Why Students are Weak in Mathematics, Here are Tips to Overcome

Why Students are Weak in Mathematics Here are Tips to Overcome

According to the Annual report of Status of Education (ASER, 2019) by Pratham has made shocking disclosures about the mathematical skills of Indian students — there has been minimal improvement since 2008. On the basis of the report, " In Std III, 7.6% children cannot even recognize numbers 1-9, only 26.9% can recognize numbers up to 9 but unable to identify up to numbers 99 or higher, 37.5% can identify numbers up to 99 but cannot do subtraction, 19.6% can do subtraction but cannot do division, and 8.5% can do division." The major question is Why students are weak in mathematics, here are tips to overcome.

Acclaimed mathematician Ritabrata Munshi, recipient of the prestigious ICTP Ramanujan Prize and the 2017 Infosys Prize in Mathematical Sciences, believes that the ASER report, though shocking, is not surprising. "Primary education is in bad shape and I know that there are people seriously examining how to turn things around. Hopefully, they will come up with some new ideas," he says.

Fear of math or mathematics phobia, apart from the bad condition of primary education, is also a reason for Poor Performance in Maths.

Overcoming maths phobia in schools

"At the primary level there are only two ways to teach. The worst way, of course, is that you make students work on mathematical equations like a routine task. It is like making them run around the field without letting them play in it. The better way is to get them involved and make the subject interesting. Maths can be easily made interesting with the use of visual aids. The main issue, however, is that we need dedicated Maths teachers. If the government gives some incentives to them, maybe that will help," adds Ritabrata.

In Maths, children need role models like a Dhoni or a Kohli. If we tell them stories about mathematicians and scientists like Ramanujan and JC Bose — their achievements and what they did for science and the country — maybe then, students will be inspired to pursue the subject. The fear of Maths

But, did you know that math anxiety is a serious problem? In fact, the term 'Mathophobia' has been coined to describe the feeling of fear, tension and anxiety about one’s ability to do Maths. This fear interferes with a child's ability to perform well in Maths.

So, According to the American philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson , help your child who is gripped by mathematics phobia in his own words “Always do what you are afraid to do”. And, that is exactly what you should encourage your child to do — not to shy away from Maths but rather, to embrace it.

Here are ten tips, based on inputs from Dr Robinson Thamburaj, Associate Professor, Department of Mathematics, Madras Christian College, to help your child overcome Mathophobia.

So, before discuss the tips to overcome students weakness in mathematics, first we will check the reason behind this.

What are the top most reasons for weakness in math among children?

  1. Inability for a child to visualize mathematical concepts.
  2. Labeling a child as “weak in math”.
  3. Rote learning methods- where a child is given formulas and statements to learn by heart.
  4. The stress of scoring high marks. Good marks should be a result of theoretical understanding.
  5. A fixed mindset

It is important to know that classifying children as weak or strong is never going to help. Unfortunately, parents as well as teachers be apt to do this constantly. As per the research that students who are labelled weak when young, tend to underperform throughout their academic lives. It’s as if they internalize the mark and keep aumenting this “weakness” in their minds.

On the other side, students who are always admired for being strong in math might become confident and not try for hard enough to come through further. Thus, we need to get rid of this permanent mindset framework – of bucketing children into fixed power to act categories – and move towards a growth mindset framework, which indicates that every child’s capability can grow – and grow necessarily.

If we do a root cause analysis of the problem – why the child is currently struggling with math – we will find that it is almost entirely due the way the child has learnt math or has been taught math. Every child is born with never-ending curiosity. And mathematics is a subject which has the potential to give any child a playground to let loose that concern. Unfortunately, from a very young age, children are exposed to math in a decidedly rote-memorization familiarize manner. Given this, it is not unexpected that many children uprising against math – because what they learn in the name of math is not really math! Hence, they end up struggling with not true math, but this flawed version of math which they typically learn in school.

What is the solution? This is not a trivial problem, but with maintained intervention from the parent’s side, a lot of improvement is possible.

Be positive: 'I’m not good in Maths; I am stupid'. Such thoughts can hurt your child’s self-esteem and confidence. Help your child understand that everyone has different abilities and he should be proud of his other accomplishments. Some extra effort from him and a little additional help will certainly help him do well in the subject. Such a positive outlook will boost his confidence and help him focus and perform better.

Face it squarely: Sit with your child and discuss her fear of Maths. Help your child acknowledge the fact that she may not be enjoying the same comfort level with Maths as she does with other subjects. Acceptance is always the first step towards tackling any problem.

Encourage practice: Repeatedly working on maths problems helps improve mathematical skills. Therefore, encourage your child to solve maths problems every day. Set aside a particular time for this practice. Investing extra time and effort will bring about a great change in both attitude and performance. If necessary, hire a maths tutor to coach your child.

Make Maths simple and fun: Simplify the learning method. Even complicated problems can be made easy by breaking them down into smaller, simpler steps. Involve your child in Maths games, puzzles and apps to make the process an enjoyable experience.

Perceive Maths as a creative subject: The general notion is that Maths is not creative. Encourage your child to experiment with different ways of solving a problem. Introduce her to open-ended problems such as figuring out how many ways you can make a ‘5’ by using the numbers 0 through 9 and ‘+’ and ‘-’ operations. Activity-based Maths learning involving paper-folding and dartboards will also ensure creativity. 

Apply it in daily life: Try to integrate Maths into your child’s daily life, to make it more real and meaningful. When you go shopping, let your child pay for the purchases and collect the change. Reinforce the concept of fractions through slicing and sharing pizza. Cook together and get your child to measure portions for the recipe. Skip count while playing rope. Teach geometrical properties while drawing traditional patterns of Kolam or Rangoli. Such hands-on activities will ensure experiential learning.

Encourage peer learning: Pair-work and group-work to solve Maths problems can be effective ways of reinforcing concepts learnt.

Find out the root cause: It is essential to identify the root cause of the fear of maths and to look out for maths anxiety symptoms. Could it be that your child's early foundation in Maths was weak? Or, were his teachers not too enthusiastic about the subject? Was the method of teaching dull and uninteresting, based on formulae and procedures without explanation of underlying concepts? Sometimes, it just may be a fear of tests that causes Mathophobia. So, try not to place too much emphasis on tests. Also, avoid timed tests, as a focus on speed only adds to the anxiety and tension.

Give good reasons to study Maths: Help your child understand that for filing income tax returns or managing home budgets, she will need the help of numbers. A large percentage of jobs in the future will require Maths skills. A strong foundation in the subject will help develop both logical thinking and problem-solving skills. Such motivation will lead to positive results.

Set an example: A parent’s attitude towards Maths tends to reflect in the child’s outlook too. As a parent, avoid making statements like, 'Maths is so hard', or 'I hate Maths'. Instead, encourage your child by saying things like, 'Maths was difficult for me because I didn’t get the right kind of support. Today, there are so many good resources online, fun activities and videos, which can help us both get better at the subject'.

Daily Problem Solving

Implement a program called Solving Program in which students work out on one problem a day. Instead of accrediting three or four problems at a time, demonstrate a single query and comprise class time to interrogate and talk over the solution.

Mix It Up

Combine the types of problems you accredit so your students are reviewing a variety of content information and skills over time.

Start Small

Keep your sessions of problem short initially – try to do not extend your session more than 10 - 15 minutes a day. As students start to enjoy these sessions, occasionally consists of lengthy queries that need more endurance.

Make It a Challenge!

Refer to word problems as "brain teasers", "puzzlers", or "stumpers," and present them as fun challenges rather than dreaded math queries.

Solve Problems Together

Alternate joint learning actions with liberated work to add an element of fun and to provoke higher level thinking.

However, even when acknowledge students to work with others, provide time for them to read and think about the problem independently before discussing it with a partner or team.

Get 'Em Up and Moving

Occasionally mix problem solving with a class-movement activity to energize your students and spark creative thinking.

Try Music-Mix-Math in which students silently mix around the room until you stop the music, at which time they find a partner and solve the next problem on their math worksheet. 

Compute with Calculators

During problem-solving sessions allow students to use calculators. Being adept to use a calculator boosts your kids to opt strategies that affect more complex thinking than their limited computation skills might normally allow.

Show, Don’t Tell

Require students to show their work with symbols, pictures, or words, but don't need them to write complete sentence explanations for every question they solve.

Making students write paragraph clarifications every day is a perfect way to kill their enthusiasm. Once in a week is enough for written answers.

Brush Away Mistakes

Students need to solve math questions on dry erase boards. Because it’s convenient to brush away errors and it's convenient for you to see their work as you walk around the room watching carefully and providing help.

Disclose the Answer First

After giving students time to solve a problem, reveal the tell answer yourself rather than calling on different students to find out if they have the right answer.

This step will greatly relieve your students' anxiety. It shifts the target away from finding the answer, and it sets the stage for a big discussion on how to solve the problem.

Encourage Creative Approaches

Just after the first student displays how to handle the problem, ask, "How many more ways can we resolve this problem?" Keep a class tally of all the different strategies. It's amazing how many various ways kids will dream up when you show that you value "outside of the box" thinking.

This step instigates kids to be attentive during the discussion and it encourages creativity. They promptly figure out that if they want to be called on to share their strategy, they will have to come up with novel methods of solving problems.

Private math teachers

Taking private lessons from personal teachers in one of the best ways to learn maths. Private tuitions are quite common for school-goers as well as for college-goers. Not only is a private teacher able to understand the weaknesses and strengths of each of their students and deal with them in different ways, but private tuitions also make it possible for the students to open up to their teachers about their problems without fear of being judged.

Practicing maths usually using appropriate materials

Using practical objects like pie charts can make learning maths enjoyable. It needs a very simple and logical approach and helps the students understand better.

Specialised books

Going through specialized books designed for the improvement of students goes a long way when learning maths. Running away from difficult problems is not a solution.

Back to basics

Having a strong foundation is the key to becoming good at maths. Whenever you feel stuck somewhere, remind yourself to go back and brush up your basics.

Getting to know the fear of maths

Bad experience when you were in kindergarten, high school, college, or university can be a major reason for your fear of maths. However, it is never too late to change your bad experience into a good one. One must know why they fear maths over other subjects.

Fear of maths is often the result of you being unable to learn a fundamental concept of maths, then failing to learn successive concepts as they depend on the initial one. Another cause is that people tend to think that the concepts of algebra, trigonometry, or calculus are boring and skip learning them intentionally.

What if you love math from day one? Some people tend to consider that being born with the mind of a genius like Albert Einstein is the way to understand the concepts of linear equations, geometry, trigonometry, and many other concepts. They believe that being an intuitive and creative student is the only way around maths as it lets you synthesise various areas that deal with knowledge.

For people who are not born with a love for math, things can be a lot more complicated. The inability to solve maths problems can even evolve into physical pain. Along with this, many students suffer from depression because they are unable to solve a particular question on the blackboard when the teacher asks them to.

Fear of maths, panic, anxiety, mental blockages can be a huge reason behind the development of a massive sense of disregard for maths in students. However, situations such as these can be dealt with in the following ways:

  • Acknowledging the good points and complimenting the student
  • Encouraging the student for his attempts
  • By not punishing the students
  • Paying attention to the cause behind the student’s fear and panic
  • Teaching maths in a fun way by involving maths games

It is possible to get over your fear

When we collectively look at the stress caused by different subjects like maths, physics, chemistry, and biology, it appears as if maths is not that difficult.

Scientific analysis shows that the human brain is more than capable of growing and shrinking. Mistakes while doing maths let our brain develop accordingly. Excluding anxiety and panic attacks caused by maths, stress, and de-stressing is fruitful. The cycle of getting stressed and then de-stressing helps the brain grow. It increases the number of neurons which enhances the way the human brain functions.

According to Boaler, only 3% of the human population face genuine difficulties while doing maths. The rest of the population faces problems with the stress that maths causes. Once they learn how to deal with the stress, they can even learn high-level maths without facing many difficulties. Hence, we should try to change anxiety and panic into what we call “good stress.” This will help us get better at maths manifold.

Boaler has also proved that doing math under constant pressure in a time-bound environment is not fruitful at all. By cutting out the stress and time limit, students are seen to get better at maths more effectively. Concepts like algebra, geometry, and many others become easier to understand. You can even learn through games, which help you enjoy the subject more than usual.

Having fun while learning

The experience of learning maths should not always end up being bitter.

To cut out the anxiety and panic caused by maths, having fun while learning maths is the best solution. Not only does it make the process of learning more engaging, involving games while learning also helps you retain most of the things that you are being taught. It reduces the amount of suffering you go through while learning up tables by heart.

A lot of websites are available, which have developed a lot of fun ways to teach maths to kids as well as adults:

  • BBC Bitesize maths games- Designed to teach maths in a fun way, BBC Bitesize maths games use a lot of different fun-filled techniques to teach kids their way around numbers. By using cartoons to portray the concepts of addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and many other such concepts, learning becomes fun.
  • BBC Skills wise maths games for adults- Designed to teach maths to adults with the help of visualization, this website is really helpful for learning the more complicated concepts of maths.
  • Top Marks- This website was developed to train kids in maths aged 3-14 years using fun games. Games like counting games, whiteboard games, and many more such games make the website useful.

Along with these games, a lot of applications have also been developed to make learning more fun. Problems having fun solutions and fun maths problems are of great help when a student is feeling down after a boring theoretical class of maths. Some of the apps are iTooch, Edupad, and math masters. Anxiety caused by maths can be reduced to a great extent by using fun math games.

A lot of free resources available online also helps to a great extent when it comes to learning math.

Revising the concepts of maths

Math is a universal language. The experience of learning maths is similar to that of learning a foreign language. Like one has to study the basics properly while learning a new language, learning maths also requires you to have an excellent base. If your base is weak, you must immediately go back and brush up your basics. Even when going for higher degrees, one always needs to brush up their basic concepts before they can go further.

Hiring a private maths teacher makes learning even better. The fact that you get the undivided attention of the teacher all the time and you don’t feel 50 odd eyes staring at you when you are clearing your doubts, has a lot of positive impact on your experience of learning maths.

However, a lot of people prefer to learn by themselves. With the help of specialized books, it becomes possible for self-learners to be competent at doing months. Not only books but also websites and applications developed for this makes it easy. Also, a lot of tricks and tips available online makes the whole concept of being self-taught possible. Instead of dwelling in agony because of your inability to do maths, you can use these methods to get better at maths.

Flashcards: Having separate flashcards for each concept not only makes revision easier, but it also helps you to learn maths much faster by incorporating the art of visualization.

Solving past year question papers: Going through the previous year’s question papers also helps a lot by giving you an idea about the kind of questions you can expect from a certain topic.

Learning maths with LEGO: Using lego to learn maths is an enjoyable way to go about it as well.

Conclusion

No matter how impossible it may seem, getting over your fear of maths is very much possible. Once you get to the root of your fear of maths and fix it, you will easily be able to get over your fear of maths.  Some of the best ways to make your maths better are hiring a private teacher, using resources like videos and blogs available online, taking the help of specialised books and revising your basics. Mostly importantly, if you have fun while learning maths, you will remember the lessons longer. As a teacher, in order to be more effective, never punish your students if they make mistakes. Always be patient and appreciate the efforts of your students.

I've had great success with the test apprehension lessening plan of actions above, and other teachers have had akin results when they tried these methods.  Many have said that their students now look aheading to answering word questions instead of dreading them!

Similarly, as we all know that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, it seems that solving a problem a day keeps the brain freeze away!

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