Dec 16 2022
Let's Bust Some Math Myths
Mathematics often gets a bad reputation for being ‘difficult,' which can make it intimidating, and appear scary or out-of-reach for learners and educators alike. This attitude and preconception toward mathematics can lead to feelings of anxiety, fear, and embarrassment.
But does math deserve this reputation? Let’s bust some math myths!
Myth 1: ‘Math is either wrong or right’
More often than not, there are lots of different ways to solve one math question! Different people may tackle the same question in different ways and that is OK—in fact, more than OK, it is great and should be celebrated! Encourage learners to share different methods and ideas.
For example, take a look at How to be Good at Math, where the different methods of subtraction are explained, from number lines to expanded column subtraction.
Sometimes, there is more than one answer, too. For example, 36 inches, 3 feet, and 1 yard are all different answers, but mean the same thing.
If a question is open-ended (yes, they do exist in math)—for example, create a repeating pattern using a circle, a triangle, and a square—there are lots of different ways to answer.
Myth 2: ‘Math isn’t practical and hands-on; it is all about following formulas and completing pages of sums’
The exact opposite is true! Math is all about how things work, and the world around us. Doing practical activities is not only fun but is also a really effective way of learning and figuring things out. Practical activities help to develop mental mathematical strategies, problem-solving skills, as well as to strengthen understanding of concepts and reinforce vital connections to the real world.
Why not try some out for yourself? Math Maker Lab has some great ideas, such as this activity for learning about angles and shapes by making an origami frog.
Myth 3: ‘I just can’t do math’
Do you have bad memories of boring or difficult math lessons at school? Well, you wouldn’t be alone there! We can pass on this negativity without even realizing it. Off-hand comments such as "Oh, I never liked math" and "I’m not good at math either," although well-meaning, can have a lasting negative impact.
Vocabulary often has meanings in math that are different from those in real-life contexts such as prime, product, or rational—no wonder learners can get confused! Explicitly teaching math vocabulary and comparing the uses of the words in different contexts can help.
Not only can terminology be confusing, it can also give a negative impression. We often like to say "Try these math problems," but the word "problem" can make the task sound difficult and impossible before we even get started!
While it may feel like some people can just "do" math, or they simply "get it" right away, this is rarely the case. Everyone has to work at it—the more you do it, the easier it gets! More often than not, it comes down to self-belief and confidence—and practice.
Myth 4: ‘Mistakes are bad’
Mistakes are good—we learn from our mistakes. Making errors helps us to work out and remember the correct ways of tackling tasks.
Creating a safe classroom environment and ethos where it is OK to get things wrong, try things out, or do things in a different way can help to develop learners’ confidence.
Myth 5: ‘Math isn’t for me’
Providing positive role models can be powerful. Take a look at the rich diverse range of mathematicians out there. In How to be a Math Wizard, you can find out all about notable figures in math such as Joan Clarke, Zaha Hadid, Gladys West, and Benjamin Banneker. Why not use this to create a vibrant, entertaining, and fascinating display of mathematicians from around the world? Let’s inspire the next generation and show them math is for everyone!
It’s not only mathematicians who "do" math either! You will find mathematics in all sorts of different jobs and roles. A hairdresser, for example, will use measures to discuss the length of hair, estimate measurements, and measure out components for hair colors. Plumbers, farmers, shop assistants, and chefs all use mathematics on a daily basis.
Myth 6: ‘Math is just a lesson at school’
Math isn’t just for the classroom, it’s everywhere! We use math all the time, often without even realizing it. Cooking dinner, reading the weather forecast, catching a bus, or going shopping—measuring and calculating are part of our everyday lives. We are also surrounded by shapes, angles, numbers, and repeating patterns. Take a look at how math is used in buildings in How to be a Math Wizard:
Math is even used in games and sports activities: to calculate how far you are running, and how quickly, how many goals have been scored in a soccer game, the probability of something happening, and tennis rackets are held at different angles to achieve different results. In dance and music, different patterns, timings, and beats are used. Knitters follow patterns and count stitches. You add and subtract in a game of Snakes and Ladders, work out probabilities in card games, and calculate money in Monopoly—math even comes up in Bingo!
Take a look at What’s the Point of Math to find out more about how mathematics helps us to grow crops, create art, understand the universe, save lives, explore science, and much more.
Myth 7: ‘Math is boring’
Math can be lots of fun. Just take a look at the fantastic activities in Math Maker Lab. You can learn to braid a friendship bracelet to learn about circumference, angles, and sequences, learn all about ratios by making fun fruity drinks, or even build your own speed buggy and calculate average speeds.
Mammoth Math is full of fun ways to explain math concepts, from shrews showing you all about negative numbers in their underground houses to the mammoths using rockets to teach percentages. Teaching through fun activities grabs the learners' attention and helps concepts to stick!
Myth 8: ‘Math is tricky’
Math can be broken down into simple, easy-to-follow steps. Check out the illustrated examples in How to be Good at Math on how to answer maths questions. This visual guide uses real-life objects like cakes to explain, step-by-step, mathematical concepts such as fractions. It couldn’t be easier!
So, is it time to change our attitudes toward math? Let’s make math fun and accessible for everyone!