“Ugh! Math stinks; I only do it because I have to.” Have you ever heard or said this yourself? Have you every wondered why kids hate math? Well, I feel your pain. I hated math too, and now I teach the stuff I once couldn’t stand. Not only that, now I like it, enjoy it, love to talk about it. Did I go nuts? No, though at some point I realized what was really bothering me about math. Answer these questions: Do you get nervous before skydiving? If you don’t skydive would you get nervous if you went up tomorrow to make a jump? What do these questions have to do with math? Simple, math students have the same reaction to math. They get scared. Math looks hard and tricky too. Algebra is complex and geometry is baffling. No wonder they call the exercises “math problems”. Students freeze in confusion and embarrassment especially on tests. The truth is they are unnerved for the same reason that people get the jitters learning to drive, or fly, or sail a boat. They are in an unfamiliar environment and don’t know what to expect, confidence sags. Everyone is stymied when that happens.
It doesn’t have to be that way! The way around these negatives is to recognize that the unfamiliar tends to make people nervous. Training is the way to remove the fear. That’s right, training, the same way people train to drive, fly, sail, or skydive. Learn the principles one at a time, then practice until their reactions become natural, paying close attention to details. Math requires repeated practice not common to other studies that only require reading and memorizing. Math is a performance art. Just like learning to play a musical instrument, practice is the greater part of learning math. No one would go to a piano recital without practicing the piece to be played. If a particular math function has not been practiced lately, it won’t be performed well either. It is not the length of practice that counts, it is the frequency.
The “I hate to practice” claim is a lie! Youngsters will practice anything they have a desire to learn. What is it that takes practice from being a chore to being an obsession? The answer is desire, which is always related to a reward. Desire and reward are personal values based on individual perceptions. To relate them to math takes a different perception of math.
Most of us don’t want to do what we perceive has no use. High School math provides the most useful skills that a student can learn. The trouble is most students are never given an inkling of how essential, algebra, and geometry are, though we live enveloped in math every day. From ditch diggers to rocket scientists, we all use algebra and geometry. We just don’t realize it. Algebra and geometry are not the study of complex equations, they are our world. When students begin to see the place a parabola, a sine wave, or a triangle take in our life they begin to have interest. The beginning point needs to be the concept, the overall picture, not the details.
Consider this; no mathematics was ever invented by man. Every math concept is accepted only if it meets the test of truth. If it cannot be proven true, it is cast aside. This shows that man does not make up math, it is discovered the same as a hidden land already existing is discovered. Math is a part of God’s creation. In learning math, we are privileged to get a tiny glimpse of the mind of God. What other study except that of scripture offers such privilege?
Every student can do math. A person does not have to be gifted to learn math. Average people learn it all the time. Of course, some people are more agile and faster than others, but everyone can learn it. I have a friend, a multimillionaire, who never went past the eighth grade, but he knows math. He had to, to design and produce the air handling systems that made him rich.