When I tell people that I was a math teacher, they frequently say “I’m not good at math” or “I hated math”! Many adults have learned to not like math. Those feelings can rub off on children. Or well intentioned adults may accept children's hatred of math since they can relate and sympathize. The hope is that adults can rise up and encourage children to have a growth mindset and persevere. As math educators, we can help instill a love of mathematics among our students. Math is beautiful and useful in life. Let’s explore why children should love math and how to instill that love in them.
Why Love Math
- Math DOES appear in real life. While upper level mathematics such as trigonometry may not be a part of everyday life, finances, basic algebra, and basic geometry are a part of everyone’s life! Confidence and positivity can help children make smart financial decisions in the future and be efficient as adults.
- Math builds problem solving and critical thinking skills. Learning how to think through difficult situations is an important skill that can be applied in many facets of life!
- Math can help foster curiosity. Curiosity helps foster creativity in any part of your life. If we think about the arts and engineering - creativity can support designing and creating.
- Math can help foster questioning. As a soft skill, questioning helps people to be open to new ideas and learning. Questioning can protect people as they have a healthy skepticism.
How to Love Math
A way to help students develop and maintain a positive attitude towards math is by teaching a growth mindset. We’ve talked about this before and will continue to because it is so important! Growth mindset helps students persevere and see the positives of math. Here are some ways you can foster the growth mindset with students.
- Question: In education, an important practice is questioning. Questioning students entails continuing conversations with students instead of giving them answers and steps. Ask students open-ended questions that start with words like “why”, “how”, “explain”. Questioning allows students to expand their thinking to the next level. This benefits classmates as they hear others share their thoughts. Asking questions such as do you agree or disagree with Classmate A allows cooperation and friendly engagement, which is also a life skill!
- Develop Number Sense: Number sense is the ability to understand, relate and connect numbers. Students should see number connections and the flexibility to break them up and put them back together.
- Use Puzzles: Physical jigsaw puzzles, word play puzzles like wordle, or riddles are great ways to show how math is about problem solving. Puzzles usually require logic which is a way to attract all students, even those that “do not like math”. While they may seem “non-curricular”, they include patterns and thinking in the realm of math. They help students develop their critical thinking skills in a fun and engaging way.
- Accept Mistakes: Mistakes are important because they teach us to keep trying and to be flexible. This allows students to grow when they face adversity instead of shutting down. Making mistakes requires feeling safe. Asking open ended questions helps students understand that you value their input.
- Support Multiple Methods: It’s about the journey, not the destination - from elementary addition to college calculus. While there is sometimes only one solution, there are usually multiple methods to solve problems. Some students excel at conceptual methods while others excel at procedural methods. Whichever is their strength, let students solve problems in the way that makes sense to them.
People view math in very different ways, good or bad, it’s a necessary skill that will lead your child or students on an adventure of a lifetime. Let’s make that journey exciting and rewarding.