How can we change mathematics perception?

A student’s love and hate relationship with mathematics is a worldwide and highly discussed subject. There does not seem to be a middle ground. For some students, it can feel like in class they learn that nine times nine equals eighty-one and, in the exam, they are asked to calculate the mass of the sun! That is due to the generalized preconception that mathematics is hard, arid, and unforgiving, provoking anxiety on students as soon as they sit for a test. Math anxiety eats up the working memory, leading people to struggle with basic math. For students with learning disabilities it might be even more stress inducing due to the fact that they have to overcome additional barriers to reach the same level as their peers, struggling with attention deficit, language, visual-motor skills, visual-spatial perception, memory, processing speed, and/or others.

Our brains are highly adaptable and learning disabilities should not be a barrier to having an average school life. According to the article “There Is a Better Way to Teach Students with Learning Disabilities” by Jo Boaler and Tanya LaMar the classic approach to mathematics in school is too narrow and emphasizes too much on memorization of methods instead of deep understanding. Unfortunately some students quickly arrive to the conclusion that they are not math people because they are not strong in memorization or because they do not understand the purpose of what they are trying to memorize. In order to engage students, it is necessary to understand that all learners are different and students with learning disabilities have brains that are wired differently. It is possible for these students to not only learn complex mathematical problems but also to contribute to the field when given the proper freedom to think.

Mathematics early on.

There are multiple ways to engage students in mathematics and one of them is by starting early. Children demonstrate their interest in mathematics early on: shapes, patterns, puzzles and others, for this reason math should be incorporated in kindergarten in a recreational manner to improve children’s development, normalize mathematics and decrease anxiety throughout high school by changing its perception. This early start might also help children build neurological pathways that will strengthen their problem-solving abilities in the future and give them the necessary self-confidence to boost their learning. This is Recreamaths project’s prerogative, turning mathematics into fun and desirable activities for kindergarten kids through storytelling, gamification, museum like exposition and others. This changes the ‘theoretical’ focus to the more creative aspects of mathematics. Kids tend to concentrate on activities that they are interested in for longer periods of time so experience and manipulation can be the key to establish mathematical skills early on. Furthermore, presenting mathematics to children in a more positive way change their perspective on mathematics from the beginning.

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Turning away from stress inducing practices.

With support from teachers, kids can learn how to deal with frustration and achievements in mathematical problems, increasing their capability to think “outside the box” and come up with solutions instead of being trapped in a negative mindset.

In the article “Fluency without fear” the writers state that while we learn English through reading novels and poetry, mathematics is taught through fast memorization and tested under timed conditions. That is one of the reasons why people disconnect, reinforcing the misconception that mathematics is all about speed and memorized methods and that it is a stress inducing field because the stakes are considered too high.

The project Recreamaths targets kindergarten educators hoping to promote non-formal tools to emphasize the teaching of the mathematical language instead of the drilling, stress inducing practices that turn students away from mathematics and  haunt them throughout their school lives. It is important to train teachers to adapt their methods and give them the proper tools to help students to succeed, changing their mindset and approaching mathematics as a subject that makes sense.

Sources:

Understanding Learning Disabilities, https://www.ldatschool.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/2017-Math-LD-Waterfall-AODA_v005.pdf
Developing Mathematical Mindsets | American Federation of Teachers, https://www.aft.org/ae/winter2018-2019/boaler
A Better Way to Teach Students with Learning Disabilities | Time, https://time.com/5539300/learning-disabilities-special-education-math-teachers-parents-students/
Teaching Math to Young Children, EDUCATOR’S PRACTICE GUIDE, 2013, https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/
Fluency without fear, https://www.youcubed.org/evidence/fluency-without-fear/

Project website : Soon
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Our partners are Les Apprimeurs (France), Citizens in Power (Cyprus), Fermat Science (France), Istituto dei sordi di torino (Italy)

Related projects:

Using Virtual Reality technology (VR) to improve learning of mathematics.

Tools for math teachers to add art works and hands-on exercises in their lessons.