If school subjects were people in a party, mathematics would be the loud, obnoxious beer-bellied man who would be unsuccessfully flirting with anything in a skirt that moves.
If that imagery is disturbing, think about all the times you barely passed (or not) only because of scoring low in math. Even though this is probably the only subject that we actually put in use in the real world (How many times have you actually used Mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell in a casual conversation?), have you ever wondered why everyone is wired to hate it?
Math is practical, honest and the more you practice, the better you get at solving problems. And, unlike other subjects, there is only one fixed, absolute answer – which sort of makes cheating easier because your friend just needs to whisper it and you can wrack your brain on how to reach that answer. Plus, you get marks for the ‘working’ the equation.
Well, just like everything else, you can blame your parents. According to a survey by a gamified practice app iChamp, Indian parents often use mathematics as a benchmark to measure the intelligence for their children. Consequently, they tend to ask them addition or subtraction related questions more than that of any other subject, because like we said before, there is only one fixed answer to any mathematical question. When a child is unable to answer the absolute answer to a mathematical problem, he/she loses confidence and in turn, starts avoiding the subject.
Sound familiar? Well, it can be safely said that your parents would much rather you score high in math than English. The parental partiality towards math also makes students invest most of their time to math rather than a subject that they genuinely like. As a result, this makes it even more challenging for the kids to perform well.
Math anxiety is real and the pressure seeps into the classroom too. Due to societal pressure and assumptions about math, the subject’s classroom becomes a place where you are constantly being judged or you feel you are not good enough… who would want to stay somewhere they do not belong?
So, what can be done?
Well for starters, math needs a makeover. Unlike literature or arts and even science, this subject has done nothing to join the ‘It-crowd’. Translating real-life scenarios into mathematical problems is not only about trading apples and oranges or calculating the speed of a car uphill or downhill – its way more. Students need to be engaged in the subject with stories or some sort of real-world connection.
As Professor Edward Frenkel’s bestseller Love & Math sums it up - What if you had to take an art class in which you were taught only how to paint a fence, but were never shown the paintings of van Gogh or Picasso? Alas, this is how math is taught, and so for most of us, it becomes the intellectual equivalent of watching paint dry.
Aryabhatta, René Descartes, Pythagoras and many more, most of the math students rarely know the men behind the equations. Learning about them can humanize math. Did you know what the second most printed and read book is? Euclid's Elements, yes, a 13-book set on math.
Take the case of Anand Kumar, who’s become the subject of the upcoming Hrithik Roshan starrer Super 30. In an interview, he had claimed that his math students have ‘junoon (passion), a fire in them to achieve. Two, our teaching approach is different. I use multimedia slides to make a little story with characters to explain maths concepts. Three, we take tests every day.’
His method works too as can be seen from the students he coaches as well as the research. The iChamp survey states that students like to compete with others rather than taking the same tests individually as well as rewards-based tests. This increases the chance of a student taking that test by more than 120%.
Are you ready to crunch numbers now?