Spanish version here.
Back to school is coming, and the little ones of the house will return to their typical activities, including games. Basically we can divide them into the classics, from which the end is always announced without it coming, fortunately, and the new ones, which focus, above all, on the always attractive consoles that almost all children want. Consoles for children who, let’s not kid ourselves, enjoy a lot, and sometimes even more, parents.
It is important, it is fundamental, that children play. Obsessed with studies is tremendously negative, and excessive pressure on children to study only causes an adverse reaction. It’s not a good idea for them to spend the day playing the game, but let’s not forget: it’s not a good idea for them to spend the day playing football or any other activity. Everything has its time and quantity. Like everything else in life, they have to strike a balance.
And then they have to study. And the dreaded maths are a challenge, now, and always. Coming to school suffering because of the “math” class is a dangerous path for the intellectual development of young people. But there are solutions. Let’s go see him.
I’ve always been a lover of educational games. I already spoke at the time about games like Civilization, which allow to develop a vast culture about societies and their development. But there are subjects that, it seems, are reluctant to be fun and enjoyable – can you teach maths in ways that are fun and engaging for kids from age 4 to 17? Can maths stop being that bitter drink and become a fun and enjoyable subject to study, with effort, but with courage and enthusiasm?
The answer is a resounding yes. And tackling the problem of mathematics is something that society must tackle as soon as possible. Not for nothing, we have been teaching modern mathematics to children in a terrible way for 300 years, and turning this discipline into a torture. The blame, I want to make it very clear, is not at all on the part of the teachers. They do their job professionally, but they teach children how they learned, and how it is modeled in the curriculum, that they insist on ineffective methods and that have been proven not to work in many cases. And that is the vicious circle that needs to be broken.
Mathematics can be taught as a growing series of increasingly complex problems. This model works well if taught separately, but in a class of thirty or forty students, each of them has a different learning capacity. Let’s see it:
History class: ancient history is taught. Later the Middle Ages. Then the modern age. Then the contemporary age. See? Learning each of these stages is independent of the previous and the next. If a boy wasn’t very successful in ancient history, he might get a better grade in the middle ages. It is not necessary to master the history of Rome to know the Middle Ages. It helps, but it’s not essential.
And now let’s look at the case of mathematics: each new stage requires, in most cases, mastering the previous stage. If a child doesn’t understand the basics well, how can he or she understand more complex problems? If he doesn’t master algebra, how will he master calculus? If you don’t know how to solve first degree equations with an unknown, who expects you to solve systems of equations, or second degree equations?
No. We have to find an alternative. First of all, it is essential to understand something that this “modern” world does not understand: that every human being, from birth, has innate abilities for certain subjects, and difficulties in other subjects. If a child is not good at math, he or she is often accused of it, frustrated and set a precedent for resentment of the subject – has anyone thought that this child could be a genius in other subjects? It’s not about excusing the child; it’s about fostering his or her enthusiasm for math in a way that fits his or her personality and growth as an individual.
It is essential for children to know mathematics, but three things must be taken into account: they cannot be forced, they cannot be accused, and they cannot be given methods that involve rhythms that some children will not be able to follow repeatedly to absorb the material.
I could talk about my case, but I don’t want to bore the reader. I’ll just say I was completely closed to math, and I got zeroes on my tests. Until someone one day gave me a touch, and with it pushed me into a new perspective on the subject, and suddenly everything started to add up. suddenly I started to love math, and science in general.
This is an example of how a perfect science failure failure like me can turn into a boy capable of understanding a subject that looks like a monster like math. I’m no expert of course, I still have a lot of difficulties with math at my age. But I lost my fear of them then, and I haven’t been afraid again.
That’s the key: overcoming fear, and allowing kids to learn at their own pace. What happens is that in a class of forty boys that is not possible. The fault, of course, lies not with the children who are lagging behind the most, nor, I repeat, with the teacher, but with an educational model which, firstly, does not take account of the pace of learning of each student, and secondly, does not take account of the fact that each human being has different innate abilities.
The result: frustration and bitterness. In the meantime, if that kid is painting in math class, he’s being reprimanded for it. Why? That boy is sending a message to the world: “I don’t understand this math thing, but I vibe and dream about painting. Is painting a smaller task than math? Not at all. That boy or girl was born to paint maybe, or for music, or for dance, or whatever. They’re no less than the ones who get 10 in math. We need everyone: mathematicians, but also artists.
This does not mean that these future painters or dancers or sculptors should not learn mathematics. They must, because it is a fundamental matter in life. But, if they cannot keep up with others, we must find ways for them to find their way to learning. With dedication, with patience, with attention, and with teaching methods that are not coercive, on the contrary, that learn to recognize failure, and stimulate the triumphs they achieve, no matter how small those triumphs may be. Then those kids will be motivated, and they’ll enjoy math.
Another way to reach those young people who have problems with math, but show skills in other subjects, is to show them that math is embedded in their dreams. For example, if a young person enjoys painting, he can be told about the golden number, and how great artists, and nature itself, use it constantly, even unconsciously, for their works. In this way, we are linking your hobby with the subject we want you to learn. If you have a penchant for music, we can teach you that mathematics is embedded in music, and fractions or logarithms are an intrinsic part of that art.
In recent years, a thousand methods have emerged to try to find new ways of teaching mathematics. I myself have developed software to enjoy mathematics that has had a positive response from various entities of teachers and the institute of mathematics in Spain, but whatever the method, whatever the path, the important thing can be summed up as the teaching of mathematics is essential, but the absorption of this knowledge requires methods that are appropriate to the student’s rhythm, and that allow him/her to love mathematics, or at least tolerate it, and not turn it into the nightmare that it becomes.
Finally, I would like to introduce you to the ABN system, or the “stick method”, one of the countless methods of teaching mathematics in an enjoyable way. Any method is good if it gets young people to acquire the fundamental mathematical skills that will be central to their lives.
Then, if they want to study science or become firefighters or divers, or if they want to be artists or engineers or bakers, they will decide. But always with a good general mathematical culture, that should never be lacking. Because mathematics is the language of nature, and knowing it leads us to love that nature, to understand it in a subtle, direct, and clear way. Happy maths to all of you.