Mar 12, 2012
Math proficiency is a basic life skill, and its mastery is critical for many of our most-needed and best-paid jobs. Math is one of the first subjects introduced in a child’s formal education, and it will be revisited every year in primary and secondary school with math classes that sequentially build on the previous year’s foundation. Repeated standardized tests are performed regularly to help government officials and educators monitor progress. Unfortunately, despite these efforts, some children struggle with math for a few reasons.
The most common reason for not doing well in math usually is because the concepts are not presented in a meaningful way. The student does not understand or care about math because it does not have seem to have a point. This can be considered a failure to connect with the student. More than any other subject, math requires multiple explanations. Although some readily understand math in all of its abstract glory, most need creative, real-world explanations of the seemingly random strings of numbers and symbols. When the right approach is found, many students begin to understand and even enjoy math.
Some children, though, fail to pick up on math despite these efforts. Many of them have learning disabilities which make their efforts unsuccessful. This is demoralizing to the child and requires addressing the disability first. In response to intervention, most students are then able to gain a basic math proficiency. It is important to get help early, though. A disproportionately harsh stigma accompanies failure in math class. Perhaps that is because of the difficulty of “faking it” in math or because of the almost insurmountable difficulty in catching up after getting too far behind. Regardless, educators and parents should watch for struggling children and offer help as soon as possible.
A final common explanation for poor math knowledge in children is the quality of the teachers themselves. As discussed above, a good math teacher must be a creative communicator who carefully observes the students and accurately detects learning disabilities. Most of that, though, is required of any good teacher regardless of subject. Actual math knowledge is typically quite strong amongst math teachers, and most readily understand the barriers they will encounter in teaching the subject and actively look for new ways to better help their students.
So although some children struggle with math, it is not a lost cause. Most children start our enthusiastically embracing math when they begin to count and add. They are not born hating math. It requires an ongoing effort by educators and family to make math a useful, interesting process and offer adequate assistance for students with learning disabilities. By doing those things, children will have an excellent opportunity to gain an essential math foundation.