Explorations In Math

“Sugar-Coating” Math?

Published on October 3 2011

As we at EIM talk with our different constituencies, there are questions that come up regularly. These are thoughtful questions from people interested in our success. Here’s an interesting question that came up recently; I hope you will take the time to respond and to ask additional questions.

Q: I know EIM believes that making math fun is key to helping students do better in math. But doesn’t “sugar-coating” math perpetuate the perception that math is hard and boring? After all, we don’t “sugar-coat” reading.

The phrase “sugar-coating” is mistaken, we sugar-coat things that are unpleasant, burdensome or unpalatable. Math is none of these things and part of our mission is to help teachers, families and students understand and appreciate that.

I think we all agree that if we enjoy doing something, we’ll do more of it and, over time, become better at it because of the regular practice. When we make math interesting and enjoyable (“fun” if you will), student perceptions of math begin to change from “hard and boring” to “challenging and fun.” Games are a very effective way of doing this. Students enjoy playing them and they develop math skills doing so.

As for reading, one of the reasons reading scores are so much higher than math scores is that we have made reading fun, not so much with games but in other ways: cut and paste activities, coloring, skits, and making dioramas to name just a few. If reading were taught the way we’ve taught math for so many years, reading scores, too, would be abysmal.

None of this is to deny the fact that math is a rigorous discipline that penalizes carelessness and sloppy thinking. We believe that games are a way of instilling math competence and confidence in our children which will, in turn, lead to the kind of rigor and understanding that math demands.

Dave Gardner

Mathematician in Residence

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