Wired for Math or not? Part 1

When a parent sees her child struggling, and struggling, the parent may start to wonder, “Maybe my child is just not wired for Math.”  I get asked this question a lot: “Are some kids just wired for math and some not?”

I answer this from an anecdotal and mindset point of view.

Anecdotally, I’ve made these observations with the kids I tutor (all names have been changed for privacy):

1. Ryan, a 5th grader in Newton, just couldn’t learn his times tables.  His parents tried everything – computer games, rewards, threats, flash cards – to no avail.  By the time Ryan’s mother brought him in to see us, she was convinced Ryan had some learning issues.  We ruled that out after talking Math with Ryan, diagnosing him, and meeting with his class teacher.  Ryan was an excellent student in every other way, but Math.  No learning issues here.  So maybe he’s just not wired for Math?  As it turned out, after 5 weeks, Ryan not only mastered the times tables, he became one of the fastest in his school at it.  This kind of confidence carried through the entire math classroom experience – suddenly fractions, decimals, finding common factors, all seemed so much more manageable to Ryan.

2. Ethan, an 8th grader, was convinced, a conviction shared by his friends as well, that you have to be a Math genius to get “A”s in Math.  And he wasn’t, so there.  After we determined what Ethan’s skills gaps are that was hampering his math learning, Ethan evolved in a ‘genius’.  When he scored an “A-” and his friends called him a genius, Ethan had to chuckle.  It turned out, you don’t have to be a genius to look like a genius.  You just need to have a good math foundation.

3. Lisa, a 5th grader, is a reader, not a math person.  In the 5-page written diagnostic that she took, I saw an interesting pattern: the more words there are in the problem, the better chance she had of getting it right.  Questions like 3/4 + 1/8  stumped her.  But give her a multi-step word problem, and she could sort it out.  After talking to her, her parents, and her class teacher, it became apparent that Lisa has a visual learning style.  When Math became less visual for her – she was no longer cutting up cookies, or drawing tally marks, – when Math became more conceptual, she had a very hard transition.  I’m sad to see that girls are convincing themselves younger and younger these days that they are not a “math person” because of a number of reasons that may have nothing to do with their math ability – lack of interest, not enough practice to gain mastery, little gaps from before that have become big problems.  Our math tutors like to remind parents, “Kids don’t really hate Math.  What they hate is being confused, intimidated and embarassed by it”.

Stay tuned for Part 2 – I will try to show you why there is a better Question than “Is my child wired for Math or not?”

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