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For many people, math class is stressful. But often the problem isn’t the math itself: it’s the way it’s being taught. Anyone can be good at math if they’re lucky enough to find a teacher whose methods align with their personal strengths.
In 1983, Howard Gardner published his theory of “Multiple Intelligences.” He disputed the belief that “intelligence is a single faculty and that one is either ‘smart’ or ‘stupid’ across the board.” Instead, he observed that people rely on a variety of skills that help us resolve problems and difficulties. He grouped these skills into seven different sets and called them “intelligences.” Furthermore, he observed that each person uses a different combination of these skills: “We each have a unique blend of intelligences.”
But schools aren’t set up to accommodate personal differences. They are designed to be uniform. Schools are supposed to be fair, to make sure that everybody has equal access and no one has special advantages. But as Gardner argues, “We obviously look different from one another, and have different personalities and temperaments. Most important, we also have different kinds of minds.” So while the conventional method of lecture and note-taking works for some students, it bypasses the needs of many others. Students conclude that they’re not good at math, when all they really need is a different approach to learning it.
In his book Math for Humans, Mark Wahl offers tips on how to make math accessible to all kids by including all of Gardner’s Intelligences. Here are some strategies on how to tie math to the seven skill sets. Parents can use these ideas at home to help students study. Additionally, they could be suggested as strategies for teachers or tutors.
Math and Music
This child enjoys making music or rhythm. For her, music evokes emotion and a kind of mental satisfaction independent of rational thinking.
- Use songs, jingles, raps, clapping, or rhythmic music to help recall and recite concepts or tables. For instance, sing the quadratic formula to the tune of “Pop goes the Weasel,” or the 4’s times tables to “Jingle Bells.”
- Play music before and possibly during homework time to get the brain focused. If your child can learn to associate a particular song with studying a concept, remembering that song may help her recall the concept while taking a test.
- Learning an instrument has been shown to improve performance in math. Music teacher Kathy Morey says, “The longer I teach and study music, the more convinced I am that the ancient Greeks knew what they were talking about when they included music as one of the essential subjects in a complete education. And particularly music and math have a very close affinity. Children who learn to read music and to play an instrument or to sing are experiencing involvement of all of their senses, kinesthetic, visual and aural, as they apply, consciously or subconsciously, connections that directly link to their mathematical thought processes.”