Math is as ancient as humanity and has existed since the beginning of time. Without mathematics, there is no existence and no man or life form can function in this world without it. Mathematics has been discovered and developed by many civilizations around the world. The Indians revolutionized mathematics by inventing the number that we all use today, which is Zero.
The early Egyptians settled along the river Nile as early as about 6000 BCE, and they began to record the patterns of lunar phases and the seasons for many reasons, such as agriculture. They had made great contributions to the concepts of fractions and decimals and had used the Pythagorean theorem vastly for their inventions and construction, etc. The Babylonians and Sumerians are also known to be the pioneers of the development of mathematical concepts. Sumerian and Babylonian mathematics was based on sexagesimal, or base 60, numeric system, which could be counted physically using our knuckles.
In this 21st century, countries strongly believe that specializing their young generation in the area of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) is essential for the economy to be globally competitive. Mathematics is a prerequisite subject for many jobs on demand and should students perform well in it in their high school, they have high chances of having a strong career ahead of them.
It is a general opinion that math is an extremely challenging subject and hence many students fear this subject. According to many cognitive science scholars, the logical left-brain thinkers process information in sequential bits, while creative and intuitive right-brainers have a more wide-scope of thinking, often never parochial. Such individuals patiently internalize all the information being thrown at them all at one go at their own pace. Hence, left-brain dominant children would have a comparatively easier time getting hold of complex concepts and abstract information. On the other hand, for the right-brain dominant students, they may feel that they are lagging behind and unable to cope with everything at an “optimal” pace (this is usually the confusion and undue stress that is birthed from comparing oneself with another).
WHAT IS THE MAIN CAUSE OF MATH ANXIETY?
Mathematics is a cumulative discipline and we all know that. In order for one to progress, the foundations must be concrete. It is important to take baby steps in internalizing simple concepts in the initial stages because that will be the springboard for students to grasp much more abstract concepts and be able to solve more complex problems.
Students have this general mindset (which is pretty dangerous) that it’s perfectly fine to not do well in class tests since they are not the main examination. This mentality would never help students as every test act as a checkpoint to assess how well a student’s understanding is of the subject. The mindset of, “this is enough” will never put students on the path of success and they will accumulate their problems and let everything snowball till the last minute which is extremely dangerous. Even if students pass their end-of-year-examinations on the border-line, they will move on to the next academic year with a shaky foundation, and everything will go downhill from there. Unfortunately, this is how it is, one cannot succeed unless and until his or her foundation is strong.
WHY IS MATH KNOWN TO BE PARTICULARLY CHALLENGING?
Mathematics is of paramount importance in various professions. Over the past decade, lots of changes have been made and today, in order to roll with the punches and adapt, mathematics has been made into an extremely challenging subject in various ways, in order to produce intellectual and critical-thinking individuals. This undeniably places lots of stress on students.
SO, WHAT ARE THE WAYS TO OVERCOME MATH ANXIETY?
Education systems, in general, follow a “mastery method” in mathematics, and this means that there is an emphasis on the importance of a thorough understanding of the core concepts which act as the foundations. Beginner concepts like times tables, addition and subtraction should be introduced gradually, and they exposed to numerous types of questions that test these concepts.
Big ideas should be broken down into smaller concepts, and as much as possible, hands-on activities can be incorporated in order to make theoretical concepts come alive for easy understanding. As an advanced approach, tutors move on to teach using model drawings, etc. Be it maths home tutors or school maths teachers, everyone should make it a point to build their student’s foundation to be as strong as possible.
You may be doing anything, performing a task, learning a concept, or you may take part in a competition. No matter what task you perform, confidence is essential. Solving mathematical problems require question analysis, hypothesizing, trail and errors, deriving a systematic solution and knowing how to present solutions in a neat and clear manner. Confidence is of paramount importance in order to carry out these steps successfully solve questions, and should a student lack of it, that will be the biggest barrier to excelling in this subject!
Students might push themselves into a small corner and always use particular problem-solving methods to finish their mathematical sums but these few sets of techniques are limited and cannot be used to solve everything. One of the most important ways to excel in Mathematics is to have the understanding that it’s a lot about understanding which concepts are being tested in the question, what the question demands and then having to derive a method on the spot to solve it.
All these skills cannot be obtained overnight and cannot be done by burning the midnight oil either; it only comes with practice. Assessment books and practice papers are the best way to try solving many challenging questions with varying degrees of difficulty. By keeping a healthy habit of completing a certain number of pages in an assessment book every day or finishing one practice paper every 2 days will help train students to become excellent mathematicians.
Though self-learning is highly recommended and appreciated, we are all aware that without a good tutor’s close guidance, Mathematics is a little challenging to tackle alone. A good tutor, preferably a tuition teacher to give that extra push the student beyond school hours, will be largely beneficial and the amount of difference this makes is unfathomable.
The reason why Math home tutors are the best people who can guide is that they will take the effort to understand what their students struggle with, what their weaknesses are and why they make the mistakes they make. Math home tutors are also the best people to plan out strategically on how help should be offered, and they know the specific teaching techniques that should be used to guide the student. Tutors make the effort to understand students’ capabilities, their insecurities in approaching the subject and about their learning pace which then helps them to guide their students in a customized manner.
Yes, patience is a virtue. We are all tired of hearing this clichéd advice, but there is lots of truth to it. This is not a strategy or technique but it is certainly an important characteristic that is essential for students to have. Knowing that mathematics is not an easy subject, it should also be understood that mastering it takes lots of time. The moment tutors reassure and emphasize this fact, as well as practice this virtue, students will automatically pick this characteristic up and it will help them to a great extent. This understanding is what will keep them going and motivate them till the last lap.
In order to continue learning and gain knowledge, it is important to not have an ego. The mentality of “Yeah, I already know this” is never going to help. When you have set yourself to learn something new if you have a mindset that you do not know anything. Let go of your ego and accept the fact that you do not know many things. This is the first step to gaining knowledge that’s the only way you will grow. This way you will never have anxiety; you will be a confident individual who will always readily accept when you do not understand something. You will widen yourself, create opportunities for yourself to learn and there is no need to for anxiety!
Higher order thinking skills (HOTS) or critical thinking skills has become an educational demand in today’s math syllabus and this requires more cognitive processing. Skills involving analysis, evaluation, and synthesis are higher order, all of which requires different learning and teaching methods than the learning of facts and concepts. All this takes time to nurture, but it’s not impossible.
Helen Hayes MacArthur, the famous and legendary American actress once said, “An expert was once a beginner” and it’s an undeniable truth. With proper guidance, perseverance and moral support, students will evolve to become excellent mathematicians.
Steffen Carter is a Singapore Math Tutor associated with ChampionTutor- A tuition agency dedicated to assisting and motivating struggling learners.