Struggling with math assignments? Perhaps it’s time to change your perspective. Here, Forest Hills, NY teacher Claire W. explains how to make the subject much easier to learn:
What’s the trick to learning math? Before you begin, you must believe that you can do it. People often try to find shortcuts for learning math, since it is a set of associations that have been founded on pattern recognition, and it can be hard to catch up if you have gaps and holes at a foundational level. Make sure your foundations are strong—there is no shame in practicing simple operations such as, addition, subtraction, division, or multiplication. Practice requires resilience and a strong faith that you will get the skill or rule eventually, even thought it might take 100 tries for you to start feeling like you’re getting it.
It can also help to approach it as if you are learning a new language. Like a different language, a whole different set of symbols mean a whole different set of values when put together. When you string numbers and operations or words and punctuation together, you can form different meanings, or communicate different things. So, like any good language acquisition exercise, the best way to learn math is by immersion and application—which essentially just gives you lots of opportunities to practice. When you practice math and you get feedback on whether your algorithm or intuition is correct or incorrect, your brain automatically looks for patterns, and eventually—since the brain is excellent at finding patterns—you stick with the most obvious or definite pattern. The best way to learn math requires time and patience, because it is data collection of trial and feedback, pattern recognition, and application.
At any level, there are no shortcuts, but there are some ways to make the practice a lot more interesting and a lot of fun! The following are the best ways to practice math:
#1: Bite-Sized Competition
Friendly competition is usually the most fun way to pass the time with math. When you have a buddy who can compete with you, problem by problem, or even by sets of problems, you tend to focus better and try harder. You can compete with a friend, or compete with yourself to pass the time. For this reason, math games are very useful for learning, since games allow you to practice a certain skill and then level up. Some games also allow you to familiarize yourself with the same problem, which is actually good for you. When you memorize the steps of solving the same problem, it gives you a jumping point for solving problems with similar pieces or operations.
#2: Incorporate Practice With Things You Already Enjoy
Practice and instant feedback is another one of the best ways to learn math, and there are tons of materials to help you with this, such as workbooks, board games, manipulatives, or even good old textbooks. Nowadays, learning math is easier and fun with awesome blogs and apps, like these ones recommended in on TeachThought, a leading blog on education methods! The coolest part is that there are lots of people trying to communicate the best way to learn math in their opinion, so there are lots of options to choose from. Just keep looking!
#3 Look For Math—It’s Everywhere
Finally, application is key. Math is everywhere and all you need to do is prioritize finding it in your quotidian situations. From counting the hours and minutes in the day, to the change you get back on any purchase, looking at the patterns of how petals form on a flower, or even the curves on a car: all math. The seasons changing or the temperature changes throughout the day: math. Doing your laundry or figuring out meals with your friends: math. You cannot escape it and will eventually learn math just by functioning in today’s society. It is not something that anyone is “bad at” forever. We use math so much that sometimes it’s difficult to identify that you’re really good at it, but as soon as you start looking for it, you can easily see—math is everywhere, is fun to learn and use, and will take you places! If you love it, you’ll learn it. Good luck!
Claire W. teaches music and tutors in Forest Hills, NY, as well as online. As a recent graduate of Columbia University, she majored in Applied Statistics and Psychology, and earned her Texas State Teachers Certification in 2014. Learn more about Claire here!
Photo by US Department of Education