We all have heard kids say, “I’m not really good at math” or “Math isn’t my thing”, especially after receiving a bad test score. Could these comments be subtle signs that they are afraid of math? If so, we need to pull the child aside and ask some questions that might help shed some light on what they are thinking. Are they afraid of failure, or of not understanding, or are they afraid that they are not smart enough?
Then you might offer, “Do you know what helps me when I’m afraid of failing,” or “Do you know what I do if I don’t understand something?” Sharing your own experiences can really help.
For instance, I like to explain that I try to turn scary situations into opportunities. If I have a mountain to climb and start with the premise that the climb will be too hard and I’m not capable of doing it, then I’ve already defeated myself before starting. Working out a math problem is much like working your way up the steep face of a mountain. Sometimes your direction reaches an impasse and you need to backtrack. It’s the same with math problems. The journey can either be fun and tortuous, depending on how you think about it. This reasoning has worked with my daughters, and I’m sure it can work with others too.
Humor helps. It relieves the tension and anxiety that grips us when facing a difficult situation. It could be math problem or a life or death situation.
Years ago, when working on the CBS Evening News program, West Point Cadets would visit to watch the live recording. Why? So they could see how the crew acted under stress. And how did they act? They were constantly laughing and telling jokes, especially the director.
Hearing of the joke-filled speech that President Obama gave at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner the night before the commando raid on bin Laden made perfect sense to me. The jokes allayed the anxiety he was feeling from the mission that was about to happen and for which he was responsible. The jokes helped him stay calm and continue to think clearly.
Each Elevated Math lesson has a cartoon introduction. These are not just to reveal the characters and engage the kids. The cartoons are designed to make kids smile, if not laugh. When we are smiling, we are relaxed. And when we are relaxed, we are free of anxiety and more open to learn.
We made a number of adjustments on the iPad app based on feedback that teachers gave us. One suggestion was to remove some of the humor within the lessons. We did remove much of the extraneous dialogue that had nothing to do with the instruction and was a distraction. But we did not eliminate all the humor, and we rarely touched the cartoon intro. The humor is important to create a right learning environment – one that is relaxed and free of fear.