One of the popular words today in both education and business circles is STEM, an abbreviation for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
Over the last few years, parents have been advised on the need to educate their children in the fields of STEM – regardless of whatever career they want to pursue – in order to be competitive in the 21st century global economy.
Mike Lefkowitz, a board member at the MIND Research Institute based in California, the United States of America, writes on mindresearch.org that STEM has gained significant momentum over the last few years.
“But we still have a long way to go in raising the level of our education and student achievement in these fields in order to fulfil the increasing demand for qualified employees corporations and universities need in the information age,” he says.
Lefkowitz and many an expert state that mathematics is one of the most important subjects everyone should learn because it is the foundation of any scientific, technological, and engineering development in a country. The experts add that a nation cannot thrive without having people with a solid maths foundation.
“A solid foundation in mathematics and science develops and hones the skills of posing hypotheses, designing experiments and controls, analysing data, recognising patterns, seeking evidence, conclusions and proof, solving problems and seeking absolutes, while being open to new information.
“Studying mathematics not only will develop more engineers and scientists but also produce more citizens who can learn and think creatively and critically, no matter their career fields. The workforce of tomorrow, in all fields, will demand it,” says Lefkowitz.
A study by Dr Tanya Evans at Stanford University in the US also shows that students who solve math problems in their daily life have higher logical skills than those who don’t. Whether at home or work, Evans says maths can make one perform efficiently.
Unfortunately, maths is a subject that many students globally dread and try to avoid in school due to its perceived boredom and difficulty and in learning. With a plethora of formulas that can sometimes be hard to memorise, maths is a subject that many students fail at school.
But it doesn’t have to be so. Maths can also be fun and easy, provided it’s taught in an entertaining way, experts say. Because maths sounds geeky doesn’t mean it has to be taught in a geeky way.
The following, therefore, are some tips on helping maths-averse kids love the subject:
Incorporate maths into daily activities
A Professor of Mathematics Education at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education and Human Development, US, Robert Berry, advises incorporating maths into kids’ daily activities.
“Cooking, for instance, lends itself to maths, since following recipes requires thinking about proportions and using fractions. Talking about sports scores, time, and prices are other easy ways to help kids make concrete connections to maths,” Berry tells theweek.com.
Talk to your child’s maths teacher
Don’t wait until your kid is struggling to find out what he or she is (supposed to be) learning in maths class, advises Berry.
He explains, “Talking to your child’s maths teachers is also a good idea because, while content hasn’t changed significantly since today’s parents were in school, the ways in which we teach that content has changed.
“Today, students are asked to represent their thinking using technology and manipulatives (objects that help explain mathematical concepts), as well as explain their thinking, rather than (just)] giving an answer.
“There’s more of a focus on making sure students understand what they’re learning. So, familiarise yourself with the curriculum, and don’t be afraid to ask questions or seek advice.” Berry says manipulatives that can help kids improve learning maths include colour tiles, colour cubes, and base 10 blocks. “Don’t tell your kids that you don’t like or aren’t good at maths,” he adds. “All people are math people. You just may not have had the right teacher yet.”
Play games with your kids
According to Berry, board games such as Chutes and Ladders, Candy Land, and dice games can help kids subitise (recognise quantities without having to count) and decompose numbers (show how larger numbers are built out of smaller ones). The don adds that the informal skills kids gain from playing board games can help them develop math sense.
Don’t criticise your kids when wrong
In maths, “Everyone gets a lot of wrong answers,” Prof Emerita of Mathematics, Patricia Kenschaft, of Montclair State University, New Jersey, US, writes on theweek.com.
“My students were always startled when they found me making a mistake,” Kenschaft recalls. “They seem surprised that I was happy when they noticed, but I was teaching them that it’s important to accept when you’re wrong.” The don warns against criticising kids when they make mistakes, and, “When your children correct you, say ‘Oh, thank you!’”
Don’t badmouth maths
Many adults usually boast about how they hated maths in school. If you are one of them, be careful that you don’t communicate that attitude to your child, experts at greatschools.org warn.
They say, “It can cause math anxiety, which sadly is contagious. Help your child improve their attitude toward maths by showing them that you are confident when completing routine tasks like counting money, estimating the cost of a purchase, or computing your tax returns.
“You can also point out the importance of maths in different professions including architecture, medicine, fashion design, restaurant management, and computer programming. These small switches in how you talk about maths can make a difference and even get your child excited about the subject.”
Don’t underestimate your or your kids’ abilities
“Most parents can add and multiply, and that’s what you want to teach children when they’re little,” Kenschraft points out.
He adds, “In return, kids want to tell you what they know, too – they’ll enjoy teaching you mathematics. Let them instruct you. Maths is the study of patterns, and the use of patterns to solve problems – it’s not about the computations itself.
“People like patterns. It’s this business of right and wrong that gets people. So, if you’re tearing your hair out over a worksheet, remember her words of wisdom: to enjoy maths, you have to accept the fact that you’ll make a lot of mistakes.”
Explore the internet
Videos on sites such as YouTube as well as online games can be helpful when trying to stir your child’s interest in maths, says a Lagos-based educationist and school owner, Bukola Adeyemo.
She says, “As society becomes more reliant on technology, parents and teachers must adapt to meet these changes to prepare students for the challenges of the 21st century workplace.
“Actually, maths boredom is as a result of ‘old school’ teaching techniques. In this era, there are lots of sites, particularly YouTube, where kids can learn maths in a fun way. There are also online games that help kids solve maths problems. Exposing the children to new technology tools can be helpful.”
A maths expert at Cluey Learning, Australia, Karen McDaid, says understanding measurement and scale can help children develop estimation skills. She says, “These simple activities are fun and easy for your whole family to get involved in: Compare the heights of family members to introduce the language of measurement (‘Lucy is taller/bigger/shorter/smaller than James’) and, for the older children, the standard units of measurement (‘Brayden is smaller/taller than a metre’).
“Use blocks to measure items. Ask questions such as how many blocks tall is teddy? How many blocks long is the car/doll/book?
“Discuss how horses are measured in hand and find out how many hands the length of the table is, how many hands dad/mum/grandparents have. Compare their hand measurements in relation to their older/younger siblings.
“Compare the capacity of different containers such as spoons, measuring jugs and cups by filling them with water and see which one holds more. Get your child to find out how many spoons of water it will take to fill one cup. Cooking with your child provides the perfect opportunity to fill and measure.”
Learning about money arms children with important skills for future life, McDaid says.
She says, “There are easy ways to start teaching your child about finances, whether it’s saving, spending, credit cards, tax or income.
“Encourage your child to save money regularly. Whether it’s another stuffed toy or the latest gadget, they can save up their pocket money to buy that special item they keep asking for. Help them work out how long it might take them to save up and check in on their progress weekly.
“Encourage younger children to buy small items at the store and work out if they have the correct change.
“Older children can look for references to money in real-life situations. Take your child shopping and look at the price per gram for a product. For example, which coffee product is the best buy?
“Look at percentage increases and decreases of products. Encourage your child to mentally calculate 10 per cent and 20 per cent of an amount. Then they can see that 20 per cent is double 10 per cent.
“The more your child can see that maths is all around them, the more they’ll be able to relate to it – helping them better understand and apply it every day.”
Maths isn’t about speed
Several stories have been heard of math geniuses who can calculate crazy problems in their heads. It’s glamorous, but uncommon. For the rest of many kids, it’s not about speed, says Nina Garcia of sleepingshouldbeeasy.com.
She says, “We shouldn’t even praise speed as if it’s a skill we want kids to learn. Mastering logic is more important than speeding through problems. Don’t force your child to finish a worksheet or problem within a set time. This only makes them more anxious.
“If you do have to work against time, have your kid solve as many problems as they can within that timeframe. If they need to finish it all that day (like homework), then carve out more time in your day so they can.” “Just as a writer can take a long time to
craft words, so too should kids play with maths and logic,” Garcia adds. ,,
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