Math, as a subject, has always been revered by certain people (read mathematicians and scientists) and feared by the rest of the world. Research shows that most U.S. students do not acquire the level of quantitative skills necessary for future studies or even brighter career prospects. We can see it all around us: Increasing numbers of college students taking remedial courses, and comparisons that show US students far behind students from other countries. In fact, statistics show many students who entered college having studied calculus, have trouble with elementary math!
Answers to the above concerns can be found by facing the so called ‘myths’ about Math.
a) Math skills depends on the country we are from
Math as a subject, core or application, is universal in nature — A student from any country or background can compete equally with any other in the world, unlike geography or diction for example, which vary by background. Math being factual and logical by nature, students can grasp the main concept no matter where or how they’re taught.
b) Only scientists and engineers need to understand math
Mathematics is now considered to be a language for all disciplines. It is a science that is useful in most areas of life. The basic understanding of math concepts is not just required in our day to day life, but is also extremely important in several areas like accounting, banking, finance and computing.
c) Only one way to solve any math problem
Teaching math through methods? Think again. A math problem is something related to a real life situation, and every child may have a different way of approaching it. Be open to ideas, and let children figure out their best way, rather than restrict them to traditional approaches.
d) One must memorize a lot of facts and formulas
As discussed before, math is all about getting concepts right and implementing ideas. Rather than just having kids know that 2×3 equals 6, it is important to make them understand that it also means 2 groups of 3.
e) Math can be learnt by repetitive problem solving alone
Parents often think the best way to learn is through repetitive practice of the same kind until kids get it. The reality is, it’s important to realize when a kid isn’t learning, and teach him using a new method or real life analogy then and there. Overemphasis on solving worksheets and repetitive exercises just leads to the development of negative attitude in return.
f) The ultimate aim of solving any math problem is to get the right answer
If you are launching a satellite, it is important to make sure that you counted everything right. No one would like to hear that the satellite failed to launch just because certain calculations went wrong! But the question really is — are you a launching satellite? Or simply learning math? Getting to the right answer should certainly be important to you, but the process of getting there is just as important. Most kids are preoccupied with the thought of getting the correct answer — But the important thing is to understand what you’re doing, rather than just do it.
g) Math is all about Logic without creativity
The truth of the matter is that math does require logic — but not without creativity! Like any other science, mathematics also involves a fair deal of creativity, experimentation and intuitive thinking. In fact, math is an abstract art.
h) You have to be great at calculations to understand math
It is a common notion that a person can be good at math only if he or she is good at calculations. He or She should be able to count quickly, multiply/divide in seconds mentally. It’s usually perceived that use of calculators and other tools like fingers, abacus etc. indicate poor arithmetic skills. The good news is that mathematics is not just about calculating, but rather, understanding the concept and applying a logical problem solving approach. Mathematics today is science of ideas — not just an exercise in arithmetic.
i) Math Aptitude is an Inborn Ability
People believe that success in mathematics depends more on an inborn ability than on incremental learning. But the reality is that like any other subject, sustained efforts can bring students to a satisfactory level of achievement.
j) It’s the Concept that works — not Practice or vice-versa!
This myth talks about the classic case of different opinions of people. Some believe that understanding the concept is enough and you need not practice to do well in exams. On the contrary, some people emphasize on practicing more than understanding.
But the reality is, to do well in exams, practice, as well as clear and thorough understanding of concepts, are both equally important. While the former can be done by extensively solving straight math problems, the latter is developed by solving more of contextual problems, where understanding, as well as practice needs to be implemented.
Dan S Sherman