Why Are Mathematics So Hard For Some Students?

Numbers and computational skills come to some people naturally. But for many of us, especially students, math concepts can be a difficult concept to wrap our heads around. Why is that, and what can we do to help?

An interesting source, by MIT Media Lab author Marvin Minsky, explains why it is some children might have difficulty with the math they are trying to learn, whichever level of math that student might be in. He says that “instead of promoting inventiveness, we focus on preventing mistakes” and that this negative emphasis in math leads students to dislike arithmetic. For example, he then explains that the multiplication chart is diagonally symmetrical, and there are easier ways to teach, and easier ways for a child to learn. He tells an anecdote of a child “who imagined math to be a continuous string of mechanical tasks” year after year. This student found mathematics boring and unimaginative because each year he would have to learn another “table.”

An article by PBS says students may have difficulty “connecting the abstract or conceptual aspects of math with reality.” For example, being told what an equilateral triangle is, as opposed to actually holding and inspecting an equilateral triangle. Students may have a better time understanding math if they have a real life object to study or if they can contextualize the math concepts into something real.

This type of “inventiveness” as Minsky mentioned above, is what some students may be lacking in their classroom: The extra effort of showing a student a real world object, or developing new ways for a child to learn.

Students and children alike need to find their own effective way to learn the concepts they struggle with. Further, let’s continue to find the most effective ways to teach them.

Learn more: Total Recall: Helping Our Students Memorize Multiplication Facts

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