Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How math is like going to the Dentist.

It feels like almost every student that enters math class does it like they are being forced to under the threat of death or disembodiment.  Most have one thing in common…they all believe that they cannot do math before they even give it a go.  If I had a dollar for every student who said “Oh I can’t do math I suck at it,” I wouldn’t still be teaching.
I can’t seem to get my head around why students hate math.  I’ve always loved math and looked forward to being on the math team… (By the way I know that I am a bit of geek and I’m fine with that).  The only way that I can seem to get my geeky brain around the concept of people hating something is to relate it to something I am more familiar with…so here it goes….

At the beginning of the school year, I feel like coming to my math room is akin to being forced to go to the dreaded dentist.  You know, the one where they are going to drill your teeth because you haven’t flossed like you promised them you would the last time that you were in the dentist chair.  You know the chair… the big padded one where they might as well be strapping you in while the dentist is interrogating you with the bright light in your face, all the while holding the large giant metal hook instrument.   Now before I go on I would like to make one thing clear…  I am not standing at the front of my class holding a sharp instrument while teaching, but I am sure that those of my students who have never had success before in math may see my math textbook and protractor in the same way. 

I get it a bit because, like keeping up on flossing, you have to keep up on your math work to understand the next concept.  There is no quick fix the day or two before your dental visit that can make up for your lack of effort before going to the dentist and the same goes for a math test.  That is one of the problems that we are now facing in today’s society. The Quick fix…Most of our students can get instantaneous answers through their smart phones which come equipped, not only with calculators, but any conceivable app and gadget that they can think of.     

Just as we have to teach ourselves not to fear the dentist, we have to teach our students not to fear being wrong in math class.   The best way that we learn is through trial and error.  If you don’t brush well…. you will get a cavity, which leads to pains when the dentist drills your teeth.  The same goes for math problems.   We need students to go through the process of how to solve problems so that they can continue to solve problems later on in life.  It’s not about having the right answer but on how they got the answer.  Anyone can look up a problem on the internet, but determining how to solve it and applying that knowledge is the key.  What they don’t realise is that math requires them to use their brains to solve problems.  Not just what 1 + 1 is but actual problems about how should I attempt to answer something...or what information is needed and how do I go about to get the information.     

It is no use if you just give in and accept that there will be pain and on that note I have to go floss and brush my teeth now….(Appointment is at 3:45 tomorrow so wish me luck).


  1. Great comparison! I hope, with your permission, to borrow your analogy in the fall!

  2. Retelling of a common place thing is a great way to use a blog.

    Don't forget to tag your posts.

  3. Unlike you I haven't ALWAYS loved math! I use to be one of those students who looked at the teacher in fear, fear of being wrong and fear of failing.

    With math I find that because the concepts are always building on one and other it can be very overwhelming when you start to fall behind. However, just like flossing the more you do it and the harder you work at it the healthy your gums become. We need to teach students that it's 'okay' if they fall behind from time to time. There is always extra help available and with a little effort they will be back on track. Too often students just give up when things get tough, which becomes a vicious cycle because they continue to miss newer concepts and fall further behind.

    Great analogy by the way!

  4. I agree completely that we should focus more on the process rather than the final answer, as this will help tackle those fears of being wrong. When I did BANSHO with my grade 2s, I emphasized the fact that I didn't care whether or not they got the right answer in the end (because lots were rushing and wanted to make sure they finished). I told them that for this activity, I was more interested in HOW they got to their answers. I wanted to see their thought process. I think that having more activities that focused on the process as opposed to the end result will definitely help alleviate these fears and allow students the freedom to explore their thinking.

  5. I really like your analogy, Melissa. I'm sure it feels like that sometimes for many students. We can also say that the teaching model is changing gradually from traditional model (where the instruction method takes most of the time and show and tell is the only way math is explained) to non-traditional method (where students can experience math and the questions who, where, how, why, when become questions of learning for students and teachers too I would say)
    Another "great" problem that you mention here is the Quick Fix. It is becoming so popular for every problem or obstacle that people (not only students)face in their every day lives. Every school year is important because the quick fix can't come if in our little coconut( our math teacher in TC used this word for our brain)is not enough facts or info to make the connections with.
    Melissa, I think nowdays even going to the dentist is not as fearful as it used to be. Maybe they have changed their method,too or..maybe my the thinking has changed:)

  6. I love this analogy. I think the best part of the whole thing was the preparation it takes to go to the dentist is in fact very similar to math. You cannot be expected to show up to class and be able to tackle all tasks, you have to put a little work in ahead of time!