Not a Math Person? Read This A.S.AP.
So you’re not a math person. We understand. When people start talking numbers, you quickly get confused. Before you know it, you find yourself muttering that common phrase, “Sorry, I’m not a math person.”
Well, have a seat because this is an intervention. Don’t worry – you’re in a safe place. We’re all friends here and we have some news for you…
Nobody is a Math Person
In all of humankind, there has been only a short list of truly mathematically minded people. We’re talking about Euclid, Isaac Newton, Blaise Pascal, Srinivasa Ramanujan, John Nash, and Matt Damon in “Good Will Hunting.” Everyone else is just a regular person who happens to be good at mathematics.
Really, math is just a skill like the other host of skills people learn. It’s like driving a car, baking a cake, or playing video games. You could understand someone saying that they don’t like driving or baking or playing games, but you would never accept the idea that something inside prevents them from doing them well. (Just look around the parking lot at school and you’re likely to see plenty of goofballs driving successfully.)
If you’re bad at math, it’s not because your brain is incapable of handling it. It’s probably just that you hit a snag and learned that not overcoming it was totally acceptable.
“You’re Not Bad At Math, You’re Just Lazy”
The Uncoolness of Math
Math is different than subjects like art and the humanities because there is always a right and wrong answer. Maybe Hamlet’s intentions are open to interpretation, but 70/2 = 35 every time, no matter what. All other answers are incorrect.
For kids, such black-and-white judgments can cause problems. Answering incorrectly in front of classmates can cause embarrassment or feelings of rejection. Enough wrong answers and some kids become conditioned to avoid math altogether.
So how does that become the famous phrase “I’m not a math person”?
Well, we can thank the kids for that. After all, it’s easier for kids to blame their genetic makeup than to admit that they lack skill or have social anxieties about mathematics. This idea has become so prevalent that actually being good at math is viewed as something unusual.
The result? “Math is hard.” “Math sucks.” “Math is for nerds.”
What’s even worse is that these ideas about mathematics are passed from parents to students and from student to student. It’s an epidemic reinforcing that ultimate mathematical mistruth: there are math people and there are non-math people.
Making a Math Person
Ask around the math community and you’ll quickly find that math professionals don’t buy into the same notions that the rest of us do. They agree that, with the exception of the occasional super genius, people who are good at math aren’t born that way.
What do “math people” say about it?
According to lifetime math teachers Miles Kimball and Noah Smith, “inborn talent is much less important than hard work, preparation, and self-confidence” when it comes to mathematical success at the high school level. Stanford math professor Jo Boaler echoes this sentiment. She has said that “there’s a widespread myth that some people are math people and some people are not, but it turns out there’s no such thing as a math brain.”
Chase Felker, writing for Slate, remarks that, “The idea that someone can be bad at math is wrong, and it hides several harmful assumptions. It’s an excuse to justify individual failure, rather than a real understanding of mental capabilities.” Noah Heller, another mathematics professor (this time from Harvard), believes that “When students say they’re not ‘math persons,’ they mean that they don’t see mathematics as a useful practice that can help them interpret and navigate the world.”
Building from the Ground Up
Changing kids’ attitudes towards mathematics can have a domino effect that helps to eliminate the widespread resistance to the subject. Jo Boaler, that professor from Stanford, explored this idea by facilitating a summertime math camp that retaught math using low floor/high ceiling techniques that encouraged creativity and open-ended thinking.
After 18 days, students demonstrated a 50% improvement on their scores.
The cause? “They improved because they changed their beliefs that they were not a math person to believing they were a math person,” Boaler said.
Discard Your Old Beliefs and Become a “Math Person”
We believe that teens and young adults, as well as children, can become proficient in math with a change in attitude. Redefining your expectations and putting in the work can turn any math phobic student into a seriously competent mathematician.
Are you ready to make the switch?
If you never felt as if math made sense to you, then you’ve probably been compounding false beliefs about your abilities. Stop doubting yourself and get a grip on your math skills.
Call us today to schedule an appointment and start feeling comfortable with math.