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Why is Math such a headache? Elementary school and beyond

Hey guys, Dimitra here !
Let's talk about Mathematics ! A word that still stresses the lot of us, no matter how old we get!It comes from the Greek noun "μάθημα" (phonetically pronounced mah-thee-mah), and it means study, learning, knowing, class. It is a science that refers to the study of numbers and quantities, of structures and patterns, of shape, space, and arrangement;  it typically involves abstract logic, measurements and rigorous calculations for observing, understanding, deducting and generalizing!

Oh that's a handful, my brain spins ..! 

Well it's okay, we'll get through this together. The reason why Math is such an important subject in school and academics is simply because Math is all around us! Look at the room you are currently in, the buildings built around you, the roads, the cars, the traffic lights, your favorite painting, your cellphone, your laptop, that huge flat monitor of yours, the antenna, ehm...  even Super Bowl...l! Yes, modern society as we know it would not have been possible without the extensive study of math throughout the centuries! Complex societies require complex math!  And it is true, as you get older you might find math to be more and more of an estranged entity.... so what do you do? 

->You place all your hopes to your little ones- whose brain absorbs new concepts and knowledge like a sponge And then why is math a difficult subject for them too? 

A lot of elementary and high school students world-wide are overwhelmed by the curriculum requiring mathematical problem solving. Mathematical - problem - solving. Cruikshank & Sheffield in their work in 1992, suggest that a mathematical problem is not simply related to figures; it can be any mathematics-related question or situation that may or may not involve logical reasoning and physical properties; it can refer to any realistic situation that requires planning, calculations and deductions to be solved.

 The process for solving a mathematical problem involves 4 distinct parts: 

1) First, analyzing the data given and understanding what the problem is about
2) Second, figuring out a plan on how to approach the desirable solution/answer
3) Third, solving the problem following the devised plan, using the tools and knowledge available to you
4) Finally, evaluating the correctness of the solution. In other words, looking back and assessing whether the answer you got makes sense, or if something went wrong during the 2nd or 3rd steps. 

Students may have difficulty in any step along this process. They might not be able to understand what the problem is asking; or not be able to analyze the information presented due to lack of experience or imagination. A lot of students have difficulty in breaking down the meaning of particular keywords-terms in the problem description, and so they are not able to interpret the message into necessary mathematical formulations. Others are overwhelmed by long problem descriptions, or are not well-organized when breaking down a problem and end up guessing an answer to avoid the tedious process of critical thinking. Finally, some student lack interest altogether in understands or solving a mathematical problem, so it would be up to the parent or teacher to try to find more realistic problems the student can relate to or be interested into. 

All the above can be an indication to the educator or parent, of where the potential weakness problem lies, and why a student cannot solve a problem. When students do not fully comprehend a problem, they tend to make guesses of what the answer might be without the involvement of mathematical thinking processes. In such cases, it is important to first improve the student's comprehension and text reading skills. It doesn't necessarily mean that the student is weak in math and general calculations, but rather that the student might be weak in comprehensive, analytical and reading skills.If the student tends to make rushed guesses even after improving on his analytical skills, then this can be an indication that the student lacks interest in addressing mathematical problems, or that the problem is too long and complex while the student's attention span is short. In such cases, try to replace long textbook problems with short realistic ones, closer to the student's everyday interests.  And remember, if there are no obvious indications of why a student might be behind in math (or other subjects) in the long term, then it may be the case that he/she is limited by other factors, such as a big size of a classroom, or  not receiving enough attention by the teacher/tutor, or  even that the teaching methods are not compatible with the student's learning process. 

[1]. Crulikshank, D. E. & Sheffeild, L. J. (1992). Teaching and learning elementary school. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company.
[2]. Phonapichat, P., Wongwanich, S., & Sujiva, S. (2014). An Analysis of Elementary School Students’ Difficulties in Mathematical Problem Solving. Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences, 116, 3169-3174.  

For those interested, here are a few more reads on this topic:
[3]. Intaros, P., Inprasitha, M., & Srisawadi. 2013. Students’ Problem Solving Strategies in Problem Solving Mathematics Classroom. 5th World Conference on Educational Sciences -WCES 2013 ( 
[4]. Tambychika, T., Meerahb, T.S.M. (2010). Students’ Difficulties in Mathematics Problem- Solving: What do they Say? In Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences 8(2010) 142–151. International Conferenceon Mathematics Education Research 2010 (ICMER 2010) ( 

I hope you guys enjoyed the read. Let me know in the comments below what do YOU think, or what are YOUR experiences as a teacher, tutor, parent or student! 
I'll see you next time!

Dimitra E
Math, Computer Science & Electrical Engin.
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