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unhappy kids better at math?

2006-10-19 14:19:15.487845+00 by Dan Lyke 4 comments

Confident students do worse in math; bad news for U.S.. The article itself is the usual mishmash of bad AP reporting, with the take-away something like:

"The implication is not 'Let's go make kids unhappy,"' he said. "It's 'Let's give kids better signals as to how they're performing, relative to the rest of the world."'

I went digging for better source material, and found the report on dead trees and the press conference at which it was released, but no better info.

[ related topics: Current Events Mathematics Education ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2006-10-19 14:43:55.454681+00 by: Larry Burton

Basically, what the report is saying is that if you push kids harder on learning math without worrying about whether or not they are having fun they learn math better but they aren't happy about being pushed so hard.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-10-19 15:15:59.846269+00 by: Dan Lyke

Yeah, that was my eventual take away, which wasn't how I was initially pushed towards that story.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-10-19 22:31:37.596344+00 by: ebradway [edit history]

Having gone so far as completing an undergraduate degree in Math, I think it has more to do with the ability to cope with frustration. "Unhappy" kids deal with more frustration than "happy" kids.

I recently came across a "hierarchy" of emotion that, I think, explains the problems with learning math very well.

At the top of the hierarchy is "knowing". This is the level most of us are at when it comes to things like 1 + 1 or even 5 x 5. We just "know" the answer and can interact with that knowledge "happily".

Just below "knowing" is "believing". This is where you are when 5 x 5 means something like 5 + 5 + 5 + 5 + 5 and you think "5..10..15..20..25!". You don't "know" the answer but you "believe" you can get it. This is the best place to be for learning.

Just below that is "frustration". This is where most people get stuck with math, especially when they get to higher abstractions. You really need to reach "knowing" with the lower levels before moving up in abstract otherwise you keep finding yourself in frustration. This happens when you as "what is 5 cubed?" and the person is still at the "5 + 5 + 5 + 5 + 5" stage of "5 x 5". People who handle frustration well will take a deep breath and work on "5 x 5" for a while and escalate to "knowing" and then jump into "belief" with "5 cubed".

Below "frustration" is "anger". People who stay stuck in "frustration" and can't see the bridge to "belief" tend to drop into anger. They break their pencils, throw their calculators, and crumple up their papers.

Even below that is "depression". Kids who are told they should not be angry but can't see that there's good stuff beyond frustration get depressed over the subject "I'm just no good at math." You find people with dislexia stuck here because they are told they should not get angry all the time. But when the test says "what's 25 + 5" and the student correctly answers "57" (52 + 5), they get stuck in anger and counseled away to depression.

What's funny about this is that the way out of depression is anger. The key is to make sure that you move quickly through anger into frustration. The real key is believing and the key to teaching math is to teach kids to believe they can do it AND build confidence based on what they KNOW.

NOTE: I managed to leave out two negatives in the second to last paragraph... It should make more sense now...

#Comment Re: made: 2006-10-20 02:37:50.77644+00 by: meuon

Very nice summary of the levels, Eric.