Students don't have to dread math learning

How math learning supports the future of work

A strong math learning foundation positions students for personal and professional success as they move through life

According to a recent survey gauging student confidence in their math abilities, proficiency, and correlation between perceptions of math and performance, their fear continues to grow each year. The survey of U.S. students showed approximately 82 percent of students in Grades 7 through 10 struggle with anxiety around math learning. The survey also finds that fear of math increases as students move from middle school to high school.

While math confidence has always been an underlying issue in the U.S., the pandemic and at-home learning amplified the issue, accelerating loss of interest and fear. This comes at a time when the need for mastery of math fundamentals is at an all-time high. Future jobs are dependent on a sound understanding of math, leading more students and parents to look for outside resources, such as tutoring, to help children catch up and gain confidence. On a related note, math-learning access and equity for all students, regardless of their location, economic ability or background, must be reviewed and increased. While these challenges also existed before the pandemic, remote learning heightened them as well.

Jobs of the future

Our world needs inventive thinkers who will work to solve the biggest problems we face today in every sphere of life–medicine, education, sanitation, environment, economy, and others. Learning math is like learning to ride a bicycle or learning to swim. It might seem difficult at first; one might even fall or flounder on some occasions. But, over time, you learn to do it intuitively. 

The demand to truly learn and master math fundamentals is at an all-time high. To win in the 21st century, the U.S. must invest heavily in making sure students build a valuable STEM skillset from a very young age – including math, coding, and data science – as these skills are becoming disproportionately more important for the jobs of the future.

Creating stronger math minds

Today, education systems around the world focus on memorization rather than understanding. This is a narrow outlook, oftentimes with short-term results. Children require a rich and complex curriculum that is a mixture of learning and supporting emotional growth. I have seen first-hand how students embrace and benefit from a math curriculum that is highly intuitive and uses visuals, games, puzzles, simulations, and innovative technology, like interactive whiteboards and GeoGebra. This makes math easy and fun for students of all ages and levels. 

Children thrive when learning by reasoning, not by rote. We need to replace the blackboard way of learning with the reasoning way of learning, where knowing the WHY is more important than the WHAT.

By revisiting how we teach math knowledge, we can help students prepare for the STEM and tech jobs of the future.3 Math gives us a way to understand patterns, quantify relationships and predict the future. Math helps us understand the world — and we use the world to understand math. The world is interconnected. By using math, students can make sense of the world and solve complex and real problems.

[i] Math anxiety and stress in adults | Announce | University of Nebraska-Lincoln

[ii] Math anxiety can outweigh promise of higher rewards | University of Chicago News

3 The Future of Jobs Report 2020 | World Economic Forum

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