Learning Mathematics Requires Different Skills

by blackspanielgallery

Mathematics, at any level, is different. Success can be achieved, but only by understanding how to approach the study of mathematics. Yes, learning mathematics is possible.

Whether studying or teaching mathematics at any level, one is likely to encounter difficulties simply because mathematics is different. For most subjects, careful reading with comprehension is a good start, but while reading mathematics is valuable, it requires a different way of thinking to be comprehended. Thus, it is often frustrating for a child, or even an adult going to college, and for those assisting with the learning such as parents and teachers.

The frustration comes from putting out effort with poor results. One might approach history by reading, then after learning facts think how or why something happened. In fact, most subjects are not too different from this, read and enjoy the reading, then dissect what is there. With mathematics one can read and not succeed. The underlying key is in understanding the material, so mathematics must be explained. Books too often have many words placed there for accuracy, but only apply to a special case. This is when a teacher can say what is really the kernel of what is being done.

Thinking logically is key. Mathematics is a cause and effect subject. If I do something, what will happen, and what does it mean? Then string steps together making a transitive string, until you get to the final answer. And thoughts must be reinforced with practice.

Be Careful when Practicing

Practice over and over, but make certain the answers are right.  Practicing over and over a wrong technique is counterproductive, for it leads to engraining the error in memory.  And, when practicing, always think!  Understanding is the way to confidence.

Believe in Yourself

Believe you will succeed and you will, or will you?  Belief in success is the first step.  But it does not just happen.  It must be a real belief, based in fact.  Just thinking I can do this is not to last long after repeated failure.  The underlying principle is to first learn well, then believe.  And, that learning come from having the mathematics explained, then reinforcement with much practice.  Getting practice problems right should be the stepping stone to actual, success based, confidence.


School, Or Homeschool

There is a dilemma here, expense.  In this area one can choose from public education, private education, or homeschooling.  There is a saying. “You get what you pay for.”  When parents are not invested, too many students have no or little support from their parents after school, and the concept of no child left behind has come to mean entire classes are left to proceed at a slow pace as long as one student languishes, perhaps deliberately.  Perhaps it is not even the child’s fault, it often lies with the disengaged parents.  


Private education is better, since the parents are invested.  They write the checks and will more often do what they can to see that their dollars are not wasted.  So, they might be more apt to sit at night and help a child with homework.  And when more students are prepared, and the expectation that education move at a proper pace, the classes are more likely to actually learn.


Homeschool is a way a parent can get directly involved and assure proper success.  But, this is not without expense.  One parent might have to forego a salary to stay at home, and there are materials that cost.


In mathematics it is critical the material be completely covered, since mathematics builds on itself.  How can a person do division if subtraction is not already mastered?  So, if subtraction is poorly done one year will not division in the next year be difficult on both the teacher and the student?


Quality of Teachers

Some Are Great, Others Not

I teach mathematics in a college, and I often get the mathematics courses that are aimed at the education majors.  How some of these students ever graduated from high school is a mystery.  I had them adding and subtracting fractions in a way that would cause them to actually understand what is happening, and they struggled with the task.  There was a repeated clamoring for calculators.  The problem is they plan to use calculators in teaching the early grades, mimicking too often their own teachers.  That will not prepare a student to divide in algebra when variables appear.  There is a belief that if I can do the problem it is fine, and being bothered with understanding is not desire.  So, they really do not understand arithmetic.  They cannot then explain arithmetic. 


Even worse, I once tutored a high school student who could not solve any problem without a calculator.  She had been taught incorrect calculator technique.  She told me the high school had a problem with about a dozen students, all from her former elementary school.  They were dividing by two numbers without first inserting parentheses, getting wrong answers. 


So, what is being taught is not always right, and it comes from the problems too many teachers had in learning mathematics, which has now been inserted into their teaching methods.


We must realize that studying mathematics has a twofold objective.  Yes, we must understand the problems well enough to get the correct answer, as we could with a calculator.  But we must also develop a thought process, or problems will present themselves later.


Get a Book on Overcoming Anxiety in Mathematics

This is the first step to success.  Find a book that goes into depth on the difference in studying mathematics and studying other subjects.  Mathematics follows the rules of logic.  It means mentally planning a logical series of steps to a solution. 


A good start is to encourage playing chess.  The thought process chess will develop will carry over while not have the student even be aware that it is developing a study skill.  It is a fun way to develop a skill for a subject.

This article contains links to affiliate programs from some or all of Amazon, Viglink, and Ebay through Viglink, and Adsense advertising.  These must use cookies to allow for proper crediting. 

Overcoming Math Anxiety


Recognize the difference in study methods for mathematics compared to other subjects.  One cause of anxiety with mathematics is the failure to succeed after what seems to be more than adequate study time and effort.  The amount of time and effort is secondary to properly utilizing that time and appropriately studying.  The subject is different, and evoking a different thought process is the real solution.  After that, practice is essential.  Learning one idea must then be incorporated with other, already mastered, ideas.  That is why success with a few problems is not enough.  Different material that you should have mastered is imbedded in the problems, and you must see ideas working in concert with each other.



his article contains links to affiliate programs and Adsense advertising.  These must use cookies to allow for proper crediting. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


The introduction image is because it is my book.  Actually, in this case I authored the book shown.

Updated: 08/06/2019, blackspanielgallery
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