“Why do smart people enjoy saying that they are bad at math?” laments Petra Bonfert-Taylor, a professor of engineering at Dartmouth College. “Few people would consider proudly announcing that they are bad at writing or reading.” After seeing one too many examples of adults “passing on [mathematical anxiety] like a virus,” Bonfert-Taylor has an important message for math-phobic parents and educators: “We are passing on from generation to generation the phobia for mathematics... as a result, too many of us have lost the ability to examine a real-world problem, translate it into numbers, solve the problem and interpret the solution.”
Many people will recognize what Bonfert-Taylor calls “damaging myths” that adults perpetuate when they call themselves bad at math: “math is inherently hard, only geniuses understand it, we never liked math in the first place and nobody needs math anyway.” And while well-meaning adults may think they’re encouraging kids by sharing their own math fears, research has shown the opposite -- "Anxiety over mathematics has been recognized as a grade killer." Research has found that the problem is particularly significant for girls, who “are especially affected when a teacher publicly announces math hatred before she picks up the chalk,” Bonfert-Taylor asserts.
“Working on mathematical skills is not unlike practicing a sport,” Bonfert-Taylor maintains. “Neither can be learned by watching others perform the activity and both require encouragement and effort... You do not need an innate mathematical ability in order to solve mathematical problems. Rather, what is required is perseverance, a willingness to take risks and feeling safe to make mistakes.” The proof appears in other nations: the more a culture appreciates math skills (and the trial and error necessary to build them), the “better” at math the students there will be. So the next time you’re sitting down to talk math with a Mighty Girl in your life, Bonfert-Taylor urges you to “try to have fun and give reassurance that perseverance will yield results. Numbers are always simple, clean and beautiful -- and nothing to be afraid of.”
To read more in The Washington Post, visit wapo.st/1Tt9fUD
Kids can develop an appreciation of the playful side of math from an early age! For toys and games to encourage your Mighty Girl's love of math at every age, check out our blog post, “Add It Up! Top 30 Math Toys for Mighty Girls,” at www.amightygirl.com/blog?p=12180
A few of our favorite math-themed games include the "Super Sorting Pie" for ages 3 to 7 (www.amightygirl.com/super-sorting-pie), Shelby's Snack Shack for ages 4 to 7 (www.amightygirl.com/shelby-s-snack-shack), and Prime Climb for ages 10 and up (www.amightygirl.com/prime-climb)
There are also several fun girl-empowering picture books with a math theme, check out “Zero” for ages 3 to 8 (www.amightygirl.com/zero), "One Grain Of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale" for ages 4 to 9 (www.amightygirl.com/one-grain-of-rice), "The Math Curse" for ages 6 to 10 (www.amightygirl.com/the-math-curse), and "Infinity and Me" for ages 5 to 8 (www.amightygirl.com/infinity-and-me)
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