Why Most Children Dislike Math and How to Help

Written by Angela Wadden

9/6/20213 min read

How were they able to build the Pyramids? How were they able to land on the moon? Mathematics is a prime reason that humans have been able to reach such incredible feats. Math is an essential part of our world, so why do many students dislike the subject? It has become one of the few subjects in school where students decide that they are just not good at it, according to Stanford Professor Jo Boaler (Gonser, 2021). Three reasons that students dislike math are because there is only one correct answer, they are taught only one way to solve problems, and they cannot connect it to the real world.

Students tend to dislike math because, unlike subjects such as English, math only allows for one definite answer. 2019 Oxford Learning furthered this by saying that English provides a space for students to be creative and make mistakes while still receiving partial credit. However, even though math problems only have one correct answer, teachers can present students with different problem-solving strategies to enhance their understanding. Despite the countless ways to solve math problems, some teachers focused on teaching students one way to solve equations which can become mundane, repetitive, and discouraging. It is essential that teachers keep an open mind and be willing to accept different strategies to help students find the best way to solve problems according to their interests. This way, students can have a deep understanding of how specific strategies work and can apply them to other problems. It also makes them better critical thinkers and specifically more skilled mathematical thinkers.

Another reason that students tend to detest math is that they have trouble connecting math problems to the world around them, and solving equations seems irrelevant to many careers. When students are struggling, they tend to say “I will never use this stuff” as an excuse. Mathletics provides one example of a student who had this exact mindset, and ten years later, he came back to tell his teacher that he finally understood why math was important. He was a crane operator, utilizing Euclidean geometry, angles, shapes, and precise measurements almost every day. Math is even prevalent in everyday tasks such as taxes, personal finance, buying and selling goods, and the list goes on. Unfortunately, young students in the classroom do not realize this. Instead of restricting mathematics to memorizing rules and procedures, teachers should provide students with the opportunity to experience other types of mathematical understanding to help expose them to problems that require finding solutions to ‘authentic tasks’ and ones that ‘model real-world problems’ (Copur-Gencturk, 2021).

Finding ways to get students to enjoy mathematics is essential because it incorporates critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which students will use for the rest of their lives. The application of mathematics in careers and everyday tasks is also a predominant factor in getting more students to like the subject. Teaching multiple strategies to solve problems for an enhanced understanding and connecting what they learn in the classroom to the real world are just two ways that we can start to increase the liking of mathematics among students.