Have you ever wondered why some people are born with an innate ability for Maths i.e. Maths brain that determines how he or she performs in school? Conversely, has it ever occur to your that your kid may just not have the Maths brain which answers why he or she is not performing at school? This is a topic that has always puzzled many parents and also educators like us. As Maths Specialists, having been in this industry for a decade, we have taken a keen interest into such topics to help shape our understanding of students – their motivation (or lack of) behind this subject and has framed our philosophy behind our teaching values and approach towards our students. As such, we are penning our research findings.
There are polar evidences on either spectrum whether or not some people are born with a talent for music or art or athletics or mathematics. Some scientific research attempt to prove that some of us arrive in the world with better Maths skills than others. In which, Maths is more of a culture of belief in genetic determinism rather than a culture of hard work. Although we can dwell on this area more and illustrate the kind of experiments scientists used to derive at this conclusion, this will take away from the main thrust of the message.
What eventually stood out from these research articles are not whether there is, in fact, a genetic component to Maths ability. Lots of factors are involved in Maths achievement, some of which are undoubtedly genetic. To what degree will genetics affect our outcome will always be questionable. The problem is when you believe that Maths abilities are fixed, you may be compromising your children’s potential in Maths. One source parallels this ideology to obesity: “People can no more control a genetic predisposition that causes them to struggle with arithmetic than they can control an inherited tendency to put on pounds.” This obesity ideology makes a clear point. Just like an obese person needs to work hard at keeping their weight in check, a student weaker in Maths will require more effort for to arrive at the required standard, and this is not impossible.
One of the wonderful things about human is that a great deal of our well-being and achievements depends on our psychology. Personal perseverance and effort plays a key important role towards success. In the early stages of developing mathematical competence, perhaps IQ plays a bigger role. However, motivation and study skills play a more important role in students’ subsequent growth.” The brain is like a muscle, strengthened through effort, in which intelligence can be nurtured and developed. When one believes that intelligence is malleable, it more naturally follows that effort activates intelligence. Struggles are not roadblocks but stepping stones on which skill and intelligence are built. Finding something difficult becomes a challenge, rather than a threat.
Researchers also found that where a student’s motivation came from made a difference in their improvement. Students who said they wanted to get better at Maths simply because they were interested in the subject ended up improving more than those who wanted to get better in the interest of good grades. Other external environment that can help students are individually tailored educational approaches, in which students could learn at different rates using different techniques.
It is heartening to know that brilliant mathematicians, who consume themselves with Maths for decades do not succeed with ideas like a flash of inspiration. The truth is, it has taken them a really a long process of thinking and practicing, fuelled by passion and interest by this subject. Our research strongly suggests and have convicted our belief that genes don’t predetermine performance. Not all of us can be Math geniuses, but we don’t have to be prodigies to excel in Maths. We need motivation, practice and a positive mind set to push ourselves to our potential. Start with these right and healthy beliefs to empower our younger generations to strive towards their goals. With hard work, persistence and the right guidance, to achieve what their minds set out to.