Could There be a Silver Bullet to Learning Math?

A couple of weeks ago someone asked me to explain the most challenging aspect of teaching math to students of any age.  She said she is not a math person and as a result always struggled with it.  Perhaps she wanted to know what I find most difficult about teaching students that might have been like her.  For years, I have been asked variations of this question.  “How do you do it?”  “What do you do with students that are just not meant to do math?”  “Why do you do it?”  “Is there a secret for teaching math?”  The list goes on and on.  If you are a math teacher, surely you have heard dozens of versions of the same inquiry.

I believe every person is meant to be a math person.  In fact, I believe this so wholeheartedly that I look forward to working with the students that people believe are the most difficult to teach math to.  I look forward to the cases where the uphill climb is the steepest.

It was in circumstances like this where I began to discover something very interesting.  I discovered that all people are wired to reason and use logic every single day of their lives.  People are constantly running complex algorithms in their mind to make decisions and conclusions in situations with friends, dealings with family, scenarios in sports, and many more challenging and high pressure contexts.  Essentially, people are practicing and getting tested in the fundamental skills of math every single day.

Lack of reasoning and logic ability are not the problem.  The problem is how do we leverage math, which is a simplified version of the complex algorithms we face on a daily basis, in order to continue to build our ability to evaluate, analyze, and make complex decisions?  And related to that, how do we take our existing reasoning and logic ability and apply it to learning math successfully? Continue reading

Why are Mistakes Necessary?

Mistakes are often penalized in our current educational system.  For instance, you raise your hand with a wrong answer and it’s often followed by “wrong, anyone else?”  Or you receive a grade on a test without ever exploring your mistakes in depth to learn what was done incorrectly and how it could have been approached differently or why it was very close but simply off by one or two minor details.  Another demonstration of this punishment system is the rewards and positive labels that are assigned to students that make few or no mistakes and conversely the negative labels assigned to those that do make mistakes.  Just imagine how poorly Thomas Edison would have scored in a class dubbed “Making a Light Bulb.”  He would have been “wrong” over 1,000 times! Continue reading

Finding the Good in a Bad Situation

I have been playing soccer since I was 13 years old and absolutely LOVE playing the game.  I play on a local team and game day is what I look most forward to each week.

This past spring, just two games into the season, I dislocated my hip on my kicking leg (right) while practicing.  It hurt.  A lot.  For a few days I couldn’t walk.  I was incredibly disappointed by this because I had spent so many months getting into great shape for the season.  The first two games of the season were probably two of my best games in years.  I hoped for a speedy recovery, but ultimately it took me 10 weeks to fully recover.

About 2 weeks into recovery I began going back to the gym to start some light rehabbing.  Unfortunately the most I could do with my injured leg was lightly jog on it.  I could barely kick the ball and if I tried, the blinding pain brought me to my knees (I figured this out the hard way several times).  I was so frustrated, angry, and sad all at the same time.  I wanted nothing more than to at least be able to kick the ball, even if I couldn’t play.  For a few days I stopped going to the gym because I was so frustrated with the injury.  I kept wondering why this happened and why now.  Continue reading