Math is one of those subjects kids either love or hate, so it doesn’t surprise that many students have trouble with mathematics. Math difficulties can affect kids’ confidence and prevent them from accomplishing academic goals. So, kids who struggle with math need extra support to improve and build a healthy self-image.
International math exam results showed that teenagers in the United States rank 31st in math literacy out of 79 countries. Results also show that despite Common Core and increased testing at schools, math scores remained flat for a decade.
Math is an abstract subject that makes it difficult for kids to relate to real life. This requires students to work harder to understand the concepts of math, which is one of the main reasons why this subject is so unpopular among kids.
To help your child overcome problems with math, you need to understand what causes them in the first place. Here is where math struggle in middle and high school students commonly stems from.
All kids develop skills and hit their developmental milestones at different rates. Some kids might just need more time to develop math skills.
Key math skills your child needs for school include:
- number sense (the ability to count accurately)
- spatial sense (geometry)
- problem-solving (the ability to recognize there’s more than one solution to the problem)
- representation (connecting math ideas to the real world)
- estimation (the ability to make a correct guess about the size or amount)
- measurement (using units like pounds, kilograms, feet, meters, etc. to find the height, weight, length, or measurement of time).
As more advanced math skills build upon your child’s early knowledge, you can use play and games to boost the basic math skills in toddler and preschool years. To set the foundation for school math skills, introduce concepts such as sizes, patterns, shapes, quantity, numbers and counting, and similar.
Some kids have math difficulties caused by dyscalculia, also called math dyslexia – a learning disability that causes students to struggle with math concepts and fall far behind their peers in math.
Some of the most common signs of dyscalculia in middle school include:
- A poor sense of numbers
- Difficulty understanding math language
- Struggle to understand concepts like inversion and commutativity
- Difficulty counting backward
- An inability to make an estimation
- Problems with performing calculations
- Poor cognitive arithmetic skills
- Avoiding situations that require understanding numbers
Signs of dyscalculia in high school
- Difficulties applying math concepts to money exchange
- Struggle to measure and estimating things
- Inability to read graphs and charts
- Weak problem-solving skills
Lack of Home Support
The Common Core math curriculum in the U.S. schools teaches math differently than parents learned.
While traditional math approaches have relied mostly on step-by-step procedures and memorization, Common Core focuses on teaching students to think creatively about the math concepts involved in a specific problem (how to compose and decompose numbers, illustrate operations, construct visual models of the mathematics, etc.). Because Common Core math has nothing to do with the way they learned math at school, parents find it difficult to keep step with their kids’ math homework.
Lack of Practice
It takes a lot of practice and time to understand math concepts. Many students simply lack mastery in their math skills (especially those who don’t like math), which gives them a hard time keeping up with the school curriculum.
In math, everything builds on what was learned before. A child needs to master the basics before he or she can move on to new concepts. Students often move on before they are ready, which causes difficulties in learning, motivation, and performance.
Because math is a cumulative subject, it is important that a child masters the basic knowledge before moving on to more complex topics. Math is often poorly taught in earlier grades, so many middle-school students don’t have the proper foundation needed for success in higher grades.
- Math Anxiety
Mathematic anxiety can range from a feeling of mild nervousness to experiencing a debilitating fear of math.
Many students experience unusual uneasiness when doing math (or just thinking about it!). This negative emotional reaction to mathematics can be very discouraging as it triggers feelings of inadequacy, lack of confidence, panic during math tests. Research shows that students with higher levels of math anxiety tend to perform more poorly on math tests and assessments.
Why Kids Don’t Care for Math
Kids don’t like math for many different reasons. For some, math is too hard while others find it boring. Whatever the reason, many kids have a hard time bringing themselves to complete math assignments.
A Negative Mindset: Students Find Math Difficult
Math requires specific sets of skills and abilities, so many students expect it to be difficult even before they even engage with math topics. A negative mindset around mathematics triggers many learning problems. Kids who find math difficult lack confidence and tend to give up quickly when they don’t understand something. Also, “I can’t do this” mindset leads to poor self-esteem and confidence, persuading a child that he will fail no matter how hard he tries. This usually leads to less motivation and poor performance.
Kids Find Math Boring
We are most successful at learning things that interest us. When kids are excited about learning something, their knowledge tends to be more solid and applicable in real-life situations. In many students, the math doesn’t spark interest, which makes it harder to learn.
Why Math Matters
Math concepts are relevant to our day-to-day lives. Analytical thinking helps kids think critically about the world around them, solve problems, and look for different solutions. Math boosts reasoning abilities and critical thinking, abstract or spatial thinking, reasoning, creativity, and communication skills.
Moreover, math knowledge plays an important role in understanding the concepts of other school subjects such as social studies or science.
In the world where STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields fill every portion of our lives, mastering these disciplines becomes a necessity. STEM careers are the occupations of the 21st century, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce Statistics. It has been estimated that the majority of kids enrolled in the first grade will work in the fields we still haven’t heard of.
Therefore, encouraging students to explore math as an important segment of STEM concepts from an early age enables them to develop interest, motivation, and passion for these disciplines and pursue a career in a competitive field of STEM-related jobs one day.