Young learners often struggle with maths and may develop a dislike of it. If children fail to grasp the basic mathematical concepts in primary school, they will find it hard to catch up, causing many to avoid advanced subjects in high school. This is concerning as the future job market will require workers with strong STEM skills.
These three methods can help students of all ages and levels develop confidence in maths:
One of the central reasons students struggle to understand maths is because they don’t see how this knowledge can be applied in the real world.
When educators explain the history and purpose behind maths concepts, they give students something concrete and meaningful to grasp. For example, the idea of negative numbers was not widely accepted in the West until the mid-nineteenth century when a more sophisticated method was needed to express debt. Today negative numbers are central to banking, the stock market, temperature, astronomy and many other areas.
According to Kalid Azad, creator of the website Better Explained, when learning new concepts students need to ask:
Textbooks encourage passive learning, which is why many people believe maths is all about memorising formulas and ‘plug and chug.’
The truth is that to become skilled in this subject, students must be challenged to actively make connections and build on the concepts they’ve already studied. This involves strong critical thinking skills.
A good teacher or tutor can encourage this by drawing attention to previous learning and ensuring students see the connections. Solving problems with a buddy is another great way for students to draw on previous knowledge. There are also some great interactive maths sites which are designed for active learning.
The more connections students make between concepts, the faster they will learn new ones.
Learning mathematical concepts is the same as learning to play a musical instrument or speak another language. It requires continuous practice. Even after they have mastered a concept, students need to revise it regularly.
Ideally students should receive enough homework to cement their understanding of what is studied in class, but some may require more practice. Students can ask for extra work or they may benefit from studying with a tutor. One easy way parents can help is by asking students to explain concepts and steps in a sequence to them, as this has been found to foster deep learning.
These three strategies can help students learn to master and enjoy this rewarding subject.