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Learning Math Relies on the Reiteration of Failure to Learn

Reflections from a DreamBox Summer Intern - Part 1

When I tell people that I am a math major, they normally have one of two reactions: “Why on earth would you choose that?” or, “I wish I was good at math!”. It’s disheartening to see how people believe that the ability to learn math is innate. Even in my own university students that I TA, most of their mistakes in mathematics tend to be because of a lack of confidence, rather than a lack of practice.

But, honestly, I can’t really blame them—if I had told middle school me that I was planning on graduating with a degree in mathematics, she would not have been a fan.

Up until middle school, most of my math classes were very similar: there would be a lesson, a worksheet we’d work on with the other people at our table, and then we’d have a timed speed test, and an actual exam at the end of the unit. And so, though I had always been good at math, I hated it. I found it to be disinteresting, a place where frustration between classmates over a worksheet was commonplace, and most of all, a subject that lacked creativity. At that point, math seemed little more than busy work.

It wasn’t until I took calculus my junior year of high school that things really clicked. Suddenly, math was more than a just a class, it was the study of something much bigger: it was the study of change. Math could show me how things could move, how you could estimate the revenue of a company, and it was a part of everything. There was more than a worksheet– there was a world that relied on mathematics as a system to show that things were right.

Now, however, with education technology being ubiquitous, the idea of using worksheets seems far more outdated. I am genuinely envious of the students who can grow up learning math with the help of DreamBox—to have math be taught so conceptually, rather than drilled facts not only cements an understanding of concepts that are built upon in their futures, but also lets them experience math as a tool outside of their everyday homework.

After all, learning math relies on the reiteration of failure to learn, and so do all other STEM classes. But unfortunately, failure on a worksheet or an exam does not trigger a response to learn in most students, but defeat. And this defeat is an issue that doesn’t just last for the lesson, but for the rest of their lives. But defeat in a game? That triggers that urge to move forward. They want to learn the concept so that they can move up in the game. It personalizes a subject that at first look seems scary, mechanical, and forced.

In my time at DreamBox, I’ve learned so much more about how math can be taught to students, and the struggles both teachers and students face when it comes to this subject. Furthermore, I’ve learned that it’s important to see math as more than just numbers, rather, it should be seen as a subject that teaches that failure is an important step towards learning itself.

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