“I’m just not good at math.”
If you have a middle school-aged daughter, and you’ve heard these words come out of her mouth, you might be a little shocked. And you’re definitely not alone. In the United States (as well as Britain and Canada), middle school is widely recognized as a time when girls start losing faith in their math abilities. Even more discouraging, some feel like they can never improve.
What gives? You know your daughter is smart, and have seen her learn easily and enjoyably. So why the sudden pessimistic attitude about math?
The answer, as numerous studies have detailed, is a combination of powerful forces—both external (societal norms, social codes, etc.) and internal (damn those crazy teenage hormones and all the blows to confidence they bring!). The good news is that as frustrating as the situation might be, you can do things to help solve it.
Get used to talking it out
Talking isn’t just helpful for girls to gain clarity about all their waves of new, confusing teenage emotions—it’s essential for understanding math, too. Girls generally begin to process information on the left side of the brain, meaning…
They will be better at deconstructing a new math concept verbally, rather than simply looking at it in a book.
Work from the beginning
Once a middle schooler begins to falter in math, it only gets harder for them to keep up. That’s because math is an incremental skill: You learn it piece by piece. Each new concept is built upon the previous one.
Learning a new concept requires a clear understanding of the concept that came before. If your daughter is feeling frustrated with the problem in front of her, it could be because she doesn’t have a clear understanding of all of the concepts that are being built upon.
Point out building blocks
Break new concepts into smaller pieces, demonstrating how the math skills she already has are built into this new concept. To be successful in algebra, for example, you have to know how to add, subtract, multiply and divide. If she’s comfortable with those skills, point that out, and show her how each of those building blocks will help her get the bigger concept.
Making concepts into smaller building blocks will also allow you to learn what pieces she may not fully understand yet. Once you can identify these, you can take the time to help her learn them before moving forward.
Work with a pro
No matter how well you, your spouse, or her math teacher explains something, if you’re not explaining it in a way that she can understand, the frustration (for everyone) will only build. But working with private tutor who knows how to effectively teach math concepts to your middle school aged daughter can make all the difference.