Ronnie L. from Houston wrote:
I have three kids and they all hate math and science. I was never good at them and neither was my husband and the schools are not helping. We want them to go to college, but don’t think theyll get in unless they get their grades up. How can we help them when we don’t have money for a big program or something?
The good news is that you don’t need tons of money to get a big, fancy program to help your kids like math and science. The bad news is that at the very least you might need to change your attitude towards math and science.
There are several areas of influence that determine whether people like math and science. People generally like math and science if they have at least one of these: (1) A natural aptitude for the subject, (2) A class that uses methods/materials that match the way they learn, (3) An inspiring and encouraging teacher, parent or other role model, and/or (4) The ability to master the basic concepts before moving on to more difficult concepts.
Unfortunately, most public school teachers do not go into teaching because they love math and science. What you often end up with is a teacher who doesn’t love the subject, teaching math or science using a boring textbook and worksheets. Textbooks and worksheets are fine if you’re a very left-brained learner. But the problem is that many people need right-brain teaching methods to really enjoy a subject. It helps immensely to have a teacher who loves the subject and uses other teaching tools such as hands-on activities, experiments, real books, music, rhythm, and games, in addition to that textbook. A teacher that uses many different teaching tools has a much greater chance of inspiring all the students because there’s a greater chance that at least one of the teaching methods will connect to each individual’s learning style. And, the more teaching methods used, the better understanding each individual will gain, because your brain doesn’t learn by only one method. You might be surprised to find out how interesting math and science are when you read a book in story-format on the topic, or do experimenting, play games, etc.
It’s true that often your kids don’t get the help they need from the school. Schools do have a lot of kids to teach and a limited number of teachers. The kids who do best in schools always have the most helpful and supportive parents. And it sounds like you are trying to do that. But, if parents don’t like math and science, it follows that their kids probably won’t either. If you’ve been complaining that you don’t like math or science, you may need to learn to like math and science yourself, or at least change your attitude to enthusiasm about those subjects. By all means, don’t complain about how much you hate it!
If the reason your kids struggle is because of uninspiring teachers or textbooks, you can’t really change the teachers or what they are using. But you can make it fun at home. You could ask around your ward or neighborhood to find someone who loves math and science. They could help inspire and tutor your kids, sometimes as a volunteer. You could offer to barter something in exchange, like home-cooked meals, work done, or whatever you have a talent in. I worked out an agreement with a friend where she teaches my daughter violin lessons and a couple of her kids come over once a week to play math games and go over their homework.
Another problem people have with math and science is that often the basics aren’t mastered first. The schools just keep moving on with the subject matter, and don’t really know if the students understand how the math and science work. Math can get very difficult to understand if you don’t know how the multiplication table works and if you haven’t memorized all the facts first. And if you don’t understand it, it certainly won’t be enjoyable. And to make it more confusing, students can even do well on tests and still not understand it. There are plenty of people who can memorize all the facts for the test and then completely forget it all after the test because it wasn’t relevant they didn’t really understand it.
If the kids are struggling with math and science because they don’t understand it, you’ll need to go back to the basics, especially in math. Do this even if they are in upper-level math. They should be able to catch on pretty quickly, but it can make a world of difference just to have that basic understanding. Create learning experiences in which they can accomplish mini-goals and make it interesting and fun. Do these things with them, and you can even offer rewards (i.e. first one to beat me through this stack of flashcards will get to go out for an ice cream!) Play board games such as Life, Monopoly, Payday, or card games like Skipbo, Uno, etc. Play the cheap, fun, and easy math facts practice games I posted on my website at Mathematical Musings. If your kids don’t see the purpose of math, start pointing out all the times you or other people use math in daily life.
Read interesting math and science books. Read them yourself and start talking about how much fun they are, that will surely pique your children’s interest. There are a lot of books out there geared towards people who think they hate math and science. Try The I Hate Mathematics! Book by Marilyn Burns (or other books by this author), Murderous Maths (any in the series) by Kjartan Poskitt or Algebra Unplugged by Kenn Amdahl. For science, read Exploring the World of Chemistry (or any of the others in the series) by John Hudson Tiner. These almost read like a novel! If your kids are younger, you can find a lot of other interesting books that aren’t textbooks.
Play math games on the internet. Look at Cool Math. There are a lot of great explanations on the website as well as math games and a very interesting fractal generator. Did you know a computer can generate pictures of realistic trees using math?
Another book that might help you is Math Power: How to Help Your Child Love Math, Even if You Don’t by Patricia Kenschaft. She gives some good reasons to study math and some practical advice.
There really is no magic program that will help your kids learn math and science. I believe that anyone can learn to enjoy ANY topic, if you use the right tools and resources. If you really want your kids to learn to like math, you may have to start trying to like it yourself.
Good luck and have fun with it!