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Math's Bad Rap

September 23, 2021

In a 2010 study, 30% of Americans would rather clean their bathroom than do math.

We all know it’s true. Math has a bad reputation. And not the cool, James Dean kind of bad. Nope. The BORING kind of bad. The HARD kind of bad. And, the most vexing of all, the ‘I’M NOT GOOD AT THIS SO I’M NOT GOING TO TRY’ kind of bad.

But here’s the good news. If you dislike math, it’s likely not totally your fault. You probably don’t enjoy mathematics because you learned it in its strictest form. Memorize this formula. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. It’s probably the case that no one taught you the real-world applications of math in school. So why care about something that doesn’t have relevance to your everyday life?

Many of us believe the hype that math is hard. Some of us might buy into the myth that math is for some, and not for others. If you are a girl, there is a good chance that around middle school you lost your confidence in math and possibly stopped taking more challenging courses. It’s in these tween and teen years that you potentially started believing you weren’t good at math, but at the time that was fine because math wasn’t cool anyway. As IF.

This is where in some cases education has missed the mark teaching mathematics. Many of us were likely taught to equate speed with ability. Many can recall the sweaty palms and racing heart associated with fast-paced timed tests. But math is so much more than rote memorization. As Neil deGrasse Tyson states, “Math is the language of the universe. So the more equations you know, the more you can converse with the cosmos.” Sounds pretty cool to me.

We need to present math as a language to be learned. Just like traditional written and spoken language, a firm understanding of the content opens up opportunities to better understand the world. Math is the language of numbers, space, logic and reason. We need to build a strong foundation for understanding math at an early age, because unlike some other subjects in school if you don’t have a firm grasp on the fundamentals, you’ll never be able to progress into advanced courses.

Imagination Station is here to help dispel the common misconceptions about math and make it fun and engaging for kids of all ages. Through January 17, 2022, we’re hosting an exhibit called Math Moves!. This exciting exhibition uses a variety of hands-on activities to make experimenting with concepts at the heart of math memorable and fun. It encourages visitors to use their minds, their bodies and their imaginations to investigate basic math ideas and find their meaning and relevance. It also draws upon the power of teamwork, using partner activity and conversation to advance mathematical understanding.

When we provide opportunities for people to see the creativity and fun in math, they are more likely to approach learning with enthusiasm. Many educators have known this for years, and others are starting to recognize the value of teaching for relevancy and a broader understanding. This shift in thinking will open up the opportunities of mathematics to more students, and appeal to many that may have been resistant to more didactic approaches to instruction. In the inspiring words of British mathematician Marcus du Sautoy, “Mathematics has beauty and romance. It’s not a boring place to be, the mathematical world. It’s an extraordinary place; it’s worth spending time there.” Sounds good to me!