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News from Mathnasium of San Anselmo

Why is Math so Hard?

Oct 5, 2015

I just came across an article written by Stan Brown in which is summarizes that “math is no harder than other subjects, but it is different. You will succeed by taking those differences into account.” In this article, he compares math to sports, foreign languages, science or engineering, and building construction. He also argues against one of the biggest complaints of students that don’t like math: that math is useless and yucky.

Math is like sports

To be good in math, you need to practice math. You don’t become good at sports by reading books about the sport, memorizing some facts, or watching a sports movie. “With sports you learn by doing.” And math is no different.  Math practice is known as homework and you need to do it to get better.

In addition, you don’t get good at basketball by practicing only before games. To get better, you have to practice every day. “It’s the same with math: you have to keep your “mental muscles” limber by working with it every day.”


Math is like foreign languages

You cannot master a foreign language unless you study the vocabulary of that language. “The same is true in math.”  While it’s still English, “math terms have special meanings that are different from ordinary English.” To be good at math, make sure you understand its language.

Math is like science or engineering

When doing math, “you need to be very meticulous and work everything out logically. There may be different ways to get to the right answer, but there’s only one right answer.”

Math is like building construction

“When you’re building a house, you would never think of trying to put up the second floor before the first floor.Building is a sequential process.”

When learning math, you have to master more ‘foundational’ concepts before moving on as “each concept builds on the ones that came before.”  In this way, math is different than learning history. You can study World War II even if you did not learn about the Depression. However, in math, “you need to understand factoring very well or you won’t be able to solve equations.”

Math is useless and yucky

We don’t like when we hear students say, “I hate math.” In our experience, kids don’t hate math, they are afraid of math.  This might come from the simple situation of them not understanding a concept and then getting lost going forward as the foundation for that string of knowledge is missing. “The good news is that you can do well even if you don’t like it. In life there are all sorts of things we’d rather not do, but we do them anyway.” But, more importantly, at Mathnasium, we believe that once a student begins to understand math, they get better at it. And once they get better at it, their confidence grows. And as their confidence grows, they begin to like, and even love, math.

To learn how we make Math make sense, click here.