I often tell people that mathematics is a language. Learning math is the same as learning any other language. Arithmetic operators, + – x ÷, are verbs; they are action symbols. Formulae are statements (or maybe questions depending on your ability to solve them.)
I asked one of my students (who is very good with math) why people have difficulty learning math. He told me that math is a concept, a way of thinking. It is a set of rules, logic. You need to be able to think within that thought process to understand math.
Anyone can learn math. At first, it may take a rote, step-by-step approach, simply following a set of rules. The concept may not be initially understood, but following the rules will give you the correct answer.
What do you do when you don’t understand the mathematical concept?
Math describes concepts that relate to the real world. While the math may appear to be from another world, the concepts are real, often common. Try to understand the concept by making analogies and finding real-world examples.
Negative numbers may not initially make sense. You can have three dollars, seven cookies, five CDs, etc. However, how can you have -3, -7, -5 anything?
Negative numbers can explain things we feel, see, etc.
- Winter in New England can be cold. It can be 32° F, 15° F, or the temperature can drop below zero to -5° F, -13° F, and so on.
- The volume control slider can represent the number line. The zero position represents an acceptable volume level. However, if that volume needs to be softened (you need to talk to someone on your cellphone), you make the volume less by positioning the slider to the left or downward (if the slider is in a vertical position.) Less volume is analogous to negative numbers. You increase the volume by sliding the volume control to the right or upward. More volume is analogous to positive numbers.
- An American football field is analogous to a number line. The 50-yard line is the neutral or zero position. When your team’s offense is working you are moving up the number line gaining positive yardage. When the other team’s defense is working you are moving down the negative line gaining negative yardage.
Once you understand the concept, you are on your way to understanding the math.