Using Math to Improve Important Life Skills
On the surface, math may seem like it’s all about numbers and formulas. However, this versatile subject is about much more than just counting, adding, and subtracting. Discover why math is more than numbers, and find out how it contributes to the development of valuable skills in problem solving, critical thinking, language, and more.
Even simple addition and subtraction problems are about more than reaching the right answer. Both simple and complex math problems teach students important problem-solving skills that they can use for a variety of applications.
For example, complex word problems and algebra equations can help elementary to high school students understand and solve puzzles. While most word problems do require a combination of adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing, they also ask students to think through problems carefully. They require students to puzzle over relationships between people, the timing of events, and distances between locations. They can also encourage students to approach problems from a variety of perspectives.
From textbooks and workbooks to the classroom, math is a language-heavy subject. That means while students certainly learn how to execute calculations and manipulate numbers in math class, they also learn invaluable language skills. Whether they’re reading through a word problem or listening to an instructor explain a new way to solve an equation, they’re improving their language skills in important ways.
Both elementary and high school students also have the opportunity to learn essential vocabulary in math class. Younger students may master the use of expressions, such as “less than” or “greater than,” while advanced students may learn entirely new vocabulary sets in geometry, algebra, or trigonometry class.
For young students, learning basic spatial skills is an essential component of math class. Many students comprehend important concepts about space by drawing or building patterns, or discussing three-dimensional space aloud.
With appropriate instruction, students young and older can better recognize sequences, understand how objects fit into and move in space, and comprehend spatial relationships between people and things. Eventually, students will recognize patterns and manipulate them mentally instead of reconstructing them visually.
Wayfinding, or directional, skills are some of the most important practical abilities that students develop through math instruction. For many students, wayfinding is directly related to spatial thinking. Naturally, navigating through buildings, neighborhoods, or cities requires them to hone their concepts of space while learning about directions and distances at the same time.
Students of all ages can improve their wayfinding skills by both giving and following directions. Learning methods may be as simple as walking to another room or as challenging as navigating to another part of town. These exercises help students follow directions, comprehend common measurements, and develop their understanding of spatial relationships.
While some students go on to take dedicated accounting and finance classes, basic financial skills come from effective math instruction. Elementary-level students learn how to add up the amounts on a receipt and subtract the amount owed from the amount given to determine the change due.
Middle and high school students learn more complex equations, such as how to calculate interest for savings accounts or loan payments, as well as how to determine the right sales prices for discounted items in stores and how to calculate sales taxes and tips. Students also use their math skills to create budgets and set financial goals, all important practical skills.
Math instruction can teach students a variety of critical memory skills. Effective instruction can help students develop auditory and sensory memory, provided they have access to a variety of learning tools. Math students can also improve procedural memory and rule-based memory as they learn standard formulas and calculations. As they begin to understand the principles of visual and numerical patterns, students also develop improved pattern recognition. Math class can help students enhance both short- and long-term memory as they work through calculations and deal with formulas for exams.
Critical Thinking Skills
Critical thinking skills are essential for being able to analyze complicated problems, and most people get the building blocks for these skills through math instruction. After all, math teaches how to think abstractly, which is important for critical thinking. Math instruction also encourages students to think symbolically, which can help them resolve complex issues more easily.
By developing their critical thinking skills, students can often think more independently and, ultimately, make more reasonable choices. Students can learn to assess risks more effectively, leading to better decision-making in their personal and professional lives for years to come.