How to evolve your students’ relationship with mathematics5 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
“To every problem there is a solution”, is a popular adage. But perhaps it needs some reimagination. How about this instead; “every mathematical problem can have multiple solutions”.
Let’s explore how we can use that reimagined parable to change our students’ relationship with maths. First up, the mathematical problem.
A love-hate relationship:
For years now mathematics has enjoyed a love-hate relationship with students and parents alike and the trend continues despite a paradigm shift towards inquiry-based learning. Numbers, numerals, digits, continue to raise alarm bells. Parents, as well as students, start pressing the panic button, resulting in unnecessary stress and anxiety.
A skill inherited:
Another interesting aspect of this trepidation is that parents or students consider this genetic. “I was never good in math as a child, so my daughter has inherited my lack of mathematical abilities”. Or, “I owe my mathematical genius to my father and my grandfather. They both excel at the subject from the beginning”. Proficiency in math is not something which can be inherited nor is it congenital. Just like other subjects, it is meant to be studied, researched, practiced, absorbed and most importantly, enjoyed.
Quick Bytes: How many times have you asked a friend or family member, who also happens to be a math teacher, to quickly calculate something complex and produce an answer within seconds? Or have you ever been on the other side of the table?
There is no escaping numbers. It’s an integral part of every human being’s life, which is why it is important to make sure that students don’t fear math. Now that we’ve underlined the problems that are often associated with math, here are some ways of overcoming them.
Students are inherently curious. They look about their world in awe and want to learn more as they grow older. So, their relationship with math can be thought about this way.
Just like children are curious about the night sky, the stars, the sun, or the moon, teachers must play a role in encouraging them to be inquisitive about digits. “What will happen if I add 25 four times?”, “Where will I reach if I take 7 more steps from step no.15, that I am currently standing on? Is every number divisible by 9, also divisible by 3? Is 25/100 equal to a quarter?” These real-life examples and introduction to the subject will help them see it positively, rather than with fear.
It also answers the age-old question of real-life application of something learned.
Along with real-life association, trust them to be responsible and learn about a mathematical concept. For example, we have often heard teachers using examples like, “I have given you an Rs. 500 note, how much will you return after paying the newspaper bill and buying 2 litres of milk?”
Instead, rephrase this to say, “I am entrusting you with a big responsibility of paying the newspaper bill and buying milk for the house today. Here is an INR 500 note. Count the remaining money carefully to ensure that you have been returned the correct amount.” This not just gets their mathematical juices flowing, but also instills responsibility in them and gives them a sense that their contributions matter.
Understand what mathematical concept a student is good at and reward them for it. Use this to help them work on their weaker areas. For example, if a child does not like division, let them start or end a lesson with their favourite topic (for say, 5 minutes). This will increase their confidence in the subject they like, while rekindling an interest in being good at something else as well.
So, as you can see, there are multiple ways in which you can reach a solution. Just like how you can calculate the Highest Common Factor (HCF) using the Division method or the Factor method. As long as the child understands the logic behind the concept, the application will not only come naturally but it will be followed by enthused learning and repeated practice. The same method holds true to remove a fear of math. Think outside the box and use their interests to fuel interest and growth.
I could go on and on about removing math anxiety, but I’ll end by saying that it’s okay if a child makes mistakes, it is okay if you need to explain the steps 10 times and it is absolutely alright if a child comprehends and relates to a simpler methodology. Math is, after all, meant to be solved in multiple steps.
Author’s Note: Shruti Narang is the Head of Section: Primary at The Millenium School. She has over 12 years of experience as a Mathematics and Social Science teacher in primary school. During her tenure, she has held several leadership roles, including Supervisor for grade 4 and Curriculum Coordinator for grade 5. Shruti is a self-taught artist, a trained classical singer and she writes poetry on children and education.
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