stress reduction through a healthy diet and exercise. Have an agreement between the student and teacher (or tutor) that whatever happens in the session is ok.

7. Math is not a spectator sport.

I've never learned much Math by listening to someone talk about it. I've always immersed myself in problem-solving and exploration. Don't expect to be good at Math if you're not doing lots of Math.

8. Getting the right answer isn't the point.

The US public school system is obsessed with there being a right answer (and a right way to get there) but no joy comes from getting the right answer if a depth of understanding doesn't come with it. I think we'd all be much happier if we understood how to solve a particular problem even if we made a mistake along the way. Once we have solid understanding we can then work on increasing our focus and concentration and problem-solving habits to minimize the number of detail mistakes we make. I do several challenging problems a week and I get stuck all the time. If my self-esteem were tied to getting the right answer I'd have given up on Math a very long time ago.

9. It's not a race.

Sometimes there's a pressure to perform, especially on tests. At other times, though, savor the experience of exploring how to solve a problem. Take your time. I can spend a couple of hours or even longer working on a problem that has me captivated. I'll often explore different aspects of a problem rather than rushing to find the answer in a hurry.

10. Let Math-time be play-time.

Ok, so this is going to be a stretch for some of you, I get that. But imagine, if you will, that doing Math is like playing in a sandbox. Imagine that you have no shame about Math, no fear. Imagine that you're doing Math with the joy of a little kid. How much faster would you learn if you changed your beliefs? I encourage you to cultivate the attitude that Math is play. Keep reading this blog for more inspiration in this direction.

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Comments (4) Trackbacks (1)
  1. Thank you! I’m homeschooling my kids and some of this I’ve stumbled across myself and some I needed to hear. This may get printed out and tacked onup on the fridge!

  2. Dawn,

    You’re quite welcome. I’m glad you found the article helpful.

  3. Hey,

    Great article! You’ve made some extremely valid points, and through my years at high school, I always agreed with points 7 and 8. Luckily for me, our school in Australia supported point 8, and in our tests and exams, all but one mark was awarded to how we worked out the question, and the questions would be open enough for us to apply various methods to obtain an answer.

    However, many kids out there don’t appreciate the importance of being able to “apply” things, and prefer just getting the answer.

    Again… very nice article!

    Mark

    P.S. is there a way to add signatures?

  4. Hello,

    You got the best stuff in here. Most students fail to understand what you’ve pointed out here in the 8th point. This often leads to lack of confidence amongst them. I guess i came across one of your messages on Zimbio. I believe you’d just started blogging back then. Thats what I am currently doing. Hope to hear from you.

    Good Luck!


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