So here is my confession: I love math. I mean, it excites me and energizes me on a regular basis.
And yes, I know that makes me weird to most people.
I think I know one of the big reasons (there are others) that people often don’t really like math: they don’t understand it. And I’m talking even about a large number of people who can actually do it – many of them don’t really understand it either!
If math is just about memorizing formulas and 10 steps to do this kind of problem, 4 methods for solving that type of equation, etc., etc., etc., then no wonder math is not very fun! And, sadly, this is more often than not the way we teach math to students. We make it almost impossible for them to enjoy math!
But if we would teach students how to see the beauty of math (yes, I did just use the words “beauty” and “math” together – that wasn’t a typo) and how it makes such perfect sense, maybe things would be different. If they could begin to understand math and comprehend that it is a coherent system of fairly simple ideas (for the most part), math might not be so distasteful. If they just see it as a billion things to memorize that don’t really make sense…I wouldn’t enjoy that much myself.
So, how does this perspective change the way I teach and help my children with their math? When they come and ask me a question about their math work, they know that it is highly unlikely I am going to give them a straight-forward answer. I am almost always going to ask them some questions to get them thinking. Or I might tell them some things that they already know (and seem almost unrelated to their question at first). Or I might just sit there and wait for them to do some explaining of what they have already figured out in the problem (if they haven’t figured anything out yet, they probably aren’t going to get much help from me until they do!).
Basically, I am firmly committed always to presenting math as ideas to be understood rather than formulas or steps to be memorized. I am committed to requiring my children to think about their math rather than just “do” it. I am deeply convinced that this is far better for them.
Do they always appreciate it? I wish I could say yes to that, but it wouldn’t be true. Like all of us, they sometimes would just like a simple answer (and maybe I should give it to them a bit more often…). And does all of this lead to a sharing of my deep passion for math? Not necessarily. But that is alright. I know that we all have our own individual passions and preferences. Not everyone has to love math! But, I do believe that if we present math in a better way, more students will love math…or at the least, they won’t dislike it quite so much.