Reading this article reminded me once again of how we perceive math. How many times have you heard statements such as, “I’m not a math person…” or “I’m no good at math?” My guess is more often than you realize. For some reason, people feel it’s ok to not be a math person. As a friend once said, you never hear people say, “I’m not a reading person,” as an excuse not to learn how to read. Math is a part of our everyday lives, and it is puzzling as to why some of us perceive ourselves as unable to figure out that thing called math.
In “Becoming a Math Person,” Noah Heller, the master teacher in residence for mathematics at the Harvard Teacher Fellows program, states that “When students proclaim that they’re ‘not math persons,’ that’s an indication that they feel outside of mathematics, that math doesn’t belong to them. They feel like the math learning expected of them is something that they’re forced to do and memorize, or a way in which they’re asked to conform their thinking or cram for examinations. When students say they’re not ‘math persons,’ they mean that they don’t see mathematics as a useful practice that can help them interpret and navigate the world.”
If you take Heller’s premise that those claiming not to be math persons are those who feel like outsiders in the world of mathematics, then it is our challenge, as educators, to help them feel like an insider. How do we do that? This is a question that is answered daily in our classrooms at WMS. What do we do that helps children see themselves as mathematicians? Some of the most interesting and amazing materials in a Montessori classroom are the math materials. When I did my Montessori teacher training, I was in awe of the way math was taught and how the materials demonstrated mathematical operations and concepts. I learned more about what I didn’t know about math than I ever could have imagined. I honestly didn’t realize that a square number built a square, a number cubed created a cube, or that one could physically demonstrate how zeroes hold the place when doing multi-digit multiplication by using the Montessori checkerboard. It was an incredible opportunity.
One of the distinct advantages of being a student at Wilmington Montessori School is the integration of math into a student’s daily experiences. Our classrooms are filled with math materials. Lessons are taught that integrate these materials into everyday experiences so children can not only hear a math story, but create it using materials that add to the story, working toward a solution. “Right answers” are sought; different ways of reaching a solution are explored, explained and celebrated. Wrong answers are puzzled over. Math is collaborative, informative and enjoyed. If you need help learning to become a math person or seeing its relevance in your life, stop in and ask a teacher or a student for a lesson. You will be so glad you did.