Struggling in math class is not a new problem. For decades, our help with math education has been shifting in shape to better equip students. Although schools have become leaps and bounds better at developing math literacy, the incremental, intergenerational progress does little to comfort struggling students. However, what might bring solace, is the simple truth that while struggling in math class can feel disheartening, we all have the ability to “get there,” eventually. For some students, forging a healthy, positive relationship with mathematics can be a matter of eliminating one of the ever-so common roadblocks students find themselves trapped behind. What do some of these common obstacles look like?
1. Computational Weakness
Computational weakness causes, by a mile, the most struggling in math classes across the United States. “Computational weakness” is a generic term for slow, sloppy, or simply incorrect computations. Contrary to popular belief, the written calculations and number-crunching done in math class is likely the least “math-y” part of class. The true beauty and biggest help with math comes from understanding relationships abstractly. However, computation is a very necessary means to concretely illustrate grander ideas. Consequently, computational weakness may result in a muddled or unclear understanding of the more abstract concept being evaluated.
2. Incomplete Mastery of Number Facts
Ah, the most evasive problems of them all. Incomplete mastery of preceding curriculum can become a nightmare—quickly. Unfortunately, there are 101 place you may find yourself struggling in math, but only 1 way to catch up. Once the material has been covered, if you’ve missed the boat, you’ll need to make up your lost ground fast. Seldom do students have a chance to give forgotten material the time it deserves, and therein lies our problem. Students will then feel they have no choice but to “get by” with their understanding of the lesson. This could look like memorizing steps, cramming before tests, or avoiding certain math problems. Worse yet, students may even fool themselves into thinking they’ve “learned it.”
3. Making Connections
Relating math to “real life” is an important tool young students rely on to learn mathematics. Can you imagine teaching students how to count without ever using an example? What about learning addition without a concrete demonstration. The task seems almost impossible, which allows us to begin to understand the way students struggling with abstract concepts from math class might feel. For some students, these tactile connections are a huge help with math concepts . As students mature on their math journeys, concepts are less often taught with a clear-cut, real-world practical application.
4. Needing Help With Math Anxiety
Math anxiety is an epidemic in its own right, but it’s the complications of chronic math anxiety that wreak havoc on our development. Most often, students struggling in math class use avoidance to cope. However, math avoidance, to nobody’s surprise, does not help with math anxiety. Avoidance amounts to less practice and studying, especially on topics students perceive to be most unclear or difficult. Unfortunately, this gives way to a cycle of increased difficulty, increased anxiety, greater avoidance, only for the cycle to begin again. In fact, researchers found that as confidence and motivation increase, math anxiety decreases, and vice versa.
5. A Dislike of Math
It is of course possible, your child is struggling in math simply because they don’t like math. Although disliking math seems perverse, there is hope for these students too. Math is the tapestry of our universe. Every field of study in STEM relies most heavily on mathematics, and as far as the humanities go, mathematics can be found there too. Regardless of your child’s passion, math stands to enrich it. But, introducing intriguing and surprising math knowledge can also spark your child’s interest. In a room full of 23 people, what are the odds 2 share a birthday? Roughly 50%. How many times could you fold a piece of paper in half? Infinitely. How many great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents do you have? 1,024.
We all have the ability to comprehend mathematics. I’d even argue that to understand it entirely, you need to spend time struggling in math first. Developing a positive outlook on mathematics can be as easy as removing one of the barriers of entry your child is being blocked-out by. The only thing left to do is set your sights on the obstacles keeping your child and mathematics apart (but check out our math tips too!) Which of these hang-ups has your child struggling in math class?