# Shifting Your Math Mindset

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*Written by Patty Pearcy, President & CEO of SimplyFun*

**Are you a math hater?**

Embarrassing to admit, considering my position, but for a time I was a math hater too. Thankfully, I am recovering now, but the sting of my early math challenges has clearly left a scar. Following is my story of failure and then surprisingly success at math, which I hope helps you see that it is often not about our capability, but about how we learn and engage with math that determines our success. And that math after all can be something to be loved.

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**Statement of Fact Number 1: It’s in our nature to dislike things that we are not good at. **

Who likes failure? As a kid, I loved and always excelled in math classes. My desire when going to college was to be a math teacher. I signed up for calculus as the first step and grinded my way through the first semester of differentials. In the second semester I met integrals and there the trouble began. I just didn’t get it. The book tried to explain it, the TA tried to explain it, the internet tried to explain it (oh sorry Wiki help didn’t exist then) and finally, the professor tried and failed. His advice as I was facing the only C in my academic career was to give math up as I didn’t have the head for it. So much for the future that I had planned.

Roll ahead a few years and I’m now facing a graduate school admissions requirement for calculus proficiency. I now hate math, especially calculus, because I’m not good at it and don’t get it! Total despair follows as I have no choice! Either go back and take undergraduate calculus or take a calculus exam (and pass it) before the start of the first semester of graduate classes. The proficiency test option won that vote, so I asked for the name of the book used in the class to try and teach myself. Chapter 3 footnote, a business example using integrals was shared and lightning struck. I got it! I ended up taking the proficiency exam and acing it. Maybe I’m not so bad at math after all? Maybe I could like math again?

**Statement of Fact Number 2: We are all born with an innate ability to do math.**

If we all have the ability to do math, and even demonstrate our curiosity about math at a very young age by sorting and counting stuff, then why do so many people say they hate math? My theory is that somewhere along the math journey we are faced with a concept that doesn’t translate and that is likely because of how it is explained. We all learn differently: some visually, some using manipulatives, some using examples and some just get it. In my case, I needed some real-world examples of the integrals concept, but my math professor didn’t feel like he needed to provide them if I truly had math talent. The underlying theory was crystal clear to him, so why didn’t I get it? Sadly, his perception of my ability became my new definition of my capability!

**Statement of Fact Number 3: What we think about math makes a difference.**

What we think about math can impact both ourselves and others, most importantly your kiddos. If you say “oh gosh, you are just like me, I’m not good at math” then for sure your kiddos will not be good at math. If you say how boring math is, then for sure your kiddos will say it is boring too, and avoid it like the plague. If you believe that math has no value in the world now that we have computers and calculators on our phones, then your kiddos won’t value their time in math class either. In my case, a person I respected told me I was not good at math. No reason to doubt an educator’s assessment of my skills. But here is what happened. I walked right out of math and directly into accounting and economics, both heavy math laden disciplines, and excelled. And while I might not be solving any of the remaining Millenium Prize math problems soon, that doesn’t mean I don’t have some solid math chops. That professor was just plain wrong! But look how his negative thoughts grew the seeds to encourage me to become a math hater. Lesson? What YOU think about math is often shaped more by others than by your own likes and capability.

**Solution for being a math hater? Get over it!**

Hate math if you will, but first think about what the cause of that dislike might really be? Was it a concept you couldn’t understand at the time causing a longer-term fail? Learning math is basically a layering of theories, one on top of the other. Did the bottom layer of your math cake implode with the weight of the advanced math concepts that came next? Was the teacher so boring you couldn’t stay awake? Were your friends not good at math and put you down for being so smart at it (meaning uncool)? Or have you lost some math skill by relying on your smart phone to do the work?

Dig deep here. What is it that you truly dislike about math? Surely you can find some redeeming features because it is part of so many things we do. Let me help:

- But for math we could not make beautiful music.
- But for math we could not make amazing art.
- But for math we could not cook something yummy.
- But for math we could not manage our finances.
- But for math we could not solve complex problems.
- But for math we could not pursue hundreds of amazing careers that can change and benefit our world!

Liking or hating math is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Just like anything else, there are things to love and hate all at the same time. Remember, your feelings about math were likely the result of actions and thoughts you didn’t control. But guess what, you still have time to correct that!

**Challenge: up your math game!**

So, give poor math a break, and don’t be a hater. Math may not be your jam but don’t vote it off the planet. Instead, try upping your math game by playing a few math games that don’t involve the things you likely dislike, such as the appearance of actual numbers, operators, equations, and calculations in the game. Select some games that use math concepts but in a visual and even artistic way. With a little laughter during play, you may decide there is something to be loved about math after all, just as I did!

Here are a few games from our SimplyFun line based on math concepts that contain NO NUMBERS OR CALCULATIONS!

- Pelican Cove
- Mirror Mansion
- Watch My Wings
- Digger's Garden Match (well, we do count a little here)
- SlideAscope
- Ocean Limbo
- Grill Party
- Katachi
- Glow Spotters
- Kilter (our all-time favorite!)

## Even more math

Math can be fun and cool while simultaneously pulling kids away from screens. Win-win! For even more math tips and ideas, check out:

Cool Math Games that Encourage Less Screen Time