Math, for an overwhelmingly large number of high school students, is the most challenging subject. Statements like “I don’t have an aptitude for math” or “Math is hard, I don’t understand it.” are very common. You may not associate the same phrases with other subjects like History, Geography or Biology. Students, teachers and even parents are often at their wit’s end when it comes to addressing high school math.
According to developmental psychologist Howard Gardner, there are 9 types of intelligence, and every human being has an inclination toward a particular type. Mathematical skill, or the “Logical – Mathematical” intelligence is the ability to calculate, quantify, consider propositions and hypotheses, and carry out complete mathematical operations. This skill enables us to analyze our thoughts, and then logically arrive at conclusions that can be explained. Is math skill largely inherent or can it be taught?
There is also a debate as to whether one actually needs to study high school math in the first place. After all, does one ever use algebra after school? I, for one, strongly believe that high school math is more than useful. Most modern day technologies are developed by engineers using higher order math. Even calculating insurance premiums, doing a market survey before a product launch or sending those satellites into space involve more than just rudimentary math. The real challenge lies in the teaching.
There are several factors, other than just natural ability, that affect the way a child absorbs math, such as:
1. Visual learning: “A picture is worth a thousand words”. Or in this case, “a thousand numbers!” Math can be taught very effectively via visual aids. For example, using the “weighing scale” visual to represent different sides of an algebraic equation. Or a square and a triangle to understand Pythagorean Theorem and trigonometry.
2. Non-Lecturing Technique: Lecturing is a way of getting a lot of material across, but it can be a huge turn off to many students. Good teachers should inspire students to love the subject, and not bombard them with information.
3. Periodic reviews: Students need to be assessed at regular intervals especially in math, because if the fundamentals are not in place, a student can get left behind very easily. For example, a competent student I tutor once a week, was struggling with some very basic ‘equation of a line’ problems. The student had missed just one class at school where the teacher showed a visual representation of a line on a co-ordinate axis. Without a review, the teacher didn’t realize that there was a problem: and would not have for a while, as the next test was 5 weeks away!
4. Engage: Teachers, get interactive! Make lessons interesting to keep students engaged. Ask students for responses often, share a short fun fact or tale, give some real life examples. I guarantee this will make the students relate better. Another plus is that it’ll also keep them from falling asleep!
5. Make connections: Making ‘logical connections’ is the essence of Mathematics, as much as ‘learning dates’ is the essence of History. Educators must inculcate and insist on problem solving in a step by step manner.
The challenge of turning out consistently good math results lies more with the educators than with students. It is the responsibility of the educators to ensure that good talent is nurtured and they are given the tools to flourish by creating a healthy learning environment. Math or logical skill is an essential skill that modern society needs.
In conclusion, the question is not so much as to whether math skill is needed or not, but how best to teach it.
– Hubert J D’Mello