Why Are We So Bad at Maths
Even now maths is still considered to be one of the most challenging subjects (and yet most important), taught in schools today.
What really makes maths so difficult for most of us to grasp?
Like myself at school, one part of the problem is hereditary and I don't mean genetically. Many young people have inherited their parent’s phobias, confusions and anxieties with maths as a result of hearing them talk of their struggles on the subject, or even because the children in question heard their parents say how their own maths skills became irrelevant after school or later on in life.
I can recall many occasions where my mum would openly announce her lack of knowledge or ability on the maths subject. Obviously unbeknown to me, all that negative language was being installed straight into my unconscious thus making it more challenging for me to learn the subject because I now had taken on these limiting beliefs and was now working against the grain so to speak.
That said, one of the under-rated tricks in the education of maths is something I refer to as the big fat ‘WHY’.
When we as people embark on any new learning journey, the majority of us need to know why the content is relevant to us, before we can engage or commit to learning about it.
The issue with maths is we assume that the "Why we should learn this" speaks for itself. Maths crops up in our everyday lives but unless we proposition everyday maths skills in a way that appeals to the younger learners better natures, we will always assume that they should simply engage, instead of enticing them into the subject with a fun or enticing proposition.
Consider the differences of the two polar opposite statements below:
"We are going to learn about percentages. Go to page 124 of your workbooks. There will be a test in 2 weeks, so pay attention."
In comparison to:
"Would you like to know which banks and credit cards give you the best rates? Which bank loans are going to give you the most money or interest? Which car would cost you the most of your hard earned cash on a repayment scheme if you were deciding between a Lamborghini and a Ferrari? How much of a Banoffee Cheesecake Pie you can eat before you hit your daily intake of calories? Then let’s learn about percentages!"
Obviously the second statement takes up more time but it also has juice to it, sounds more appealing and gives the all-important big fat WHY!
When we know why we should do or learn something, our desire to engage increases. We then create an image or series of images in our own heads of where it would be useful to others or us.
Gemma Bailey explains:
“If someone had made it clear to me why I should know about Pythagoras's theorem when I learned it, it might have stuck a bit better in my mind. Instead I found myself trying to scramble together the 3.142 details ahead of an important bike ride from London to Brighton and discovered to my disappointment that the race was longer than I had anticipated. After 56 miles I expected the finish line would soon be ahead. The truth was, I had set up my cyclometer incorrectly. I was actually only about 48 miles into the race. Worst still, was that I'd cheated myself on all of my warm up rides, believing I'd got used to cycling half the distance on a regular basis when in fact, I hadn't at all.
I don't doubt that if the lovely Mrs. Murphey (my GCSE maths teacher) had said "We are going to learn Pythagoras's theorem because you might one day cycle from London to Brighton", it would have been as big a turn off as what she had actually propositioned back then. So the solution would have been to make maths relevant to my 15 year old mind.”
This tells us something really important - maths isn't about numbers. It's about making sense of facts, people, and their real everyday lives and portraying it to them in a way that the student, can relate to how it will one day be useful.
It's about saying "How can we find the most efficient route to successful results, solve problems by relating to them and move forward in a more dynamic way as humans by way of clever numerical solutions?", rather than just looking at the numerical solutions independently of real life.
Let's face it, in real adult life, there's much more work in the number world that is human reliant than we'd probably like. My accountant doesn't just do my accounts, she also advises me, on a range of other matters all of which are maths dependent, such as: depreciation, allowances and fixed rates. Unfortunately these topics are unlikely to be of interest to a student of today if used as an example. What could be of interest would be how many weeks it could take to save up for an 18-30’s holiday or car or calculate winning strategies on their favorite sports or hobbies. Sadly the truth may be closer to them being more concerned on the vat on a packet of cigarettes.
My concern is, many talented mathematicians are missing their calling card because they never hear or see the right hook into the subject that not only they might excel at, but also truly enjoy.
So tell me, are you a secret maths genius who missed that lesson or subject where they gave out the special secret? Did you figure it out on your own later in life? Or did you fall into the stereotypical trap of not excelling because you are female? (Yep, unfortunately it's a fact - you'll likely to be worse at maths if you’re a girl and there's no biological evidence to support the reasoning!). Or was it passed down to you from family or peers?
The original version of this article was written By Gemma Bailey
It was then republished and rebuilt with additional content by:
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