I recently stopped by my cousin’s house during a long driving trip so that I could take a break and catch up with family for a spell. My cousin mentioned that her son Adam was having trouble in his math class. I was able to spend a few hours going through math concepts with Adam, and by the end of our time together, he could see sense and logic, where before there was frustration and confusion.
I got a phone call from my cousin shortly after, and she exclaimed, “What did you do? Adam is excited to do his homework and looks forward to going to school now. He’s like a totally different person!”
“Success in the math classroom is dependent, to a large extent, on a student’s life experiences outside the classroom.”
So what accounts for this transformation in Adam’s attitude? I didn’t wave a magic wand and give Adam secret magic powers, despite what his mother might think. I sat with Adam and worked through the mathematical concepts he was encountering in his classroom and in his homework in a way he had never seen before, showing him respect and challenging him. The positive experience we had encountering the very subject that used to frustrate and confuse him made an immediate impact on his willingness to encounter that subject in the future.
Success in the math classroom is dependent, to a large extent, on a student’s life experiences outside the classroom. Those experiences are born of encountering and interacting with problems. When a student encounters and interacts with something in a mental, verbal, visual, tactile, and written way, that something becomes a part of the person’s experience-base.
When we learn and use math—whether in a classroom setting or out in the world—we tap into our experience base, and the wider that experience-base is, the more successful we are.
Over four plus decades of teaching, consulting at schools, and working with students at Mathnasium, I have come to recognize how crucial positive experiences are to learning, particularly those experiences that allow students to utilize old information in new ways and benefit from past mistakes.
The Mathnasium Method rearranges the order and emphasis of topics in math curriculum to encourage the development of ideas and concepts, rather than requiring mere memorization of facts and procedures. We provide a positive, transformative math experience that is missing from many classrooms.
“When you give a child confidence in math, the results go far beyond improved math grades. You empower them on a personal level to realize what human beings are capable of.”
I’ll never forget this note from Keisha, one of my former students who used to hate math: “Math is not something to be afraid of or hate. With enough confidence and a good teacher, math becomes both straightforward and actually fun to learn.”
When you give a child confidence in math, the results go far beyond improved math grades. You empower them on a personal level to realize what human beings are capable of, and you give them confidence that they can learn not just math, but any subject to which they apply their minds. When you learn how to learn math, you really are learning how to learn. This new confidence extends to all areas of life. Students who are blasé about school begin looking forward to classes, and they become curious about subjects they previously suffered through.
The finest compliment I’ve ever received came from a parent, who said, “This guy knows how to take the cookies down off the top shelf and put them on the table where the kids can get at them!”
When we can walk away from students, leaving them with the “cookies” of improved math knowledge, a transformed attitude about learning, self-confidence, and a curiosity about the world around them, we’ve done our job.