#MathLovinMonday: Everyone is a Math Person


Everyone is a Math Person

There are lots of words that I don’t like to hear used in my classroom. Most of them are swear words. A few others fall into the category of, what I call, confidence killers. The worst of the Confidence Killers is one simple, five-word phrase heard in nearly every math classroom in the country, if not the world.

“I’m not a math person.”

As soon as the student utters those words you know you’re in for a battle. 

Mathematical skill is not genetic!

If your parents were good at math it doesn’t mean you automatically get a free pass into the set of students who excel at math. Likewise, if one or both of your parents were bad at math it says absolutely nothing about what your own experience in math will be like.

You wouldn’t go around telling people that your parents didn’t read well so it’s okay if you don’t read well either. If you did people would think that you were lazy and just didn’t want to put in the work to learn how to read. Why is math any different? Why is socially acceptable to be “bad at math”? When did this repetitive falsehood become the most heard response from my students when they don’t understand something right away?

Your brain grows when you make mistakes...

Math is just like any other skill that must be learned. If you don’t practice you won’t improve. Basketball players didn’t learn how to do a lay-up perfectly on the first day the skill was introduced. They spent hours practicing on their own and running drills with their teammates. If their coach asked them to do half an hour of practice on their own over the weekend most of them wouldn’t even give it a second though.

Mathematics is no different.

If you believe that you can succeed and are willing to do the work, then you will succeed.

If you don’t believe that you can learn the skills or you’re not willing to do the work, then you won’t succeed.

Just the same as everything else!

Everyone can do math!

So, what can you do to get better at math?

8 Tips to Improve Your Mathematical Skills

    1. Know and understand the basics before you go on! Mathematics is cumulative, everything you do builds on prior skills and knowledge so if you don’t understand the basic skills you won’t be successful with the intermediate or advanced skills. This might might mean going back to a skill you should have learned last year, the year before, or even before that in order to really understand the current topic. (Yep, this probably means some extra work.

    2. Take notes! Seriously, write down the examples your teacher does on the board, read through the examples in the textbook, and, for the love of all things mathematical, make yourself a formula sheet! As a teacher I can assure you that I don’t write things on the board because I need it there to teach the skill, I write it there so that my students can see what is going on as I’m talking about it. They can see it as it happens!

    3. Do your homework and do extra practice as needed.  No, really. I know it sucks to have to spend time at home doing things for school, but you have to do the practice to improve the skill. There simply is not enough time in the classroom for you to get enough time working on each skill. If you’re really having trouble with something you might even have to do some problems that aren’t assigned for extra practice. Extra practice problems can be acquired from your teacher or from numerous online resources, just google the name of the skill you’re working on!

    4. Show your work and do it as neatly as possible. Don’t try to work out the problem in your head, it might work for simple problems but when you get to the more advanced stuff it probably won’t. Also, if you’re really having a hard time with a skill don’t just write down the mathematical work, write down what you’re thinking. Maybe not word for word, but write yourself enough to know what you were thinking when you have another similar problem later on so you have someplace to start from.
    5. If at all possible, draw a picture to go with the problem. The more senses you can incorporate into your problem solving the more engaged your brain will be. Usually word or application problems lend themselves well to picture drawing. Use the picture to help you pull out the important elements of the problem and sort out the stuff that isn’t important.

    6. Learn and practice all the methods for solving a given type of problem. In math, there is almost always more than one way to solve a certain type of problem, and being able to use the various solving methods can only be a good thing. Usually people gravitate toward a favorite method, but knowing other methods can be helpful, especially since many types of problems have cases where one method is the most efficient or where one method may not work at all.

    7. Ask for help. Understand. Don’t memorize! You don’t have to do it by yourself. Even if you’re teaching yourself or don’t like your classroom teacher there are, literally, thousands of people online who have made videos and written tutorials. There are thousands of people who browse question forums everyday looking for questions that they are able to answer. People who are “good at math” ask for help when they don’t understand something. Recognizing when you don’t understand something is vitally important for the growth of mathematical skills.

    8. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. If you never make a mistake, you will never learn anything. So write it down with confidence and if you mess up… so what. Everyone makes mistakes. Every math student has made a mistake, the good ones learn from those mistakes. The ones who think they are “bad at math” let those mistakes define them and don’t push through to find out what they did wrong. The what and the why are important. What did you do wrong and why did you do it that way?

8 Tips to Improve Math Skills

Thanks for reading! Come back next Monday for another installment of #MathLovinMonday!

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2 thoughts on “#MathLovinMonday: Everyone is a Math Person

  1. Basic arithmetic alludes me, however I love algebra. Sounds weird I know, but adding and subtracting I do a really weird way, and my teachers always told me: “Don’t use your fingers!”. I’ve always thought using your fingers is a good way to do it, because no matter where you are, you have your fingers!

    1. Using your fingers is just one method to visualize the math! I would never tell my high school students not to use their fingers. I always tell them that the most important mathematical skill they can learn in high school is how to explain their thinking, and if they can explain to me how/why they used their fingers to solve the problem I will be satisfied that they can do the math!

      Counting on your fingers isn’t a crutch, it’s a much underutilized tool! Thanks for stopping by, I hope you come back and read some more of my #MathLovinMonday posts. I’ve got another one coming up next week!

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