Why You Think You Suck at Math

And the real reason you struggle...

And… we’re back! I trust the summer has renewed you all and that you are taking advantage of starting the 2016-17 school year with a clean slate. Remember to work hard and use your noggin! Meanwhile, watch this video about Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers and his research on the 10,000 hour rule.

This fantastic animation does a nice job explaining what I frequently say. Anyone can be good at math. The chief difference between someone who gets math and someone who doesn’t get math is the number of hours spent on task…

1. Stop Expecting to Be Perfect the First Day of a Brand New Topic

The ability to do math is an acquired skill, much like learning new football plays, playing the guitar, or becoming awesome at your favorite video game. Like any acquired skill, the more you practice the better you’ll become. Period. There’s no such thing as testing poorly, only a lack of practice.

Many students think they spend a lot of time studying, and yet they still struggle. However, as the animation implies, many people’s hour of math practice is more like 50 minutes of SnapChat, Facebook, and texting and about 10 minutes of time on task. The students getting the best grades aren’t any smarter… they’ve just had more hours of practice!

The solution to student math woes is more practice. Not a better teacher… they’ve already done their 10,000  hours. Not a better school… SHS is a great place to learn math. Not a dummied down curriculum… nothing worth doing is ever easy. They need more time on task.

Think of it this way. If you joined the gym and never lifted weights, would your muscles get stronger? Neither will the brain get stronger without deliberate practice.

2. Talent (or IQ) is Overrated

This pill is hard to swallow, but talent is overrated. If someone does better than you, then quite simply they have spent more time in deliberate practice than you. Most students see themselves as above average which is of course not mathematically possible (Lake Wobegon Effect). Another analogy? I am reminded of the ‘pretty big’ dude at the gym. When ‘pretty big’ dude encounters ‘really big’ dude, ‘pretty big’ dude may assume his larger, stronger counterpart must be using anabolic steroids. Probably, ‘really big’ dude has been training longer, never misses a workout, skips the potato chips and beer, etc.

Saying that someone who is better at a math than you is just is smarter is really the same excuse as accusing somebody who is better at a sport than you of being a cheater.

3. As Long as You’re Good Enough, Deliberate Practice is All That Matters

Good enough? What is that supposed to mean? It means that assuming a person has reasonable expectations, they’ll do just fine in Algebra or in any other subject provided they are willing to do the work and put in the hours. Granted, some people pick up on concepts faster than others, but everyone will eventually learn the concept unless they give up. In the research, there were no 10,000-hour failures or 7-minute savants. Moreover, there is a cumulative effect. This means that the more you practice at math, the faster your learning will accelerate.

Here’s another practicing analogy. Infants begin walking around the age of 12 months, right? Early developing toddlers may walk as early as 10 months, while others may not walk until 14 months. What mother would have her toddler give up trying to walk if he couldn’t do it in the 10th month? Giving up in math because it’s not instantly easy is just as ridiculous as placing that toddler in the crib until their 18th birthday for not being able to walk at 10 months.

So work hard, put in the hours, and I promise you’ll be as good as you want to be. The obstacle is the way.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are deemed offensive or off-topic.