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News from Mathnasium of Boca Raton

Warning: Hating Math is a Big Red Flag

Oct 3, 2017

Warning: Hating Math is a Big Red Flag

Do you know a child who says they “hate” math class and math homework? 

Maybe you are wondering if having such strong negative feelings about a subject is normal.  Unfortunately, many kids do have strong negative feelings about math class. This is a big red flag that something is wrong.

Our nation’s math instruction has been plagued with problems. Kids hating math class is a common symptom of these problems.

Math instruction in our schools evolves as researchers and educators learn more about cognitive science and math. Yet, math instruction still has a long way to go compared with reading and writing. Children’s feelings of boredom and frustration say more about the system than about their natural inclinations.

There are 3 common reasons a child may develop strong negative feelings towards math. Read on to see which situation applies to your child and get possible solutions.

1.     Your Child is Not Learning at the Right Level or Pace

Learning new skills feels good. Students who are getting math instruction appropriate to their level of understanding don’t hate math. In a classroom of 30 kids it is very difficult for a teacher to meet the learning needs of every student. Often, the children who learn math quickly get bored.  The children who need extra time get overwhelmed.  Kids in either group will start complaining about hating math.

Solution:  If your child is still in elementary school, find out if there are math groups for differentiated instruction. That means the teacher groups kids by level of mastery in a skill to deliver the right level of instruction. Grouping is different than tracking because the groups are flexible. When the child masters a skill, it is common for them to change groups.

Tracking in secondary school is a common practice. For example, some kids take algebra in 8th grade and others take it in 9th grade. Too many high school and middle school children are placed in a math class that is too high or low for their abilities.

Consider whether your child is in the appropriate math class or group. Sometimes simply changing the level and pace of instruction to match the child makes a huge difference. Suddenly they like math again. At Mathnasium of Boca Raton, we are careful to match the individualized learning plan and pace to the needs of each child. http://www.mathnasium.com/bocaraton/method

2.     The Classroom Instruction and/or Culture Needs Improvement

We respect most math teachers immensely.  Some of our instructors are former teachers. Every once in a while students get a math teacher that gives the teaching profession a bad rap. Other teachers are not getting the support they need from the school or the district.  The lack of support limits their effectiveness. If your child is in a class where the teacher discourages questions, berates mistakes, fails to give appropriate feedback, or just isn’t very pleasant, math class can be miserable. Another common problem, especially in elementary schools, is that many teachers don’t feel confident in math themselves. It’s hard for kids to get excited about a subject from a teacher who lacks enthusiasm, teaching skills, or the proper resources. http://www.mathnasium.com/www-mathnasium-com-bocaraton-news-don-t-blame-the-teachers-that-math-in-elementary-school-is-in-shambles

Solution: Observe or volunteer during math class to see what the classroom is like. Look for these positive actions while you are there:

  1. Frequent feedback about what a child is doing well at and what mistakes they are making.
  2. Children asking questions in class.
  3. A positive vibe.
  4. Children getting positive feedback for work ethic and achievement.   
  5. Instruction using visual, auditory, and kinesthetic (hands on) elements so that children can access the content in a variety of ways.
  6. Math vocabulary and expectations are clearly defined for students.
  7. Different instruction for different abilities.

If you see any of these things lacking, schedule a conversation with the teacher. Explain that your child expresses not liking math and you are just trying to solve the mystery of why, and to improve your child’s attitude. Be sure that the conversation is private and non-confrontational. Knowing you only saw a snapshot of the math class, ask if you might see those elements a different day. Remember, you are there to get the right instruction for your child not to evaluate the teacher.  If you think getting the right instruction requires switching teachers, speak to the principal about your concerns. At Mathnasium of Boca Raton we make sure our instructors are knowledgeable, enthusiastic, pleasant, and get the support they need to be effective.  http://www.mathnasium.com/bocaraton/our-team

3. The Math Curriculum is Boring

For decades math curriculum focused on teaching kids to get the right answers to problems. Kids who solve a math problem by following an algorithm, a set of steps, without any understanding of why or how the algorithm works won’t feel any sense of accomplishment for problem solving. For decades the U.S math curriculum has fallen short in providing real world math applications and creativity. Not only has this resulted in the U.S trailing other countries in math competencies, it also makes learning math dry. At Mathnasium of Boca Raton we spark mathematical interest by encouraging mathematical reasoning and creativity.

Solution: You can’t change the math curriculum, but you can provide opportunities for your children to experience math in a different way or setting. We love using games that use math as part of the strategy. Perhaps you could sit down with your child and play one of our Mathnasium card games.

What to Do the Next Time your Child says “I Hate Math”

First, listen to your child. Be empathetic to their feelings. Don’t get caught in the trap of allowing their feelings to excuse lack of effort.  Having to work hard at something often pays big rewards down the road when children learn persistence and a growth mindset. Remember typical is not the same as acceptable.

Then, bring them into Mathnasium. We Make Math Make Sense. They might not be happy about coming into a math center when they say they hate math.  They usually change their tune after a session or two.

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