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Reengaging Kids in Maths

Research over the past few decades shows that kids in the Western world are disengaging from mathematics by middle school (intermediate age) and not regaining that interest.

The question is, why?

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University of Sydney researcher Andrew Martin set out to investigate why kids are switching off to maths in his 2012 report published in the Journal of Educational Psychology. And he believes that with some effort, both parents and teachers can turn the situation around.

The results of his study, based on 1601 Australian middle school students from 200 classrooms in 33 schools, showed that the key factor turning kids off maths is self-efficacy: students’ sense that they are competent and able enough to solve mathematical problems. The second element critical to switching students onto maths is the value they attach to the subject, and the third element is students’ love (or lack of love) for the subject.

Martin recommended that to foster and encourage kids in maths, that teachers and parents “restructure learning so as to maximise opportunities for success,” by building on skills that students have already mastered, and helping kids set challenging but realistic goals: a challenge that is well-matched to a child’s skill level, with clear goals and unambiguous feedback.

Also, parents can demonstrate that maths is important in the real world, and make themselves a positive role model for valuing math. In fact, parents’ own interest in math is another important component that Martin identified as important to a child’s interest in math. Did you, as a parent, hate math and pass that on that attitude to your kids, for example?

Here are some tips to foster a love for maths in your child:

Buy your children lego

Building with Lego helps kids to conceptualise big, complex abstractions from small basic parts.

Buy your children the card game Set

Multiple mathematicians have cited the card game Set as particularly inspiring, according to Business Insider. The game provokes the ideas of permutations, combinations and probability. And there is a very good app for it.


Origami is not only a fun and colourful art project: it also conditions a love of geometry, which is especially great for tactile learners.

Use everyday situations

Ask your kids wide open questions that involve estimation and math, as opposed to the specific question that they get at school. For example, “how long will it take to fill this pool?” This kind of open-ended puzzle is tantalising and incorporates a variety of math skills.

Teach your child to play chess

Chess has relatively straight-forward rules that remove chance and build analytical, problem-solving skills.

Familiarise yourself with learning standards

If you know what your child is learning, it will be easier to complement those skills with home activities. Plus, you might even get to up-skill yourself.

Be an example

Many parents hated math at school – try not pass on that attitude to your child. Show that you are confident with routine mathematical tasks like balancing your bank statement. Point out the usefulness of math in everyday life, and the amazing careers that math can lead to – architecture, medicine, fashion design, computer programming, and more.

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