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Where did your math anxiety come from?

Learning With Meaning AppsHere’s what we’re hearing from some grown ups about our new iGet Math apps: “I don’t get it.”

That’s right, you don’t. We’re not offended… we didn’t make them for you. As an adult, you probably need things to be orderly and goal oriented. A math app should drill your child on math facts until they have them memorized. We grew up with math drills and we know our math facts. What worked for us will work for them, right?

Ah, but did it really work for us? For many of us, we got more than we bargained for when we did our timed tests and high stress math drills. We also got a pretty unhealthy dose of math anxiety. I have spoken with so many adults (my husband included) whose anxiety is so high that they feel ill equipped to even help their elementary school aged children with math homework. “I can’t do math. I was never any good at it.” They can still remember the math group they were part of in the fourth grade and the endless, painful nightly drilling to learn their times tables. Think about it – does the very idea of math make you cringe? Do you tell your kids that no one likes it, but it’s just something we all have to do?

How could this have happened? Well, mostly because adults and kids “get it” in two totally different ways. Adults like having a plan, a goal and a reasonable time estimate. Drills seem like the most efficient way to accomplish any goal. But adults also usually possess the key ingredient to learning and retaining information: motivation. Drills may work as we get older because we are motivated by a better job, a quest for more knowledge, or simply a good grade in a class. Kids like to play – they aren’t motivated by any of these things or by much beyond the knowledge that they can relate to their play. But, play can be enough of a motivator to facilitate learning. Minecraft and legos are great examples of this. These are both environments where kids are allowed to just play, with no real structure. They will happily build away for hours, creating and destroying just for the joy in it. It’s beautiful when you think about it – their motivation is just to be in the present and not worry so much about the future.

So, why can’t our learning and teaching apps function the same way?

Developing our first app (iGet Math: Base 10, a k-1 addition and subtraction app) was an amazing process for me because I got to watch my kids play it. And they all really played it – from my 17 year old with autism down to my 5 year old who was just starting kindergarten. My first grader, who struggles with just about every aspect of school, loved the different tools that we had for picking the base 10 blocks up and moving them across the equation, especially the spaceship. She enjoyed throwing the blocks around the screen, stacking them on top of each other, and changing the blocks into different animal shapes. She especially loved the fact that she did not have to come up with a right answer to play the game. She just had to play and have fun. And she got it. She made connections all on her own that she just wasn’t making in school. Our app helped her to understand math on her own terms, not just to reproduce it on demand. The best part is that she did it without feeling bad about herself.

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