My child HATES maths! What can I do???

My child hates Maths! What can I do?

Reading time 2-3 minutes.

This is not an uncommon comment from parents. My kid hates it, he finds it hard, she doesn’t want to learn it, it’s boring, what’s the point we have calculators and all sorts of things kids say which have elements of truth but at the same time miss the point of where value can be found in their mathematical journey.

It is true, mathematics isn’t for everyone in its purest form. We aren’t all going to try and win the fields medal or write a phd on number theory. However we all use mathematics to some degree, whether we run a small business or work in Fintech. Ultimately currency is made up of numbers, so is trading and science… well mathematics is the language of all sciences.

So how do we create some element of connection, or enjoyment out of mathematics?

Let’s discuss connection first: we typically remember experiences better when we attach emotions to them. So the issue with mathematics is how do we find emotional attachment to numbers or formulae? This might be a long shot but taking things conceptually, real world examples and digging deeper (yes this requires effort) is such an important part of the process. We can look at Wi-Fi and decide to sincerely have a look at it with kiddoes. How does it work? What is a wave? What is frequency? How do we model that? Are there Math functions which look like this? Can we move them up and down or squish them and expand them to model a real wifi signal? What’s encryption all about? How do we keep communications safe? What’s a digital signal? There are so many wonderful conversations we can have based on real topics but it does require some prep. Investigation and exploration.

The other way we can derive positive emotions in mathematics is by feeling like we ‘get it’ and using smart strategies to get to a result. Everyone likes to feel smart, it’s empowering, it makes you feel warm, fuzzy and content. So learning smart little techniques which you can use while you ‘do maths’ is always going to be very helpful. You can pat yourself on the shoulder in appreciation and think ‘I see what you did there, that was an intelligent way to add that into my solution’. Kids are no different, they like to feel like they are capable. So working through number theory techniques and adding those into the process will definitely improve confidence, and therefore enjoyment.

I’ve also also found mathematics to be a great way to strategise about things. Say a problem gets presented to you, and you have a certain number of tools available. A good way to start is to review the tools and say ‘ok, I can use paths A/B or C to get to my answer, most likely A or B won’t work so I’ll go with C’ and start the working out. Having a clear guiding light is a wonderful way to feel like you’re following footsteps, and in doing so the question often reveals itself. These little victories, the process of finding a possible way and actually getting there, can be hugely rewarding. It’s like solving a little riddle, and getting it right.

It is true, mathematics at school is often presented as a very dry, cumbersome topic. Every school knows about growth mindset, low floor / high ceiling type work. It’s all supposed to be project based, working in teams, mixed ability groups (no streaming). The research is out there. Kids who formally learnt trigonometry performed significantly worse than the kids who had to come up with a project involving measuring heights of buildings using trigonometry and investigate how it can be done. Does that mean schools are delivering a growth mindset program? Not often enough for sure.

So what we, as parents, or educators, can do is to revive the spirit of inquiry. It can be candid, it can be deep, it has to start with questions like how does this actually work? Let’s look at it together.

And in that exploration…. There is math!!.
Author: Karim Arditi, program director for Mathemagic