For many people mathematics is just the repetition of operations in order to memorize fragmented technical facts. Dan Finkel, a PhD in mathematics from the University of Washington, states that the authority and mystification of numbers is so important that people are more likely to believe things if statistics are included without questioning it. He left school wondering why some people love maths and others hate them. His goal is to help change the way mathematics is taught so it can become joyful and people can have a chance to fall in love with it like he did. He created 5 principles for teaching mathematics:
- Start with a question to foster questioning, thinking, this opens the possibility for discussion. Guide the lesson with questions. Bear in mind that not all questions need to be answered, the reasoning behind the questions is more important.
- Students need time to struggle, kids do not need to know how to answer fast, it is necessary to give them time and struggle with questions because the process help them to learn how to overcome obstacles. They need to learn how to better formulate questions instead of giving answers quickly.
- Do not be the answer key, students may ask questions that the teachers cannot answer, and it is ok to admit it. It opens the possibility to investigate and learn together. This shows the example to students that the process of problem solving is the most interesting part, not the answer.
- Say yes to your student’s ideas, saying yes is not the same thing as saying you are right. Do not dismiss the ideas right away because it is disempowering. Mathematics is not linear, there are different possibilities when analyzing numbers, different approaches.
- All it takes is the willingness to play. Mathematics is about play and in order to nurture the love for mathematics it is important to teach mathematics in a less passive way and create free thinkers instead of passive rule followers.
It has to start early!
According to Professor Charles Bleiker, an early childhood educator and academic, math failure starts at pre-school, children’s potentials are not fully exploited:
Early childhood math is one of the most important topics for young children especially when preschool age. Before kids get to kindergarten they need to have a real foundation of number knowledge. Because number knowledge is really the base of knowledge they are going to use when they start operations later on, that is – when they start to add and subtract” — Professor Charles Bleiker, TED Talk 2014.
Several researchers in the mathematics field believe that the introduction of mathematics early on in a playful manner is key to the future learning success of pupils in general because it fosters mathematical thinking from a young age. Gamification and storytelling create a favorable environment to teach mathematics as a natural process where kids can learn and absorb the fundamentals and math concepts easily. This approach aligns with recreaMATHS project that aims to make mathematics accessible and joyful for children from a young age. This approach could strongly help children with specific learning disorders because the brain is highly adaptable, specially if problems are tackled early, therefore creating new neurological pathways helping the learning process. Specific learning disorders do not disappear with time, but this early introduction of math can help it become more manageable.
When mathematical concepts are actively introduced to children through play and experiences, they feel more engaged. It is important to help children understand that mathematics can help them to make sense of the world around them and it can help strengthen their problem-solving skills in the future.