I have always LOVED math. From 3rd grade when I rocked the math fact races (the ones where a teacher flipped over a flash card and the first student to shout the answer won). To high school where I took the highest-level math courses offered at my school. To college where I worked as a Calculus tutor to help pay for my tuition. To my career where my favorite tasks are building spreadsheets, crunching numbers, and analyzing data.

So, it really concerns me that one of my daughters (age 8) is already saying things like ‘I hate math’ or ‘I am not good at math’.  I am on a constant quest to figure out how to help her see the benefits of math and to support her in approaching it with a positive, open mind.

In honor of Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month, I thought I would share one of the studies I have run across during my quest.

The study was sponsored by Moody’s Analytics and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM). It surveyed 1,680 11th and 12th grade students that excel at Math and asked them about their math and study habits.

When asked which method works best for math, ‘understanding the underlying concepts behind math formulas’ was at the top with 64% of respondents selecting this answer. 23% selected ‘lots of practice at solving math problems’ while just 4% selected ‘memorizing formulas’. And 7% felt ‘applying math to real world problems to help increase understanding’ was important.

On the topic of getting help when they have trouble understanding a math concept, persistence was key. 29% cited that they kept working on it until they figured it out on their own, 25% stated they would ask a teacher for help, and 17% said they would search for answers on the internet.

And when asked about what contributed most to their interest in math, 51% said they were naturally interested, 25% credited a good teacher, and 11% said they were motivated by the prospect of better college and career opportunities.

Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics, provided additional insights beyond these findings. He suggests the following to help boost math interest and success:

  • Plant the seeds of interest at a young age by doing such things as playing board games, using online programs and gaming sites, or completing brain teasers
  • Demonstrate how math is used in every day activities such as analyzing sports scores or in calculating retail discounts
  • Convey a message that math can be a lot of fun

I apply several of these strategies with my daughter. For example, she often asks how many years it will be before she gets to go away to college. So reminding her about how important math is for college is especially effective. Also, she enjoys time with older kids. Therefore, I have found it helpful to share with her that teenagers recommend lots of math practice and persistence.

I hope the above tips and information will be helpful for you as you work with those students who also have negative thoughts about math.

Have a related tip? Share it with us via Twitter (@couragion). And for more details on the study – check out this infographic!