Seven Myths About Math

Seven Myths About Math

We had a #rechat conversation this last week on how to make math more meaningful. It has me thinking about the cultural misperceptions kids internalize about the subject.

  1. Math has to be practical. Kids love dinosaurs even though they will never “use” this knowledge in the future. Similarly, they learn about former events in social studies that might not be useful in a deeply practical sense. However, people are quick to say that math must be practical. It can’t be something that we do just for fun. Indeed, “abstract” math that we never “use in life” is often the type that people mock the fastest while embracing figurative language or abstract art in the humanities.
  2. It’s okay if you’re “just not good with numbers.” We have a strange cultural phenomenon where illiteracy is something people hide and innumeracy is something people boldly display as a sort-of personality trait.
  3. You can’t be a math and language person. This is the myth that there are the logical/mathematical people and the language/social people.
  4. Math is an individual endeavor. I noticed this when I was in a coaching position before. Teachers would embrace cooperative learning in every subject except math. It was as if math had to be this lonely endeavor, where discourse doesn’t happen.
  5. Differentiation isn’t allowed. If a kid is at a first grade reading level, we offer first-grade reading and provide extra support. However, in math, we don’t typically see a ton of differentiation – and this is a subject where prerequisite skills and concepts make a huge difference.
  6. There’s one right way. While it’s true that problems often have one right answer, the truth is that they often have multiple processes that work. Unfortunately, when students get the recipe-styled instruction they grow timid and bored, failing to be mathematical chefs and embracing a Rachel Ray methodology.
  7. Math is the same as computation. Students will say “I hate math” but then they love finding and solving problems. Often, they spend three quarters of the time doing computation and never conceptualizing, forming and solving problems – much less comparing processes or setting up simulations.

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