Updated: Oct 16, 2021
1. Forget your school experiences, especially the ones that were negative.
Almost every adult I meet has a negative story or memory about learning math. Most people can pinpoint the grade and the math activity that made them believe that they weren’t good at math, that they just weren’t a “math person.” Most of these stories happened in elementary school. The majority have to do with timed tests, being put on the spot, and mad minutes. Math is so much more than memorizing times tables and adding fractions. Some of my favourite mathematician friends tell me that they are slow at math and make many mistakes.
2. Have a growth mindset, realize that your brain can grow, and you can learn anything!
Research shows that you can change your brain - it’s elastic and meant to grow and learn. You are not born a “math person” - so great news - you are a “math person” - you just don’t know it yet! Challenge yourself, grow your brain, put yourself in new learning situations, believe that you can do it!
3. Experience the joy of exploring a big, beautiful math problem.
Maybe you haven’t had the opportunity to see math as beautiful. Maybe you haven’t experienced the joy of exploring a complex problem in a non-threatening environment. Maybe you haven’t been able to embrace risk-taking and mistake-making as important aspects of learning math! Now is your chance...deepen your skills, confidence, and joy as you experience and explore some of our favorite problems.
1. Find a partner or a small group of people (3 is the magic number) to join in your journey. Solving problems in a group can be magical - the different ideas, strategies, ways of thinking and seeing will make all the difference in the world. Don’t find a math teacher or someone who loves math - often, they will try to explain it to you or show you how to do it - this is not the point! This is your journey to awaken your love for math. I hosted a math night with 11 of my closest girlfriends - we shared our math trauma stories from childhood (everyone had one), and then we solved some problems together late into the night. We had some laughs, some tears, and so much fun!
2. Set aside your fear and jump in with no expectations!
Non-permanent vertical surfaces are best for this - use a whiteboard or a window and a dry-erase marker. Listen to your group members and share your ideas, even if you don’t trust them yet. Don’t give up; get into the flow! The problem is meant to be a challenge; otherwise, it wouldn’t be a problem! Engage with it and enjoy it. The group work, communication, and perseverance will come and will help you find the joy in problem solving.in the challenge, excitement, and flow of learning.
3. Remember that the joy is in the journey!
Really good problems have multiple solutions and different ways to solve them. People will look at problems differently. Embrace your ideas and the ideas of others. Get creative, find objects that can help visualize and represent the problem. Exploring the problem is the goal; solving it is a bonus. If you don’t solve the problem, don’t be scared to go back to it - real mathematics is like science and art - it takes time, experimentation, deep thinking, and lots of mistake-making!
That’s it! GO!
I hope you come back for more because I have a whole collection of problems to explore!
For more information on brain research and learning math, visit www.youcubed.org
For more information on Thinking Classrooms, visit www.perterliljedahl.com