Mathematics, why it is more than just 1+1!

By Jayana Desai,

Have you ever felt that math is nothing but numbers, calculations, constructions and formulas?  Have you ever asked yourself how will math help you in anyway or does it play any role in your daily life? If you are still wondering then read further because you’ll be surprised what miracles math can do to you and how it will help you in your academics as well as daily life. 

Photo Credit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/658665

The only way to learn mathematics is to do mathematics” – Paul Halmos

Why is mastering the core fundamentals of math important? How can learning and practicing math exercises help children strengthen their math skills? How does math help children assess their knowledge?

Answering the whys and hows of mathematics may be as complex as the Merriam-Webster Definition of Mathematics: “The study of the science of numbers and their operations, interrelations, combinations, generalizations, and abstractions and of space configurations and their structure, measurement, transformations, and generalizations.” However, like any mathematical problem, we need to break down the whys and hows to fully understand what is being asked and to reap the benefits of studying math.

Why is mastering the core fundamentals of Math important?

When I think about the core fundamentals of math, I think about addition to determine the sum of two numbers or subtraction to calculate the difference of two numbers. I think about the memorized multiplication facts to simplify repeated addition or the use of division to split parts or groups equally. While these basic math concepts solve math problems, they also teach children basic life skills to be successful in everyday life. This revelation came to me as a teacher while teaching 1st and 2nd grade math. The most important concept I learnt is that math is directly connected to real life. The development of mathematical skills transforms to the development of life skills.

So, let me share the 5 skills that children develop in everyday life while doing math:

Number sense – Through math, children build their knowledge of numbers and their relationships and connections. They also develop the use of numbers in their physical and social worlds.

 Assessing knowledge – The “use what you know” strategy in math is a great example of how children reflect on the knowledge or information they have in their memory, which leads to building off their prior knowledge, and applying their knowledge to interpret, identify, and solve math problems.

Problem solving – Whether it is a simple addition problem or an algebraic equation, math is all about problem solving.

Critical-thinking – Studying math provides children with the opportunity to think critically and creatively to generate strategies that will solve math problems.

Communication – Though discussing math may not be a normal practice, children should be encouraged to share their approach and reasoning when solving math problems.  By talking about their thought processes, children are strengthening their communication skills.

Now take a step outside the classroom and into the real world and you will see that these skills are needed everywhere- at a food store buying groceries, qualifiers for a candidate seeking a job, conversing with a friend about a problem, or a leader guiding the way and making a difference. These skills are the cornerstones to living life.

How can learning and practicing math exercises help children strengthen their math skills?

They say, ‘Practice makes a man perfect’ and this is no different for math. By encouraging children to continuously practice math exercises, children are reinforcing and deepening their learning of mathematical concepts as well as further strengthening their skill set. They are also becoming more comfortable and confident with math and learning to enjoy doing math. Thus, in addition to the above skills, practicing math will:

  • Help children see patterns
  • Build children’s visual representation (i.e. 3 cookies + 1 more cookie = 4 cookies)
  • Lend to making connections with math
  • Support children’s ability to apply basic math skills to complex math concepts (i.e. x + y to y = m x + b)
  • Help children recognize the relationship between math and real life

Therefore, children should make the effort to take a few minutes of their time each day to do math exercises. Doing math will only have a positive impact on their learning of math.

How does Math help children assess their knowledge?

Working out math problems can help children see the progress they are making across a wide-range of skills. Thus, doing math on a regular basis can help children:

  • See their learning of concepts and formulaic procedures evolve
  • Recognize their knowledge of different strategies and appropriately use strategies for problem solving
  • Observe their use of patterns and connections when doing math
  • Check if their answers are reasonable
  • Determine if they are clearly expressing their thought processes and ideas
  • Comprehend the challenges they are facing in learning math

In a nutshell, doing mathematics is pivotal to our daily lives both inside and outside the classroom. Children will cultivate life skills and build self-confidence as well as develop a love for the subject. So, do not put off math any longer – take out a pencil and paper or switch on your computer and start solving math problems!

About the Author:

An avid professional in the field of International Education, Jayana Desai hung up her investment banking heels of 13 years to pursue her dream of educating children. She holds a Master’s degree in International Education from New York University, Steinhardt. She has taught children at the primary grade level in both India and in New York. Her passion for educating children can be seen in the curriculum materials she develops, as well as in her love for teaching yoga to children. Being able to empower children with knowledge through positive learning experiences is Jayana’s goal. She would like them to be able to develop their body and mind, while bringing joy to their lives. Prior to her experience in Education, Jayana worked at two prestigious Investment Banks- JP Morgan and Lehman Brothers. She held various leadership positions in managing strategic, global-scale initiatives.

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About Jayana Desai

An avid professional in the field of International Education, Jayana Desai hung up her investment banking heels of 13 years to pursue her dream of educating children. She holds a Master's degree in International Education from New York University, Steinhardt. She has taught children at the primary grade level in both India and in New York. Her passion for educating children can be seen in the curriculum materials she develops, as well as in her love for teaching yoga to children. Being able to empower children with knowledge through positive learning experiences is Jayana’s goal. She would like them to be able to develop their body and mind, while bringing joy to their lives. Prior to her experience in Education, Jayana worked at two prestigious Investment Banks- JP Morgan and Lehman Brothers. She held various leadership positions in managing strategic, global-scale initiatives.

2 comments on “Mathematics, why it is more than just 1+1!

  1. Sarbaree Mitra on said:

    I am interested in any input you can give on elementary math starting with preschool math.

    • Jayana Desai on said:

      Hi Sarbaree,

      Thank you for your comment and your interests in preschool/elementary Math. Studies show the skills learned in the formative years of children’s life is important to the success later in life. Thus, it is essential children are exposed to numbers and basic Math skills in their pre-school years and build upon those skills as they move up in grade level.

      Preschool math should focus on developing number sense skills (i.e. counting, ordering, and matching numbers), knowledge of patterns and geometric shapes, charting basic data, learning basic measurement, and being able to analyze data. In addition, children should be exposed to connecting math to real life. For instance, defining different shapes and then showing objects that represent the shapes, using objects inside and outside the classroom to support counting, and demonstrating how numbers are used in everyday life (i.e. days, months, money denominations, time, etc.). Pre-school math should also encourage children to discuss results and their knowledge to cultivate critical thinking and communication skills. Furthermore, storybooks that focus on basic math skills are a great way to reinforce student math learning.

      An example activity for children in preschool is to create a pattern using geographic shapes or an object, like buttons. Ask children to explain their pattern to the class. This exercise would develop children’s math skills in geometric shapes, patterns, and number counting, the latter by counting the number of shapes or objects in the pattern. The activity would also foster communication skills. Using art or playing games tend to keep children focused and engaged. I would also recommend practicing Math daily, even if it were for short periods of time.

      Aforementioned, pre-school math is the building block/foundation to what comes in the years ahead. Elementary math should delve deeper and introduce new topics. For instance, teaching number patterns (i.e., evens, odds, tens, skip-counting), addition and subtraction of single digit, double, digit, triple digit, and measurements of geometric shapes. By scaffolding learning, children will learn the fundamental concept and use prior knowledge to continue their learning.

      I hope this has been helpful and I welcome any specific questions you may have on preschool and elementary Math. Also, I would be interested in hearing about your role and/or perspective (i.e., are you a teacher or parent or both, a student) and your thoughts on pre-school and elementary Math.

      Thanks again for your interest.
      Jayana

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