Writer Annie Murphy Paul recently interviewed the author and mathematician Professor Jordan Ellenberg about why people hate math.
“We teach math as if it’s about applying a prescribed formula, circling the right answer, and going on to the next problem without thinking about what it is we’re doing,” Ellenberg replied. “But that’s so not what math is. Math is a fundamentally creative enterprise, a fundamentally humanistic enterprise. It’s a lens through which we can see the world better.”
Ellenberg is so enthusiastic about re-wiring the way much of the population thinks about mathematics that he’s gone and written a whole book on it, creatively titled How Not to Be Wrong.
He’s chosen this title because he says so much of what people hate about math is the memory of anxiety before a math test, or the feeling that unless you memorized a specific formula, you were doomed to get the answer wrong. Ellenberg wants children to be taught math in a different way: through experimenting and yes, maybe even occasionally getting things wrong in pursuit of getting them right.
Math is a subject that can be figured out from the ground up with a few basic tools. Trial and error is often the best approach for many mathematical problems, which allows wide scope for creativity — and, of course, for occasionally making mistakes!
Ellenberg says, “if part of what creates the fear of math is wanting to avoid being wrong, then learning to like math is about learning to be willing to mess up.”
Sarah Forrest is a Reading Specialist for the Easyread System, an online reading intervention program that uses unique Guided Phonetic Reading technique to help every struggling learner become a reader. Find out more at www.easyreadsystem.com