The age-old debate about many behaviors and abilities is alive and well concerning students’ ability to do complex mathematics. Is a person’s ability to learn mathematics nature or nurture? It depends who you ask.
What is known, though, is that if students don’t understand the most basic mathematical concepts, such as more than, less than and equal to by kindergarten or first grade, they will stay behind throughout their academic career. That’s scary because now more than ever these skills are crucial for so many careers.
Most people good at math don’t buy the idea that strong math skills are genetic. They believe it’s something that can be learned with good instruction. Many will say that the real problem is that children are told by parents early on that math is hard and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Those who struggle with anything higher than high school algebra disagree. They believe it’s a DNA thing, that some people just don’t comprehend higher-level mathematics. For a lot of people, basic arithmetic is easy enough. Even basic algebra and geometry isn’t too hard for a lot of people. But within one chapter in a text book, the brain often just seems to shut off being able to understand it, even with the help of a teacher. It’s a terrifying and stressful situation for most who struggle with it. College degrees often ride on being able to pass some kind of higher level math.
It seems there are some advances on how to improve this situation. Highlands County schools are working hard to make sure students at the earliest ages understand fundamental mathematics. But by the time they get them, there’s little time if a child has no background whatsoever. That’s where parents and preschools must make up the difference.
A teaching degree isn’t required to teach pre-schoolers numbers and counting. Shapes and other basic ideas help as well. And letting a child know early on that math is hard certainly doesn’t help.
Perhaps advanced mathematics does require something in the DNA, but it’s clear students can do better with very early preparation. Parents and early childhood educators must step up and provide this critical foundation.