Babies and infants love mathematics. Give babies a set of blocks, and they will build and order them, fascinated by the ways the edges line up. Children will look up at the sky and be delighted by the V formations in which birds fly. Count a set of objects with a young child and then move the objects and count them again, and they will be enchanted by the fact they still have the same number. Ask children to make patterns with colored blocks, and they will work happily making repeating patterns—one of the most mathematical of all acts. Mathematician Keith Devlin has written a range of books showing strong evidence that we are all natural mathematics users and thinkers.^{1} We want to see patterns in the world and to understand the rhythms of the universe. But the joy and fascination young children experience with mathematics are quickly replaced by dread and dislike when they start school mathematics and are introduced to a dry set of methods they think they just have to accept and remember.

If you think mathematics is difficult, tough, or you’re scared of it, this article will indicate why and potentially show you a way forward for yourself and your children.

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The low achievers did not know less, they just did not use numbers flexibly—probably because they had been set on the wrong pathway, from an early age, of trying to memorize methods and number facts instead of interacting with numbers flexibly. ❧

December 15, 2018 at 08:42AM

Unfortunately for low achievers, they are often identified as struggling with math and therefore given more drill and practice—cementing their beliefs that math success means memorizing methods, not understanding and making sense of situations. They are sent down a damaging pathway that makes them cling to formal procedures, and as a result, they often face a lifetime of difficulty with mathematics. ❧

December 15, 2018 at 08:44AM

Notably, the brain can only compress concepts; it cannot compress rules and methods. ❧

December 15, 2018 at 08:44AM

Unfortunately, many classrooms focus on math facts in isolation, giving students the impression that math facts are the essence of mathematics, and, even worse, that mastering the fast recall of math facts is what it means to be a strong mathematics student. Both of these ideas are wrong, and it is critical that we remove them from classrooms, as they play a key role in creating math-anxious and disaffected students. ❧

This article uses the word “unfortunately quite a lot.

December 15, 2018 at 08:46AM

The hippocampus, like other brain regions, is not fixed and can grow at any time,15 but it will always be the case that some students are faster or slower when memorizing, and this has nothing to do with mathematics potential. ❧

December 15, 2018 at 08:53AM