I still remember the day my name was called on the final graduation day of my school. As they called my name, sitting in sukhasana, I stood up from the floor and walked up to the podium. I remember the cheers and vigorous claps of many of my friends and colleagues. The pitch and intensity of the sound still are fresh in my mind.
I studied in a very little nondescript school till grade 10 in Ahmedabad. Our Maths teacher Mr Shah was very strict. As soon as we all moved to middle school everyone kept waiting for the dreaded day. The day when Mr Shah will ask us tables. He would come randomly on your bench, ask you what is 13x8, you only got 3 seconds to reply after which your ear would go tingling as he would give us a big tight slap on the cheek, boys, girls, no one was spared. Moving from one child to the next Mr Shah will keep on going about his task, finally giving up when his hand started paining from slapping so many children.
Amongst 75 odd kids in the class, I was amongst the 5 who got spared his fury. Rest all were red-cheeked, some with tears in their eyes. I cannot imagine this happening today without parents going for mutilation of Mr Shah's body parts with their own hands.
I was the first student ever to score a perfect 100 in maths, a feat many bright students attempted before me and many just got stuck at 98, 99 but no one a perfect 100. So how did I achieve this?
After years of doing math , hating it and eventually falling in love with it, there are couple of things that I would like to share about maths that no one tells us . Let's start with the top reasons for children to hate math and then we will see if there are ways we can deal with these reasons and fears.
Reason 1 - Math is dull
Students dislike math because they think it’s dull. They don’t get excited about numbers and formulas the way they get excited about science, arts and other skills that are easier to personally connect to and that they can relate to in their lives.
Math tip 1: bring MATH in REAL LIFE
1) According to Naseem Nicholas Taleb "Many kids would learn to love mathematics if they had some investment in it, and, more crucially, they would build an instinct to spot its misapplication "
How many teachers do actually care to tell children why math is important and where will they apply what they are learning?
For example, why is multiplication needed, when you have addition. How does it help the child solve a problem in daily life? Can teachers link real-life problems with what kids are learning in daily life?
Here's one example I use in our live classes with kids, You are throwing a pizza party and have invited 20 friends ( pre-covid :-) , how many pizzas would you need if each friend eats 3 slices?
These questions make children think and understand that they are not just learning a random skill but actually learning a life skill that is going to stay with them forever.
Reason 2 - Math needs memorization skills.
Many students hate to memorize and get scared looking at all equations and rules. Memorization is just one of the strategies of learning math and it helps in speed. Just like when you learn to first drive a car you keep thinking of pressing the clutch, accelerator, looking at mirrors, etc. but after few sessions of practice, your mind takes over and you just drive, you don't follow specific steps, you and driving become one.
Math Tip 2 - LEARN CONCEPTS & DIFFERENT STRATEGIES
Memorisation is an important tool to learn to calculate faster. But it doesn't have to start there. For every new skill, it's important to first explain to the child the process and steps involved in solving a problem. Instead of looking at problems in abstract, the best way is to put real-life objects and make it more relatable.
I will explain below how a simple equation of addition can be used to teach about critical thinking skills and the concept of addition.
e.g if the child has to solve 10+5, I tell the child to not solve 10+5 but solve for this:
I have 10 pencils and my friend gave me 5 more pencils, how many pencils do I have?
How many ways can you solve this?
1) By bringing pencils
2) By counting on hand
3) Counting in your mind
4) Writing down as dots and counting
5) Writing as bars and counting.
If I have 10 pencils and my friend gave me 5 erasers, how many stationery items do I have?
If I have 5 pencils and my friend gave me 10 pencils, how many pencils do I have?
You see the drift, I'm making the child think and imagine all situations, she is not just learning addition but life skills and different strategies and ways of looking at the same problem.
Reason 3 - I keep doing mistakes in Maths and I'm no good.
I am not good at math no matter how I try, I keep making mistakes in math. Most children feel that if they do mistakes they are not good enough. Parents have a huge role to play here, instead of criticizing kids " you just scored 8 out of 10 ", use this " Hey you scored 8 out of 10 and just 2 points away, let's practise this and try again ". Do the same quiz again till your child gains confidence.
Math Tip 4 - PRACTICE, PRACTICE
The more you keep practising math, the more friendly it becomes and boosts a child's confidence. The first step to memorisation is practice, once the child has practised the same thing many times, it starts going in their brain cells as memory, just like you keep practising cycling or driving a car makes you more confident. Teachers can then lead students to memorize some quick facts before they jump to the next skills.
For e.g single-digit addition should be solved in less than 2 seconds by children once they have mastered and understood the skill, so the teacher may do a quick practice of what is 2+3, what is 3+5, once these facts are ingrained in children's memories, it's much easier for them to solve 2 digit additions. Otherwise, I have seen kids being taught 23+33 and they keep taking long time to solve because they have still not mastered single-digit addition.
Coming back to Mr Shah and me, While fear was one of the primary reasons for me learning my tables, it also left a lot of negative emotions with studying and made me be scared of math, till I started discovering new strategies to solve and gained confidence.
I hope you like these tips and would love to hear from you on challenges you are facing with your child on coaching them in math and helping them overcome all fears.