Math is not to be accepted. It is to be understood.

I have been pondering why Maths is one of the most hated subjects among the kids as well as adults. Why is it that the mere thought of it makes a few of them uneasy? What can be done to reduce this Math anxiety? To understand the origin of the adverse reactions towards Math and to get a deeper insight into Math anxiety, I read the book “Mind over Math” by Dr. Stanley Kogelman & Dr. Joseph Warren. The authors quote,
“Many people remember their first negative experiences with Math with such clarity and emotion that it seems as if it were just yesterday, even if it really was twenty, thirty or even fifty years ago.”
The book claims that Math anxiety is an emotional inhibition, not an intellectual one and one can overcome it. I agree. Let’s take a look into it together.

Where are we going wrong with Maths?

Unfortunately, in most of the cases, maths concepts and methods have been presented in a ready-made form. The history of the mathematical ideas and the lives of mathematicians are rarely discussed while teaching Maths . Maths is looked upon as some eternal truth, as if it has always been there, not something that was discovered and developed. Math has been portrayed as a subject which is to be accepted, not understood.
When we teach our children with this mindset, we convert this beautiful, creative and flexible subject into a boring & rigid one in our children’s memories.

What can we do to correct it?

What can we do to convert this uninteresting and inflexible looking subject into its original form – that is creative, flexible & beautiful?
We need to give them some background of the concepts and we need to help them in visualizing these concepts rather just accepting them. It is our duty to create a plot where they can see how these mathematical ideas were developed by people like us.
We need to help our children in building their own concept ladder rather than taking the stairs created by someone else.
Maths concepts are not isolated. They are very well connected to each other. When a student is unable to see this connection, he loses interest in the subject.

Let me explain my point using one example – Area & Volume.

When my students are clear with the concept of Area, I do not pass them the formula for Volume directly. I give them some time to think about the connection between Area & Volume. In case they are unable to find any connection, I give them a clue to think about a ‘paper’ and a ‘book’. I believe in giving minimum clues.
A paper represents Area. When we start stacking papers, it gets converted into a book. This is like multiplication, which is repetitive addition.
stacking_papers
So, the book (Volume) is nothing but the repetitive addition of pages (Area).
Volume = Area X Height
This 10 – 15 mins time invested in visualizing a new concept (volume) based on the previously known concepts (area and multiplication) pays a huge return in terms of learning. Once the visuals are clear, they develop genuine interest in solving the problems and they get the taste of ‘Joy of Learning’.

Moral of the Story

There is no best way to do Maths.
It is such a flexible subject that it offers us many ways to solve the same problem. And, we should promote this flexibility by giving our students freedom to solve it in their own way. There is no need of uniquely created/crafted tricks for different problems. Flexibility comes with the visual understanding of concepts and the connection between various concepts.
Forget Maths, let’s think about Movies – How do you feel when you watch a movie where the scenes are not well connected? When a movie can be so boring in the absence of well connected scenes, think about a child’s situation who is doing Maths without any clarity about these concept connections.
We need well connected visual explanations to take away Math anxiety. I use such visual examples during my sessions. I will try to publish some of these visuals as time permits. In the meantime, get creative and try to make your own visual examples for helping your children in visualizing this beautiful subject. You can message us anytime in case you need an idea for the same. It will be a pleasure for Maths2Art to be a part of such creative Maths initiative.
Let’s make Maths Simple & Visual together !

3 thoughts on “Math is not to be accepted. It is to be understood.

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