Debunking The "I'm Bad At Math" Myth

Posted: Nov 21 2018, 7:11am CST | by , in Latest Science News


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Debunking the "I'm Bad at Math" Myth

Ask high school and college students about what subject they hate the most and most of them would probably answer math. It seems like a prevailing trend among students. Mathematics just doesn't sit well with them. But what's the reason behind this? Are some people born to be math geniuses? Or is it purely a myth that leads to the unnecessary growth of math anxiety among students?

Is Math Ability Genetic?

Many people wrongly assume that proficiency in mathematics is genetically determined. The truth is that math hasn't been written into our genes yet simply because it's relatively young. According to developmental psychologist Steven Pinker, it would be surprising if children were born with innate math ability. The mathematical tools were invented fairly recently, which means there hasn't been enough time to influence the human genome.

Interestingly, Pinker explains that people come with innate mathematical intuitions. This can be seen in toddlers who can choose which pictures contain fewer dots and children who divide their snacks to share with their peers. No formal schooling is necessary to accomplish these feats. But when it comes to school mathematics, it's unreasonable to assume that some people are genetically predisposed to perform better at math.

Where Does the Bad at Math Myth Come from?

It's funny but this myth originates from a pattern children notice after entering their first math class. When kids come into a math class, they have different levels of preparation. Many kids have been prepared by parents beforehand, giving them math drills at home to aid their learning. Other kids may not have received any kind of preparation at all.

After the first few tests are handed out, the kids who've been prepared by their parents received higher grades than the unprepared kids. Some of the unprepared students may have gotten decent marks, but it's clear that those better prepared than them performed better in the tests.

The unprepared children assume that the difference in performance is due to the genetic predisposition of the other kids being innately better at math. They label themselves as "bad at math." What's worse is that they don't try hard in their future math classes, falling further behind their peers.

The well-prepared children assume that they're "math people," failing to realize that the difference in performance isn't because they're born to be good at math, but purely because of their preparation before entering the class. They stay consistent with their study efforts, allowing them always to outperform their peers.

In many ways, the bad at math myth becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The students fail to realize that the mere act of preparing well beforehand holds the key to getting higher scores. And unfortunately, many teachers also fail to address this issue.

Should Math Be Taught Differently?

One of the biggest reasons why students hate math is because they often don't see how it can be applied to everyday use. Of course, you encounter math every day, but most students think they don't need to learn algebra, calculus, and trigonometry.

Many math teachers now recommend a radical change in the way math is taught to students. For one, Dr. Randy Palisoc says that math difficulties stem from the dehumanized approach toward teaching the subject. He suggests that by teaching math like a language, students will better appreciate the complexity of mathematics. They'll have a new found excitement in learning math and approach it with alacrity.

This approach makes sense. After all, mathematics seems to become a blur especially after getting introduced to algebra. Early math lessons do an excellent job of explaining how fractions can be used in real life, with the classic pizza example something anybody can relate to. But when it comes to more complex math topics, students start to lose interest.

Many teachers argue against this approach, however, explaining that mathematics is far from being a language. Although it's used to communicate, math is a product of human creation whereas human language is a natural phenomenon. An English-speaking child effortlessly masters the English language even without having formal schooling. The same cannot be said about learning the many sophisticated topics in math.

The attempt to reduce abstraction in mathematics is an admirable goal, but it's important to be careful with the use of metaphors as it can reinforce the belief that a math person is born with an innate gift for mastering the subject.

What It All Boils Down to?

After everything's said and done, proficiency in mathematics boils down to practice—just like being good at anything. Outside of geniuses, nobody is hardwired to be a math person. You can become a math person just as much as the best performer in your class. But achieving this goal requires a whole lot of practice.

It's easy to tell a student to keep practicing, but it's essential to introduce a change in mindset as well. This doesn't concern the subject of math alone, but intelligence in general. It's high time to understand that intelligence doesn't have limits. Instead of thinking of your intelligence as fixed, think of it as something you can grow with hard work, patience, and practice.

By adopting a growth mindset, you'll view your skills and intelligence as tools that you can develop over time. And even if you encounter failures, you'll consider them as learning experiences. A fixed mindset doesn't do you any favors since it assumes that your skills and intelligence are things you're born with, and you can't do anything to change them.

Many students continue to believe in the bad at math myth. It takes a collective effort to debunk the myth once and for all. The society as a whole should start moving toward a culture of hard work. Perseverance and effort play integral roles in helping students achieve their personal best. The goal isn't to turn everyone into math geniuses, but merely replace the math person myth with an attitude of hard work, perseverance, and consistency. It's a longshot, but it's fascinating to imagine a world in which people don't suffer from any form of math anxiety.

There's no shame if you feel that you're not a math person. But it helps to take small steps toward improving your math proficiency. If mathematics isn't yours, you can turn to online math help, which could prove all you need to discover your inner math genius.

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The Author

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/2" rel="author">Luigi Lugmayr</a>
Manfred "Luigi" Lugmayr () is the founding Chief Editor of I4U News and brings over 25 years experience in the technology field to the ever evolving and exciting world of gadgets, tech and online shopping. He started I4U News back in 2000 and evolved it into vibrant technology news and tech and toy shopping hub.
Luigi can be contacted directly at ml[@]




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