Generally, people either love or hate mathematics – there are seldom folks who could take it or leave it. But it’s a necessary part of life even if one doesn’t see the need to know a substantial number of the digits in the value of PI, how to complete multi-digit algorithms, or use trigonometry in everyday life.
My friend Judy is a retired middle and high school math teacher, and she says, “What I used to tell my students is that if they don’t like math or feel they’re not good at it, that can stem from so many things not related to their ability. Having a parent who is math-phobic can transfer to a kid as s/he is growing up. Also, having a bad experience with a math teacher can turn the whole thing sour. Some teachers (who should never have been teachers) are so rigid (or poor at math) that they can’t imagine doing a problem any other way than the way they were taught. What a shame! In my classroom I made a point of delighting in new ways that students had for working on a problem. ‘Oh, wow, I never thought of it that way! That’s a cool way to do it. Does anyone else have a different way?’ A good teacher will empower her students to find creative ways to solve a problem.
“Most of the time when someone is struggling with math, or just doesn’t like it, it is because they’re afraid of not ‘doing it right.’ Throw out the rules and try doing a problem any way you want. I used to have a picture in my classroom of Einstein counting on his fingers. When I’d see someone counting on their fingers (high school) under their desk, I’d say, ‘It’s okay to count on your fingers. That’s what fingers are for!’
“And finally, a sense of humor is important. Why does everyone take math so seriously? (Especially math teachers).”
All that Judy has to say should help everyone who is unhappy with math. It should be fun!
On the Today Show (NBC) on December 20, 2023, a teacher revealed how she made math fun by using sports as part of the curriculum. The school, Pine Crest Elementary, is in Florida and teacher Mary Martinez teaches math with the Miami Dolphins as her method for making the subject both fun and useful. The New York Jets are also a part of her curriculum. She has a set of rules about how everyone treats other people as a basis for penalties including “unsportsmanlike conduct” and “unnecessary roughness.” Martinez says, “The losses are my favorite part because it’s where the lessons come from.” She follows the total yards achieved of several players and when a player was hurt, she taught how to give compassion and support to the injured player. She concludes by stating, “You can learn so much,” and she is very successful.
Math is so much fun, in fact, we have a National Mathematics Day on December 22nd, and the date relates to the birthday of the famous mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan in 1887. I don’t know if math teachers know about Mr. Ramanujan, but I certainly didn’t know about him until I was researching for this article. He was extremely poor and didn’t do well in other subjects, so he decided he’d do his own mathematical research. He actually mastered trigonometry when he was only 12 years old, and he created his own theorems. This came to the attention of GH Hardy, a mathematician at Trinity College, Cambridge, and thus Ramanujan became the youngest member to become a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1918.
To celebrate National Mathematics Day one can read about trigonometry and Ramanujan’s theories. The fact of the matter is that Ramanujan learned more mathematics on his own than he did in formal education. So, try to make some mathematical fun for National Mathematics Day. Even if it hasn’t been fun before now, gather some friends and play with trigonometry with a goal of learning something new and enjoy the time you’re doing it. Or study the statistics related to one or more sport teams. It’s worth a try!
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