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