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Making Mathematics Fun

National Mathematics Day is celebrated on 22 December every year. This day marks the birth anniversary of the famed mathematician, Srinivasa Ramanujan.
Ramanujan was born in 1887 in Erode, Tamil Nadu. He lived a life that was devoted to mathematics. Although he did not receive a formal education, he had mastered trigonometry and had developed many theories by the age of 12. In 1913, Ramanujan wrote to Godfrey H. Hardy, a British mathematician, who helped Ramanujan enrol into Trinity College. Shortly after that, Ramanujan was elected as a member of the London Mathematical Society and even became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1918, thereby becoming the youngest person to achieve this feat. Despite his short-lived life, Ramanujan managed to leave a long-lasting impression and today, his name is synonymous with ‘mathematics’.
While mathematics is taught as a core subject, many students end up taking it too seriously, such that they develop a fear or a phobia for the subject.
What is math phobia?
Math phobia can be defined as an anxiety or a fear which hinders a student from solving a given numerical problem with confidence. Students, after reaching a certain class, tend to develop a dislike towards math, which eventually turns into a fear for the subject.
Reasons for Math Phobia:
Students can develop a fear for the subject due to many reasons like:
  1. The way it is taught in school
Math is often taught the textbook way. When the method of teaching is stressful or tiresome, students tend to develop a dislike towards the subject.
  1. The fear of making mistakes or being embarrassed in front of classmates
Students are usually told off for making mistakes. Some students fear math for the embarrassment a wrong answer may cause. Teachers should encourage the students to make mistakes, so they get to learn from it.
  1. Definite way to approach a problem
A mathematical problem usually has multiple approaches. Students should be encouraged to come up with different ways to solve the problem. Having a fixed/definite approach to solving a problem leads to fear among the students.
  1. Inability to solve problems
Sometimes, students are given numerical assignments that seem slightly complex than what was taught in class. Inability to solve such problems results in math phobia among students.
  1. Doing calculations without being taught how to
Often, students are given sums and are asked to solve it without being assisted on how it can be solved. Students who do not remember concepts or who have a poor recall may find such situations to be stressful and this can result in math phobia.
  1. Overall negative attitude towards the subject
Upon reaching a higher class, students tend to develop a preconceived notion regarding math and its level of difficulty. This slowly develops into a negative attitude towards the subject, where they start disliking the subject.
How to tackle the phobia?
As imaginary as it may sound, math phobia is real and is bound to make the students dislike the subject unless something is done to change the way students perceive the subject.
Here are some ways to make math interesting:
  1. Breaking down the concept
A topic usually consists of different concepts. Teachers can break down the concept into smaller aspects and can introduce the concept in a portion-by-portion manner. This may be a little difficult to implement, given the fact that each unit has a certain number of hours allocated for it. But when such a system is implemented, it becomes easier to make the students understand the concept.
  1. Tackling the challenging problems together
Tackling the difficult sums in the classroom helps students build their confidence. Students tend to develop fear for the subject when they are given difficult problems and are asked to solve the same on their own.
  1. Create a formula song
Remembering formulas is crucial when it comes to geometry and trigonometry. Creating a song or poem on the same will not only help the students like the subject but will also help in easy recall. Teachers can encourage students to come up with songs for concepts like HCF, LCM, BODMAS, etc.
  1. Encourage mistakes
Teachers can give sums to the students and ask them to come up with wrong solutions. The correct solution can be discussed after all possible wrong solutions have been developed. Encouraging students to make mistakes will develop their confidence and the ability to do the sums in the right way.
  1. Going back to the roots
It is important for students to remember their basics. Teachers can conduct games or activities in the classroom to brush up old concepts and to strengthen the mathematical skills, before beginning a new concept.
  1. Encourage creative approaches
Students can be given problems and can be asked to come up with creative approaches to solve the same. Teachers can keep this as a math activity to find the most creative problem solver. By inducing aspects like gifts, students will be encouraged to think and develop creative methods.
  1. Blending in creativity
Teachers can come up with creative ways to teach concepts, using origami to explain concepts like 3D shapes (cubes, pyramids, cones, cylinders, etc) or making use of the school playground to explain concepts pertaining to distance or using items like candies or biscuits to explain elementary arithmetic.
  1. Make ‘practice’ the mantra
Mathematical skills can be developed only through continuous practice. Teachers should let the students know that they are always around to help them. Students should inculcate the habit of practicing math daily.
By following these tips, students would be able to overcome the fear for math and can become passionate about the subject.