Simply hearing someone say “math” makes me cringe and tense up. My mouth runs dry when the bill comes after dinner. Knowing I’ll have to calculate the tip makes me sweat. This is the case for many other people as well. For so long, math was (and if I’m being honest) and still is something that causes me deep stress, anxiety and even shame. What I wouldn’t give for that not to be the case. To be someone who approaches math with confidence, ready to slay the hulking beast of numbers. Whether I ever fully achieve that stage of my life and unlock the deeply entrenched fear of math I’ve fostered my whole life, I will never know for sure. What I can do, is offer some tips and tricks to mastering basics of math. This week, we’ll explore some activities and reading designed to encourage mastering math basics.
We know the saying ends with “perfect”, but is that really what we want to strive for? As educators and parents, implying that there is perfection to be gained from learning a skill seems counter intuitive to the essence of learning. We cannot learn without mistakes or failure. Hey, we wouldn’t have Post-Its or Play-Doh if it weren’t for mistakes! Even with math, when things are often so very black and white, right or wrong, striving for perfection is a measure that may be impossible to access.
Instead, let’s focus on mastering math basics. The idea here is that practice doesn’t make perfect, but it makes for a well- rounded, more learned student. A student who tried and failed, a student who put in the work and succeeded over their mistakes. I used to be petrified of mistakes. What if my teacher called on me and everyone found out that I didn’t know the answer? I would be exposed! I would then die a slow, terrible death of pure teenage angst. Rather than relive this or see other kids go through what we did in our younger years, let’s explore some foundations for building up our math muscles! It’s time to PUMP. YOU. UP.
What NOT to do
I am most certainly, not a math teacher, but I have been in my fair share of math classes. Most of these I have blocked from my memory because it triggers fear of failure and embarrassment. You might think I am kidding, but I’m not. I can recall ONE teacher in my entire career as a student who made math comprehensible to me, he may have even made it….GASP…fun??! Whoo though, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Anyway, thanks, Mr. Ward. I appreciate you AND I don’t hate Geometry!
In order to succeed in math, you may have to try and fail. You might need to practice and re-strategize when your initial plan doesn’t produce the expected results. In order to do this, it may be beneficial to consider what NOT to do to master math basics. Over the years, approaches to learning have changed and experienced regular adjustment. Let’s review some of the most striking unproductive practices to learning math so we can avoid them like a skunk on the hiking trail.
- Go out of order! Many times when teaching math, the approach tends to be to go in order from 0 and on. In order for students not to see math facts as isolated and stand- alone objects, the research encourages educators to approach math skills out of numerical order. This minimizes the likelihood of students gaining only a superficial understanding of math skills!
- Only using one strategy to learn. For example, not just learning 15-9 and subtracting 9 from 15, but also considering what + 9 = 15. There are many ways to solve a problem and focusing on this approach allows students to broaden their scope of knowledge and comprehension.
- This is not a drill! Meaning, stop focusing on “Solve as many math problems in 3 minutes as you can.” or “Run through the multiplication table rapid fire!” etc. This tends to foster a dislike of math in many students and they liken it to a chore instead of celebrating their ability to solve accurately and with confidence.
Appeal to the learning types
There is a great deal of research around learning types and how these types demonstrate effective student learning. This is as applicable for mastering math basics as it is any other subject. This multiple intelligences quiz from Edutopia is great at helping to determine your learning type. I often have my students complete this. I review the learning types first, then ask them which one they think best represents them. Once they finish the assessment, I then have them share their results and ask them if it is what they expected.
The core types are generally recognized as the following:
- Visual Learners- Absorb information by visualizing their ideas.
- Auditory Learners– Do best when listening to information without writing.
- Kinesthetic Learners– Learn by diving in, hands- on and being physically engaged.
- Reading or writing Learners-Consume information through reading and then processing it through a condensed or paraphrased form such as notes, annotations, etc.
The key here for mastering math basics is to work with your students and identify their learning strengths. Don’t force unified learning. Especially in math. For me, as a visual learner, Geometry really resonated with me. I was able to marry the visual aspects of Geometry with my learning strengths and lo and behold, I succeeded. It was a great feeling. Seriously, Mr. Ward was the best. He passed away a while back but I have never forgotten how he made learning feel for someone who was so lacking confidence. I will forever be grateful to him for opening a door for me to not hate math- for once.
Top tips to mastering math basics
Some of the most tried and true strategies for establishing good approaches to learning have stood the test of time. Some work better for some people and are less effective for others. Determining your learning type is critical to planning out how to study better, use your time more effectively and retain more information in a way that is tailored to you.
- Homework. I cannot repeat this enough. DO. THE. HOMEWORK. Even as a “non-math” person, I know that practice builds confidence and increases comprehension. So, do your homework. Apply the skills learned in class to your own work. Practice. Practice. Practice. Will you get everything right every time? Nope, but you’ll start to get better each time.
- Review your mistakes. At my last school, I knew many of the math teachers offered students the opportunity to correct their mistakes on assessments or quizzes for extra points. I thought this was a great idea because it allows the student to see where they went wrong and to adjust accordingly, thus gaining a better grasp on the skill.
- Speak up. Do not stay quiet if you don’t understand something. Ask the teacher. Ask a classmate. Stay for coach class. Figure out what you don’t know. Trust me. Don’t stay silent like I did and learn nothing.
Your plan for mastering math basics
How do you go about mastering math basics? Do you follow any of the above tips? Is there anything that worked for you that wasn’t listed? Tell us in the comments. We would love to hear from you!
Courtney is an MTT tutor, academic coach, and blog contributor for MTTES. If you check out our FB and Instagram pages, you might see her giving a storytime with her son Jack through the company’s Facebook Live service. Courtney’s love of the English language, learning, and creative writing inspired her to contribute relevant content to teachers, tutors, parents, and homeschoolers seeking support across an array of trending topics. She and her teacher husband have two small children and reside in Baltimore, MD with their dog Lottie May.