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Can Everyone Do Math?

Sep 17, 2019

Splashing pool sounds, blazing sun, BBQ everything and ice creams trucks is fading into the distance as your student is likely nestling into their first semester of school this fall. With the summer passing, the classroom is likely where your student is finding their routine and much of their influence, socially and academically. Many classrooms around the world are adopting a growth mindset mentality – allowing all students of all math abilities to work in groups together versus separating them into groups based on ability with those who test better being fast-tracked into more challenging math and those who don’t test well in math staying on a slower math learning path. With this type of classroom set up comes an “anyone can do math” belief. We, of all people, love to help kids be successful in math and we love to see the confidence and joy it brings them and their families when math becomes less of a struggle, however, we want to put more definition around “anyone can do math” and what that really means.

First, let’s preface this by saying that we are fully aware that not all talent is created equal. To say that everyone who aspired to be Michael Jordan could have been is just not true. There are people who have an unusual ability to do math that has come naturally to them their whole life. Some are so famous they’ve had movies made about them, like John Nash and Albert Einstein. They have changed the entire way we think about math, the universe and even life. Visionaries like this can come from anywhere, but they are rare. 

So what do we mean when we say anyone can do math? 

  1. Everyone deserves to see and recognize conceptual ideas that have come from math. Most students at various points go on field trips. They visit museums, important historic landmarks and nature preserves. They are able to discover the world in a kinetic way when they connect text book learning with real life and they have better appreciation for different subjects as a result. Same goes for math. Exposure to wonderous mathematical ideas that allow us to experience real life like architecture, computer programing, astronomy or even music is something everybody should be able to experience and appreciate. It may not be a literal way of teaching math theory, but it certainly is a good way to learn and appreciate math outside of a whiteboard, worksheet or textbook.
  2. Everyone is capable of math literacy.Everyone has the right and capacity to be fluid in understanding foundational mathematics. Not only is this something nearly everyone should be able to do, it’s necessary in order to understand and participate in our increasingly data-filled world. Nearly everyone is capable of understanding statistics, fractions, percents, graphing and basic algebra. Statistics and graphs show up in work presentations, news and magazines and almost everyone can understand them without getting overwhelmed. Most people have the ability to understand the majority of math that is used in and surrounds them in daily life. Numerical fluency is something everyone can learn and it is up to the individual to decide if they want to pursue more in a career or hobby that requires more math. 
  3. A great mathematician can come from anywhere.Specifically regarding students, there may be bias about what good math students look like and how they act. The world isn’t a fair place and more opportunities are given to some students than others. However, kids from everywherecan be naturally very good at math and eventually successful math leaders and teachers in our world. The more exposure kids have to math early on, the sooner numerical fluency can come to them, however, those with gifts will be naturally more oriented toward math from the start. There might be some Alan Turings out there right now and it’s our job to help develop them! 

So, this is what we mean when we say anyone can do math. Everyone in life has various talents and not everyone is equally talented in math, just as not everyone will be the next Mozart. We, at Mathnasium of Littleton, want to give every kid a chance and a reason to learn numerical fluency. We know full well that not every student we see will fall in love with math, but we hope by helping them learn numerical fluency they will gain self-confidence and realize greater potential. Everyone should be able to appreciate and see beauty in math for all that it’s given us and while not everyone is equally gifted in math, there are reasons for us to educate like everyone could be.