How many times have you heard the above statements from friends, family, your kids, or maybe even from yourself?

It seems, more and more, that math has a bad reputation in today’s society. It is not uncommon to hear a random person on the street, one of your friends, or even yourself speak about how much they hate math, how they aren’t any good at it, or how you need to be ‘super smart’ to do math.

In our society it would be almost unheard of for someone to speak the same of reading or writing. You don’t hear people proudly stating ‘I can’t read, I’m totally illiterate’. In fact, hearing someone say that would most likely be a prompt for you and others to offer your help to them, to immediately explain to them how important it is to be able to read and write, and how anyone can do it, they just need some help, guidance and support.

A lot of it stems from a pre-conceived notion in our society that mathematics is only the information taught in schools (fractions, algebra, trigonometry) and that they are *‘useless’* in the real world. When will I ever use SOH-CAH-TOA in the ‘real world’? Or that there are only small portions of math that are useful in the world around us *(think about figuring out the tip or the tax).*

Many people see mathematics as simply a collection of numbers, formulas and things to be memorized for the next test.

What if we looked at math not just as a collection of numbers and formulas that could be easily input into our calculator/smartphone but instead we look at it more like a language, one that, if understood, could explain so much of the world around us.

It requires a change in perspective, but just think of how amazing the world could look to you if you took just a bit of time to see the mathematical world all around you!

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When learning to read the English language we start with the simplest part, the letters. Twenty-six symbols that each stand for a specific concept, each one meaning a different thing.

We teach someone learning to read what each letter is, what its name is, how to pronounce it and what order it comes in the alphabet.

Then, once they have that mastered, we start putting the letters together into simple combinations that we call words. Some of these words are just the sounds of the letters put together:

*c + a + t = cat*

Some of the words contain sequences of letters that when put together make a different sound from their individual letters:

*t + h = th
c + r = cr
s + h = sh*

Then there are the ever elusive vowels and the rules surrounding what they sound like when they are on their own, versus when two are put together, or when an ‘e’ sits at the end of a word. For example the ‘a’ sound:

*fat ≠ fate*

But eventually we get that down and then we start putting the words together into sentences, where we give them context with nouns and verbs and adjectives and adverbs.

Finally these sentences come together to form paragraphs and then novels and papers and website blogs like this one.

Once we know the letters and how they go together to form words and sentences and paragraphs we can then read and this opens up a whole new world of possibilities. Suddenly we can learn just about anything our mind can imagine, even more so with today’s access to the internet and its whole online world.

Not only can we learn from reading but we can dream, fantasize, escape, visit worlds that don’t exist in the ‘real world’.

Not only that but we can use those words to communicate our own thoughts and ideas, dreams and fantasies.

It’s amazing to think that all that came from just those twenty-six little symbols!

Now, what does this have to do with math you might ask. Well what if instead of letters we now had numbers. Let’s put those numbers together with some other symbols (called operators) to give us equations. You know like *1 + 1 = 2* or Euler’s identity

*e ^{iπ} + 1 = 0*

*(which is called the most beautiful equation in the world)*

Well, what’s now stopping us from putting those equations together into theorems with axioms (a true statement) and then creating proofs.

Those proofs can then be used to describe, and validate, the world around us.

All of a sudden we’ve created an entirely new language that describes the world around us in a whole new way.

What type of a world can we now ‘read’? What new adventures could we go on with this whole new language at our disposal? How different would the world now look?

It’s amazing how similar learning math and language could be. Yet most math is taught very differently from language in a number of ways. Often it is taught isolated from other parts of the subject. You learn numbers first but then you learn equations separately. Then you memorize those equations to apply them to areas called trigonometry or calculus.

It’s typically not taught on what’s called a connected scaffold, and that means that a lot of the connections are missed along the way. These missed connections lead to missed understanding, which leads to frustration, anxiety, fear and even hatred of math as a subject.

Maybe it’s time to take a different perspective with how we approach this rich and beautiful subject so we can start to ‘read’ the world in a different, more mathematical, and more fascinating, way.

]]>Setting up a **comfort zone** for a child who is struggling with math anxiety can be relatively simple and it can help to ease the fear and discomfort the child feels when required to focus on math homework, despite feelings of fear, frustration and even anger towards it.

The first thing you want to establish is an area that the child feels comfortable in. This should include a comfortable chair and desk that is easy to sit at and reach their book and other materials. You may also want to place some potted plants and/or a fish bowl around the work area to make it less ‘school like’ and more inviting.

You’ll also want to provide something, other than their work or a blank wall, to look at. The best option for this is probably a window. The reason for this is sometimes when a student gets stressed about the work they are doing a small distraction like looking at a blue sky or the world outside makes them feel a bit less trapped (and looking outside can be quite calming especially if there are trees or clouds to look at).*

In addition, it’s also helpful for your and your child together to create a poster or a white board/chalkboard that has information related to what the child is working on in math on it; such as equations, facts, hints and foundational skills for what they are currently working on. This helps them by not thinking they have to pull all this information from their heads and gives them a helpful reminder of what they need to get their work done.

If your child is inspired by inspirational quotes or stickers those are good to include as well. Also make sure to use colours that the child likes and have a calming influence on them (blue and green are good colours to use, try to avoid red where possible). **

You also want to make sure that there are opportunities for the child to take ‘brain breaks’ that allow them to process the information they are learning and avoid becoming overwhelmed. These breaks can be looking out the window, colouring something (colouring has been shown to have great calming properties), breathing exercises/mediation or doing some sort of physical activity (jumping jacks or a silly dance are my personal favourites).

These breaks shouldn’t last more than a few minutes (5 at the maximum) and it needs to be established right from the start that they are not to be used to avoid doing the work but can be used if the child starts to feel overwhelmed.

Study groups can also be a good idea. If there are a few kids in the neighbourhood bring them together (even if they’re not in the same grade level). This does require a bit more supervision to keep them on task and ensure everyone is being supportive, but the group encouragement and experience can be really helpful if all the kids are working on math homework together. It takes the loneliness out of the equation for a child with math anxiety and older children can sometimes help explain concepts and provide encouragement.

The important thing to keep in mind is that math anxiety is real and it affects your child’s ability to not only do their homework but also to process the information they are being taught or should be learning from their homework. Not to mention it can make homework time feel like battle time; and no one looks forward to that!

With just a few steps and an understanding between you and your child that math anxiety is real and you recognize they are struggling with it, it can remove some of the embarrassment they may feel and frustration making math, and math homework time, more enjoyable, interesting and even fun!

Notes:

* You may be thinking, *I can’t place my child in front of a window as they’ll just stare out of it and not get any work done*, **or** *they’ll just take advantage of the ‘brain breaks’ to waste time so they don’t have to get the work done, *and this can be the case sometimes. However, most of the children I’ve worked with over the years have indeed, at first, taken advantage of the ‘free distraction’ to avoid doing their homework, but once they feel comfortable in the space and that these breaks are there to help them when they get frustrated, they’ll likely be more apt to try doing their work instead of just staring out the window or taking breaks. If you do find that it is a continuous issue you can put a time limit on it or put a curtain over the window and limit the break time to a minute or two as needed.

** There are some interesting studies out there about the psychology of colours

]]>In it she speak on how technology allows us to visualize mathematics in new and interesting ways and how it gives us the ability to ‘see’ math in a previously unreachable way.

Being able to ‘see’ mathematics helps many students and those who struggle with math to understand it in a new way. It takes an intangible formula or set of numbers more realistic and visual. All of a sudden you can see what the equation is showing.

Many technologies not only allow you to see the math but also manipulate it and ‘play around’ with the equations and see how they change or react when various aspects of them are changed.

While technology can’t ever replace formal math education, and there is still something to be said for ‘low-tech’ versions of exploring math, there are definitely some amazing uses of newer technologies that allow us to explore this fascinating subject in new ways.

]]>Since it was timed nicely with Back to School we thought it would be interesting to look at inspiring mathematics in children as they return to math classes this week.

Sometimes back to school seems like back to fights over homework, especially math homework! It seems like kids have endless energy for video games, reading, sports, dancing, or anything that really interests them.

But when it comes to math homework all that energy just seems to disappear, feet are dragged and the bargaining begins.

But what if it didn’t have to be like that? What if kids actually ENJOYED learning mathematics and got pleasure out of fractions!

It’s actually not that hard to accomplish, it just takes a bit of inspiration.

Countless studies have proven that people learn best when they are inspired, so why not make math inspiring. Learn how to see math in the world around you and all of a sudden doing math doesn’t seem so much like a chore but instead as a way to learn more about what you love.

Love to sing, learn about the math in music, in finding the rhythm, hearing tones and learning what sounds work well together (and which ones don’t). Love video games, learn about how your screen renders (or shows) the images from your game and what math is required to run the game itself; or you can even learn skills and strategies to beat the game faster or with more points.

The point being, the more we are invested in a subject and its uses, the easier it is for us to learn it, because we are now more motivated to do so.

So, want to help your child learn math easier, and retain it longer? Inspire them to see the mathematics in the world around them.

Need help inspiring them? Hop on over to our **LOOK: MATH!** website and learn how to see the mathematics in the world around you.

You can also view the full article for Families Online Magazine here.

Happy Mathing and here’s to a good, happy back to school this year!

]]>We had lots of different people try (and succeed) to escape our room; but we noticed some common things each group did and how many of these things made it harder for them to solve the puzzle and escape the room.

We also noticed that the same things people struggled with to solve the escape room puzzles were the same things that students commonly struggle with when trying to solve a math problem.

Here’s some of the things we saw:

One of the first things many of our participants did was to try and collect as much information in the room as they possibly could; even though they were told that only certain pieces of information were needed. This hurried collection of information lead to an overload of materials causing confusion and increased efforts to sort through what was necessary and what was placed there to confuse or distract.

We thought this was a great way to look at the world of information all around us currently; from news sites to Google searches to Wikipedia pages that have links to just about anything. The amount of information around us seems almost infinite.

This is why critical thinking skills are so important to develop. Being able to sort out what is useful, and correct, information from all the clutter helps us to focus on what is important and more effectively solve the problems before us.

You don’t want to decide you’re going to write a paper on Ada Lovelace only to find there is enough information out there to write a whole book on her when you only need 5 pages. Instead you want to decide what aspect you want to write about her remarkable life and start from there.

Participants were told that the order was important yet many jumped between clues all over the room. This made it very difficult to put all the pieces together in the right order at the end.

By skipping steps, or skipping around steps, it becomes very easy to miss the foundational or necessary stages of a problem.

It’s like trying to read the works of Shakespeare before even learning the alphabet; it might be possible but it would be very difficult to do!

Humans can be very bad at what is called ‘active listening’. This is especially true in high stress or exciting situations where we ‘just want to get to it’. This often causes us to miss important information because our attention is focused on the next thing. This is also really common in what is referred to as ‘multi-tasking’.

Similar to doing things in order, actively listening to and processing the full and complete instructions can be incredibly helpful when trying to solve a problem.

Think of building a piece of IKEA furniture; you could try to build it by skipping a few instructions, but all of a sudden you may find yourself at the end with a built bookcase but wondering where these extra screws came from… *(and being very hesitant about putting any actual books on it).*

Do yourself a favour, take a minute, take a breath and give yourself some time to process where you are and what’s going on BEFORE you dive right into a problem.

Many of our participants started digging apart the room as soon as they were left on their own, hurriedly scrounging for clues and pieces of the puzzle.

The groups that did the best started by taking a moment to look around, take in what was there and look at the most obvious things first.

One of the most frustrating things for those of us watching and guiding/providing hints, was when someone in the room would get super close to an object that was required to solve the puzzle and then walk right past it, or worse, look right at it, even touch it, but not take the time to register that it was important.

In order to solve a problem you need to first be able to take in the context surrounding that problem, what tools you have at your disposal already and what barriers exist to you completing your task.

You don’t want to start fixing a car, get it all ready to go and be eager to drive out on the open road only to realize that you forgot the garage door was broken and won’t open to let you escape.

All of these relate to mathematics and solving a math problem.

First, figure out what it is you are trying to learn or solve first and then get rid of, put aside, or ignore any information that doesn’t relate to it; at least at the start.

Second, mathematics is built on what is commonly called a scaffold principle where one skill leads to, or builds on, the last, leading to a set of skills that allow you to solve a problem. By jumping around in the order or not following the instructions you risk missing important steps and may end up making a mistake that will carry through to your final answer, causing it to be wrong. Instead start by thinking about what you already know, take a moment to read the question carefully and formulate in your head what tools you already have available.

Finally, don’t be in a rush to solve a math problem. Much of the enjoyment of math comes from taking it a piece at a time and following each piece through.

Think of it like a musician or an artist creating a song or a painting. They take it step by step, seeing the entire piece in their mind and then following the steps to create the final product.

It’s no wonder that even mathematicians who study math on a daily basis often refer to math as a beautiful subject, and even an art.

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