HomelearningPractical Math

There’s an article from Understood.org floating around titled Why Some Kids May Have Trouble Learning Left From Right. In it, the author talks about how this difficulty impacts various parts of life, and offers a few ideas of how to help them with this problem.

Can muffins better math skills?

When I got to the math section of the article, I again started thinking about how flawed many of the teaching methods applied to math are, especially in the early years.

Math at its most basic forms – counting, addition and subtraction – is all about keeping track of how many objects there are. When that concept is banished in favor of reducing the numbers down to symbols on a line, you lose a lot of young kids early on.

When addressing these building blocks, why rely so heavily on something immaterial like marks on a page, when you could use objects to help students associate those marks with something physical? Look in any classroom and you’ll find things to count, whether they’re books, pencils, desks or even students.

As you move on in complexity, the more real world applications incorporated into math lessons, the better. Part of why I had such huge problems with math is because numbers meant nothing to me. Even though I had a hard time with spelling, at least words had meaning.

Numbers were just abstract figures with no real importance in my world, outside of needing to get the right answer on equally meaningless tests. My left-right issues had less to do with my poor math skills than the emphasis the classes put on memorization and rote learning.

Several science classes, in contrast, were great with hands on lessons. Even genetics, which I passed by the skin of my teeth due to a heavy reliance on charts, featured a lab section to demonstrate how genetic traits worked in fruit flies.

Physics, another math intensive subject, was challenging but still far easier than math classes, because the format was rooted in physical experiments. At the end of that year, our class got to go to an amusement park, where we calculated equations as applied to the rides we enjoyed.

Feeling the applied forces, angles and speed helped reinforce the otherwise immaterial concepts in our young brains.

Why can’t more math be taught in similarly hands on ways? Fractions can be demonstrated through cooking. Cooking can also be used to teach multiplication and division by letting students figure out how to double or halve recipes. Although I can’t think of examples off the top of my head, there are practical applications of certain concepts in trigonometry and calculus.

Math’s far more important than rows of problems on a test, but how are kids supposed to know that when they’re not exposed to what the subject really does?

Since curricula are so hard to change, and the school system in general is laden with politics, I guess it falls to families and parents to help their kids get a better grasp of math concepts through practical life lessons. I hope some parents are already helping their kids in this way.

When it’s taught in a way that meshes with the student’s mind, math doesn’t need to be terrifying.

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