Explorations In Math


Published on August 15 2011

For generations of students and children we, parents and teachers, have accomplished two things. First, we’ve instilled in them a love of reading – it’s something they eagerly look forward to doing. Second, we’ve turned math into drudgery, taught these same kids who love reading that math is difficult, irrelevant, and something to be avoided whenever possible. How have we done this? Let’s look at reading.

First, reading comes with a built-in advantage: books are inherently enjoyable. They take us places, pique our curiosity, stoke our imagination, and inspire us. Second, at school there are many concrete, hands-on activities that accompany the reading period: cut and paste, coloring, dioramas, and plays to name just a few. And third, at home parents read to their children at bedtime, surely one of a child’s most enjoyable reading experiences. Third, trips to the library are a fun experience, with kids picking and choosing their own books.

Now let’s look at math. What have we done in a similar vein to bring the same enthusiasm for math that we have for reading? Nothing. As a matter of fact, we’ve done everything possible to make math as much fun as a root canal.

So, what can we do? For parent and families, play math games regularly with your children. Visit our website for many resources and ideas. Visit the Pacific Science Center or Museum of Flight a couple of times a year. Explore some recommended activities from my June 13 Where’s the Math post.   And here’s a big DON’T! Don’t ever say you were never any good at math or that you hated math. All this does is give your child permission to also hate math and do poorly.

And those of us who teach? What can we do? First, some of the same things: have your students play math games on a regular basis. (Learning is far more likely to happen when we’re doing something we enjoy.) Give them problems that are interesting, relevant and challenging. Encourage divergent thinking and mathematical conversations. And of course the big DON’T! for parents goes for us, as well.

By doing these things, we, parents and teachers, can turn math from drudgery to fun because math is fun!

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