Math is important to our kids. No doubt about it.
Under the Singaporean education system, if a child do badly for Maths at various levels, it severely limits his or her choices in higher education.
This system may seem unfair, especially if you have a child who struggles with maths. But if we look into the role of maths in many disciplines like engineering, business and sciences, there is no denying that a good grasp of maths is essential.
My relationship with Maths
I did reasonably well for maths in school. I continue to like maths after I graduated. Now my full-time career is in maths education. I see it as my life mission to help leaners gain clarity and confidence and eventually develop a curiosity for maths.
Am I wired differently from people around me who doesn’t like math, or find maths confusing? I am not particularly quick-witted. I struggled to remember where I parked my car or how to drive to a mall. I always forget to bring things out. I am terrible at planning for a trip.
But there is one difference I consistently notice between me and my friends who have a strained relationship with math. That difference is how we perceive maths.
Even as a child, I was a non-confrontational person. Also, I liked order and harmony.
I see maths as a perfectly logical safe haven for me. Everything has a reason. Every statement is meant to move me to a logical conclusion. Everything must be proved, otherwise it will not be acceptable. Even authoritative figures like older relatives and teachers can be proven wrong if I argued my case by cold, hard logic.
There is no confusing and ambiguous grey area. My working and my answers wouldn’t be acceptable by a teacher and unacceptable by another teacher.
There are many ways to approach a problem, yet all ways leads to the same answer.
My childhood mind delighted in this kind of certainty.
Some of my friends who struggled with maths, on the contrary, saw only rules and formulas in maths. To them, maths is a stupid subject: incomprehensible ways of manipulating numbers to get to the so-called “correct” answers recorded at the back of the book. To them, in the subject of maths, there is no creativity or self-expression to talk about. Right is right, wrong is wrong – there is no space for interpretation or discussion.
What a world of difference in how we perceive maths.
Is your child a Maths person?
Are you the maths person? Or are you a language person? Or are you a music person?
This classification of whether someone is “what kind of person” has gained some popularity in recent years. Is there really such a thing?
It is true that there exists some geniuses who are especially gifted in maths. For example, Gauss, who gave us the Normal Distribution Curve or Bell Curve, figured out how to add 1 to 100 with an arithmetic series formula at the age of seven.
John Von Neumann, at 6 years old, could divide two 8-digit numbers in his head. Just imagine dividing your phone number by your spouse’s phone number in your head, without a calculator or pen and paper.
Yet, most of us do not need that kind of super power. What can make our relationship with numbers a lot better, is maths fluency.
What is Maths fluency?
I define maths fluency as three key skills:
- The ability to remember certain key facts in maths, for example, the area of circles
- The ability to apply reasoning and deduction to problems
- The ability to interpret symbols and language in maths problems
If we are maths fluent, we may not be very fast in maths or score very well in maths tests, but we will see maths in a good light. We will see maths as something very logical and understandable.
We do not need to be a Gauss or Von Neumann to have math fluency. After teaching more than 2000 students in maths, I have become a firm believer that everyone can achieve maths fluency.
What parents can do:
You can play a big role in helping your kids to achieve maths fluency. Based on my experience and personal observation, there are at least 4 things you can do:
- Believe in the Growth Mindset
- Reaffirms that Maths is logical
- Appreciates alternative answers – if they make sense
- Get trained
I elaborated on each of these points in the follow-up to this article. You can find it here.
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