Math has traditionally been taught through verbal and written methods. The problem is that in a typical classroom, there are more students that are visual rather than verbal learners. This misalignment in the method of teaching math can lead to low grades and frustration for students.
Everyone has a different learning style
Classrooms are composed of diverse students with many talents and passions. Student behaviors, like doodling, tell us about a child’s preferred learning styles. There is no single theory on learning styles. However, knowing one’s preference can guide the way we learn as we tend to express and remember experiences, information, and emotions.
The problem is that the American educational system is biased towards linguistic and mathematical modes of instruction and assessment. The shocking part is that in the average American classroom more than half the students are visual learners. Too often a child’s learning style is never discovered. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
To give you an example of how different learning styles can affect a child’s ability to understand math, let’s look at Jason’s story. Jason is 9 years old and has always struggled with math class. He procrastinates with his math homework and his teacher has voiced her concern that he doesn’t pay attention in class. Looking for answers, his parents checked his math notebook and found it full of drawings with barely any equations. His math notebook looked more like an art class notebook.
Jason’s parents scolded him for drawing by telling him to, “work on his math homework, and to stop doodling.”
Apparently this didn’t work. His grades in math didn’t improve and his parents thought, “Maybe he just doesn’t have a talent for math.”
One day, the breakthrough came. Jason’s parents sat down with him to help with math homework. They noticed that he was drawing and counting at the same time – he was using a visual way of learning mathematical concepts. Jason’s parents built on this and cut shapes out of cardboard. Fractions, decimals and percentages started making sense to Jason once he could see them right in front of him.
What Jason and his parents stumbled upon are math manipulatives. Instead of pencil and paper, math manipulatives consist of colorful cubes and shapes specifically designed to teach math to people who learn visually.
Do you know your child’s learning style?
If you find your child struggling to complete his or her math and writing homework, explore multiple ways of expression. Math and writing can be exciting if the students connect with the lesson with their learning style. Here are 3 activities to try.
Observe your child as they do their homework.
Do they procrastinate and doodle like Jason? If they do, they might be visual learners.
Use math manipulatives.
These can be purchased online or made from scratch at home. Use Play-doh or cut and color cardboard shapes.
Solve math problems by grouping objects according to color, size, or shape.
The objects will visualize numbers through sets. Touching objects connects kinesthetic learners to the math problem.
Gigi Carunungan is the co-Founder and Chief Learning Architect of Young Outliers, a design entrepreneur summer camp for children in Palo Alto.