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Thursday, Sep 19, 2019

Math is not terrifying: Here’s how students can get over their fear of numbers

To help children develop an interest in the subject, it is important that teachers and parents adopt certain measures that will help the little ones engage with it in a more productive manner

education Updated: Dec 23, 2017 14:13 IST
Manan Khurma
Manan Khurma
Geometry can be linked to the drawings children make in their art classes.
Geometry can be linked to the drawings children make in their art classes.(Getty Images)

December 22 was National Mathematics Day. It’s important on this occasion to remember that our understanding of the world around is conditioned by numbers - which play an important part in each and every aspect of our lives, making mathematics an important element of one’s education. However, many individuals tend to experience an intense fear whenever they encounter mathematics in their everyday life - something we could call math anxiety. The group that also tends to be most affected by math anxiety also represents one of the largest population of its learners in society: children.

Research identifies that the origins of math anxiety can be traced to that period when the fundamental aspects of math are taught. During this time, a set of negative experiences are created around the subject that work to heighten the fear of math in children. Rote learning and standardised methods of teaching are mostly responsible for such experiences, leading to students losing interest in the subject.

By standardising teaching methods, students who have different learning acquisition patterns tend to be ignored, which leads to their falling behind in classes. It has been found that different students prefer the conceptual, practical and problem-solving parts of math, but this is often overlooked.

Indifference to the subject only increases by the pressure on students to do well in mathematics by both teachers and parents alike, leading to the development of intense anxiety when children have to do complex mathematical calculations. In some cases, this fear can also be transferred to students by the adults teaching them, thus inculcating an aversion to the subject even before they come in contact with it.

To help children develop an interest in the subject, it is important that teachers and parents adopt certain measures that will help the little ones engage with it in a more productive manner. This attitude change will not only enable them to do well in the subject and build the self-confidence that comes from knowing that they have vanquished the enemy of fear.

Link math to real world situations

A major complaint that children have about math is an inability to see it in action in everyday life. However, by infusing real world examples with mathematical concepts, teachers can help students view math from an entirely different point of view. For example, fractions can be taught by physically showcasing the division of a bar of chocolate; geometry can be linked to the drawings children make in their art classes and so on. Make children more engaged with the subject and inculcate in them a curiosity about numbers, calculations, shapes and angles from a young age; a quality that will enhance their problem-solving skills over time.

Adopt multi-format teaching methods

Teachers often forget that multi-format learning techniques for children can help them customise lessons based on individual student needs. Children respond differently based on the teaching medium used. So, when it comes to teaching mathematical concepts, teachers should adopt varied aids that combine visual, auditory or physical learning methods. This facilitates a multi-format learning process in which an optimal mix of teaching aids like workbooks, tablets and physical everyday objects are used to break down and understand the essential aspects of every problem. This can enable teachers to customise their teaching method for each child and connect math concepts to relatable objects that children encounter every day.

Join the dots of disconnected facts and formulae

A major reason for the fear children feel towards mathematics is their inability to understand the problem. The source of this fear can be traced all the way back to one’s childhood due to the lack of schools providing holistic and multi-faceted exposure to the different concepts of math. This occurs because they are only taught to look at problems individually, without any connection to each other. Instead, children must be taught to consider each problem as a collection of individual elements. By understanding each element separately, they can be taught to look at a problem as a combination of concepts that are present in other problems too. When partnered with multi-format learning, this approach can diversify teaching processes to include all the different ways in which children tend to learn a concept.

Always encourage multiple approaches to every problem

No two children learn the same way. This fact is especially true in the case of mathematics - when children tend to understand a problem in different ways. Attempting to impose a particular way of solving a problem by stating that it is the ‘easiest’ process limits a child’s creativity and makes problem solving one-dimensional. Children must be encouraged to bring their own unique ways of understanding a given problem and share their perspective on it. This would allow everyone in the learning process to benefit from such multiple perspectives and eventually make the process of solving a problem more interesting and engaging.

Combatting math anxiety requires a change in attitude towards mathematics among not just children, but their parents and teachers too. By overcoming their fear of math, children benefit academically while also learning the essential life skills that make them logical thinkers. So, on the occasion of National Mathematics Day, give your children the best chance in life to succeed and pledge to make sure they never have to fear numbers again.

The author is founder and CEO of Cuemath, a home-based after-school, multi-format math learning programme. (Views expressed are personal).

First Published: Dec 22, 2017 12:27 IST