(ROCKWALL/HEATH, TX – Jan. 31, 2016) It is a common misconception that math is a strictly left-brained activity, reserved only for the structural, logical side of our brain and not the creative side. The idea that only left-brained people are talented at math is a myth—math has more than one component. When you describe math as a left-brained activity, you’re talking about the activity of arithmetic—doing computation. That type of math is very strongly a left-brained activity.
Mathematical thinking, on the other hand, requires using the right side, the creative side, of the brain. Visualizing a problem, creatively re-conceiving it, doing drawings or breaking problems into its basic components are creative (right brained) math skills.
Many years ago, I had a student say to me, “Whenever a problem is like the one in the book or like the ones the teacher shows me, I can do it fine. But whenever there is a twist on the problem, I can’t do it anymore.”
This student was locked into a very procedural, left-brained approach to problem-solving. She was parroting back what the teacher told her, rather than engaging in creative thought and mathematical thinking to solve the problem. In the short term it can be effective to memorize the algorithmic way of doing problems, but without continued practice the memorized method can be forgotten, leaving them unable to approach the problem a different way.
Instead of only memorization and parroting formulas, we need to help our children focus on improving their numerical fluency, mental math ability, and on developing number sense, so that they have the intellectual framework needed to approach a math problem in ways that use the creative side of their brain.
As time goes on, these basic skills will help a child to be able to attack questions they have never seen before. They will be able to bring together all the skills and knowledge they have accumulated and creatively approach problems with confidence. Developing and engaging in creative problem solving won’t just help them “survive” their math classes, it will help them to feel challenged and confident in their ability to do math.
Additionally, this type of thinking will serve children well beyond their math classes. As students grow up and move into the workforce, they find that employers are looking for employees who can think on their feet and apply creative problem solving methods to their work. This type of thinking is not learned overnight; it comes from years of encountering and interacting with problems using right-brained thinking as well as a mastery of left-brained problem-solving techniques. Many people can solve a problem, but it’s those who can contribute original thought and creativity to the problem who truly stand out in work and in life.
We should never surrender math to the left-brained folks and let them have all the fun! Help your children be proud of their creativity and encourage it with their problem-solving rather than use it as an excuse to distance themselves from a very important life skill.
By Blue Ribbon News guest columnists Bob and Becky Barnes with Mathnasium Learning Center in Rockwall. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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