On a podcast final yr, a beautiful chap named Eric requested me what recommendation I’ve for folks.
I at all times stumble over that query. Recommendation requires specifics. What’s your child into? What excites, bores, and terrifies them? Who’re their heroes, greatest mates, and aspirational Disney characters? What math have they loved, hated, and regarded with chilly indifference? I have to know all that (and extra) earlier than I’ve any particular thought the way to assist.
However I do have recommendation of a kind.
To thrive in math, you want the know-how. Fixing techniques of equations. Writing geometric proofs. Manipulating spreadsheet formulation. The entire understandings and skills that assist you to resolve mathematical issues.
However you additionally want the want-to. Arithmetic must fulfill a want, a curiosity, an impulse. You need to expertise mathematical work with a form of satisfaction, as one thing greater than calls for and drudgery.
So the place’s your child at proper now? Are they brimming with vitality and pleasure? Effectively, then purchase a guide of puzzles. Have them dive into deep downside fixing. Get them occurring Beast Academy. Anybody with sufficient want-to is able to construct the know-how.
However extra typically I see the opposite mixture: precocious expertise, with out a lot intrinsic love for the topic. Such a child could love math, within the sense that they love being good at it, however that’s a fragile love. The second the success dries up, the love will too.
What to do with such a child?
Attempt to construct some pleasure. Watch Numberphile. Play sudoku. Learn sensible stick-figure-illustrated books (Randall Munroe’s, clearly). Discover experiences of math that may develop an affinity for the topic itself, a pleasure that’s extra strong, a want-to that goes past mere pleasure of their know-how.
Eric additionally requested me what turns youngsters off of arithmetic, and that is what I advised him:
It comes again to the bizarre match ambiance that we’ve arrange…. You might have 25 college students all about the identical age. For bureaucratic causes, it’s extra environment friendly to place them multi functional classroom, with one trainer instructing them the identical factor…. So that you get college students who may very well be great mathematicians however who as a substitute really feel like, “Eh, it’s not my topic. I’m not one in every of ‘the mathematics youngsters’….”
But it surely’s a man-made shortage.
Once you get into the grownup world, there’s a real shortage of mathematical understanding and mathematical excellence. Each group would like to have extra individuals who know arithmetic.
I strive — with much more failure than success — to remind youngsters of this. The match ambiance of faculty math has nothing to do with “math,” and the whole lot to do with “college.”
Guard the candle of your want-to, and the know-how will carry you far.