Monday, May 16, 2011

Why Students Fail at Math: The Math-is-Difficult Traps

This post is for all the students out there who hate Math and for incoming students who haven’t really studied Math but already loathe it due to the influence of popular culture.

Math is a basic subject in school that teaches how to count and make basic computations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Of course mathematics has a deeper sense, meaning and use to the world than basic computation but to avoid math anxiety here, let’s stick to that =)

I was not anywhere a math genius. Like most kids, I fell into the Math-is-difficult trap. And that is not the only trap many students and I fell into. Here are a few:

  1. Being good in Math is a gift. This is the belief that being good in Math is a gift or talent and that only few are chosen to have it. Students stop trying because they’re simply not one of the “chosen ones”.
  2. If you’re not good in Math, you must be good in English (languages, communications, etc.) and vice-versa.
  3. I don’t need Math in my future career esp. because I dream of becoming a rockstar. Variations I hear students say, “Why do we need Math?”; “I am not going to use this in my daily life!” and so on.
Sadly, many young people fail to understand the true significance of Math - and many teachers fail to make them understand the true reason why Math is significant. Looking back, I guess there is a little bit of truth in the idea that not all things in Math can be used by everyone in the future. But studying the basics of every aspect of Mathematics sets the foundation for the future engineers, architects, economists, etc.

To tell you the truth, Math is only more difficult because students already have this grand impression that it is “difficult” before they even try to understand. The moment they see a bunch of numbers, their brains go ahead say, “Oh my God, this is what they all have been talking about *hyperventilate* I can’t do this!” The student is immediately defeated even before moving a single brain cell. That is the reason why students fail at Math. They think so, they do so.


Math, just as with every problem, 
is easier when you think it is.


I had a couple of excellent Math teachers in my life that made the subject so much easier. Their common denominator: their attitude in class sets the mood that “Math is Easy.” My high school teacher’s favorite line was, “Ah, that’s easy!” “How do we solve the problem? Ah, that’s easy!” He always did that. Every single time there was a problem to solve, he would exclaim, “Ah, that’s easy!” and every time we solve math problems ourselves, we could hear him in our heads.

My Finance teacher in college was not as enthusiastic but she also always said that it’s just easy. Her explanations were simple and direct to the point.

Many agreed with me when I tell them that Math becomes easier depending on the teacher. It is the teacher’s job to set the mood and to explain the principles at the student’s level. However, before you start blaming all your Math teachers for your subject failure, you must read more of my tips on How to Become a Math - Genius.

“A Better Way To Teach Math” by David Bornstein at The New York Times, Opinionator.
Imagine if someone at a dinner party casually announced, “I’m illiterate.” It would never happen, of course; the shame would be too great. But it’s not unusual to hear a successful adult say, “I can’t do math.” That’s because we think of math ability as something we’re born with, as if there’s a “math gene” that you either inherit or you don’t.


What are your reasons for hating Math?

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