Teaching Kids Who Hate Math

     Did you know that UnLock Math’s Alesia Blackwood was featured in the March 2018 Newsletter for The Canadian Homeschool Minute? In case you missed it, we decided to share our full-length article with our readers this month. As with any editorial writing, we found it hard fit in everything we wanted to share so we thought it would be fun to continue the article on our blog and look at the 3 main reasons Alesia thinks kids hate math up close!
     As a homeschool parent and teacher, I have lost count of the number of people who have told me that they or their child hates math. This often leads to a weird fascination with the fact that I LOVE math. A math teacher that loves math, who knew!? I have no idea where this love came from but throughout my education math was always a subject I was passionate about and therefore willing to put in some extra work for. 
     Math is a tricky subject and I find that often times people get caught up in the idea that math is a “gift versus ability” type of subject when it comes to how individuals learn it. This simply is not true! Sure, math may come easily to some students compared to others but each one has the same ability to learn it just the same. Take myself, for example, I loved math right from the beginning but it wasn’t that I had a supernatural ability to do it, I had to work on it each and every day to get better at it. I enjoyed the process of breaking complex problems down into more understandable and solvable chunks. 
     When I got to high school I realized that my love for math had the potential to take me even further in life. I worked as a peer tutor in a special needs classroom which allowed me to realize how much I loved helping and teaching those who faced challenges when it came to learning. This didn’t hinder my main passion for math either! I enrolled in every math class that was available to me in school because I loved it THAT much! Yes, I was that girl! Call me a nerd but when you love something that much you really have to commit! These two experiences eventually merged together and I came to the conclusion that being a high school math teacher was my calling, so off I went to teacher’s college and made it happen.
     When I got out into the teaching world, my enthusiasm for math and all the great things I was going to teach and students I would connect with came to a screeching halt when I realized how many students “hated” math. Talk about crushing a girl’s dream, right? This response often left me wondering what the reason could be? Was it the methods of teaching? The teacher? The school system? These very broad topics that I couldn’t possibly get into with you today but I would like to share some common reasons that many dislike math.
     The most common reason (especially from a student’s perspective) is the lack of context. Its very hard for students to find the motivation or commitment to something they don’t think will be applicable long term. “Why is math so important? It’s not like I’m going to use it anyways!” was a common response I got from many students throughout my career as a teacher. As homeschooling parents, we have the ability to take the hands-on approach to how our kids learn these core subjects. It is easy to see that professions like engineering and rocket science need math but it’s a little fuzzy when it comes to how they apply to other professional areas such as a psychologist or even being a stay at home mom! I just recently talked to one of the students in our math program and she was feeling very defeated when she got stuck on a problem and wanted to know what the point of it all was. We have all heard the saying “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey”, I think this can be applied to our topic here. Students become so focused on the end result whether its something small like getting the correct answer or a little bit bigger like a passing grade for the class. We have the job of transforming this line of thinking. Let me be the first to tell you that it won’t be easy, but over time we need to be teaching our kids why math is so important and that it does, in fact, have real-life application.
     This all leads to the next reason I think math is considered one of the “dreaded” subjects: the lack of success. We touched on this briefly in the previous point but I think it deserves special consideration because, in my opinion, it’s the easiest to fix. How many people can you think of that enjoy working hard at something and continually being unsuccessful at it? Probably only a handful of people if any, right? I could think of a hundred things I would like to do before THAT! Students who continually get the wrong answer become convinced that they don’t understand the whole concept. In many instances, this can be a result of what I like to refer to as a “silly mistake” along the way and therefore changes the whole answer to the question. As a teacher, I am a huge fan of “check your work” when it comes to math problems. When students get in the habit of checking over their work, it allows them to catch mistakes they make along the way and then correct themselves and shows that they do in fact understand the concept but mixed something up. There are two sides to the brain: the right where language and creativity happen and then the left which is focused more on logic and linear thinking happen. But people often overlook math as being a language of its own! Math is a powerful way to exercise both sides of the brain and further develop the skills needed for all kinds of careers (including the ones where you may think math isn’t important for!) This makes developing the left side of the brain imperative to a student’s education career in preparing for their future! 
     The third reason for a hatred of math is a possible learning difficulty. Things like dyslexia and dyscalculia are learning difficulties that make math, especially algebra, very challenging. Some things that have been shown to help kids with these types of challenges may be required. Things like graph paper to be able to line up their work, calculators, open book tests, slower pace, and manipulatives as much as possible. Finding the curriculum that works for your child is even more important when there are learning difficulties involved.  It may not be possible to find a curriculum that your child can be completely independent, but you will be able to provide more individualized one on one attention suited just to your child. And remember, children will always do better when they connect with what they are learning.  
     In this digital age of Facebook, there are groups for every possible thing, if you haven’t done so already join some groups and see what others have done. Whatever challenge you or your child is up against you can bet that someone has climbed that mountain ahead of you. The homeschool community is BIG, and getting bigger. Estimates are from 2-2.5 million students in North America are homeschooled each year. You may be able to connect with someone who can provide that light bulb moment of clarity that you’re in need of today!