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Why do so many people find maths difficult?

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    with me it is difficult to explain. i was taken ill in primary school and so missed out a lot of work..addition, multiplication, subtraction and division - it's all Greek to me. i then missed out of maths in year 7 having to do remedial maths catching up on the work i missed in primary school - and missing out in year 9 because there wasn't enough teachers to teach bottom set maths. but then i moved school and was told i had a "natural gift" for the subject, and i enjoyed it a lot more. with private tuition i gained a B at GCSE and was told that if i'd been given a little bit of encouragement and support from year 7, i could have possibly gotten an A.

    so in my experience, i think it is disliked amongst school children because people aren't very good at it, and give up too easily. but then, it is the same with other subjects; modern languages, sciences and technology - you either have a gift for it...or you struggle with it.
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    At least at GCSE, many topics seem pointless.

    I know it's all about teaching the basics, so that you can learn more applied stuff at A-Level and beyond, although numerous times at GCSE our teacher would start a new topic and everyone would be like "Huh? When are we ever going to use this?"

    In many other subjects, the use of what you're being taught is clear.
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    (Original post by Mush)
    I'm probably right in assuming that NO new ideas arose in your high school English subjects. 30 people in a class doing the same essay on the same text, using the same prescribed structure and interpretations that has been taught in the syllabus year in year out with the common goal of being taught how to pass an exam, and not how to be successfully and independently critical of a text.

    The common theme here is that it's HIGH SCHOOL. Nothing original is supposed to come out of high school, it's just a basis for higher education. Once you get to university in English, THAT'S when you start being taught how to become an independent-thinking critic of literature, or a master of the language.

    And it's the same with maths. In high school, maths is nothing. At university you go on to subjects that ARE useful. This is where your Engineers learn how maths can be translated into useful things such as iPods, aircraft, houses and buildings, digital systems, mobile phones, cars, boats, bridges, computers, and practically everything man-made that you use in this day and age. University is where your pure mathematicians form the basis of the next major development in financial modelling which allows us to predict, with some degree of accuracy, the future of economics. Game theory, where we form theories which determine the best strategy to take whilst considering the strategies of others, which is the entire basis of politics, ethics, economics, biology, etc. Or where they take probability theory and statistics and apply it to fields such as insurance which determines the price of your premiums based on how likely it is that you're going to claim on that policy given your lifestyle situation. To neuroscience which is based on logic theory to describe how the brain processes information etc.

    Even when a mathematician does something that is apparently useless, and even the mathematician himself doesn't think there is an application for it. Some Engineer or so will come along and read this mathematicians contribution and combine it with his own work to come out with something that eventually has a place in every household. Or something that embeds itself in the design of every car.

    Mathematics is useful, mathematics NEEDS creativity, otherwise it would fail as a subject, and the human race would be far from where they are just now:

    "There is no branch of mathematics, however abstract, which may not someday be applied to the phenomena of the real world." Nikolai Lobachevsky
    Of course nothing specifically original comes out of English either, but you are encouraged to discuss at least. High school maths doesn't do this; it's generally 'sit and work through a list of essentially identical equations'.
    I'm in total agreement with you that you don't actually learn ANYTHING at school, really; the whole system is a mess, but I don't understand why you're bringing degrees into this discussion so much.
    The point is, I'm sure mathematical subjects might be very interesting at degree level, but at school they're the most boring subjects of all because of the lack of any encouragement of discussion.
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    (Original post by cpj1987)
    Of course nothing specifically original comes out of English either, but you are encouraged to discuss at least. High school maths doesn't do this; it's generally 'sit and work through a list of essentially identical equations'.
    I'm in total agreement with you that you don't actually learn ANYTHING at school, really; the whole system is a mess, but I don't understand why you're bringing degrees into this discussion so much.
    The point is, I'm sure mathematical subjects might be very interesting at degree level, but at school they're the most boring subjects of all because of the lack of any encouragement of discussion.
    Well this is entirely dependent on the teacher.

    Some English teachers will tell students what opinion to have, how to structure an expression of this opinion, and how to best please an examiner.

    And then you'll have maths teachers who will engage the student in discussions about mathematics. There are many great discussions to be had, philosophical, ethical, moral, logical, historical, etc.

    And then vice versa you'll have english teachers who engage the students with talk of creativity, encouraging the formation of individual interpretations, and maths teachers who give you a sheet of examples and tell you to piss of and have it done by monday.
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    (Original post by Mush)
    Well this is entirely dependent on the teacher.

    Some English teachers will tell students what opinion to have, how to structure an expression of this opinion, and how to best please an examiner.

    And then you'll have maths teachers who will engage the student in discussions about mathematics. There are many great discussions to be had, philosophical, ethical, moral, logical, historical, etc.

    And then vice versa you'll have english teachers who engage the students with talk of creativity, encouraging the formation of individual interpretations, and maths teachers who give you a sheet of examples and tell you to piss of and have it done by monday.
    Unfortunately it is often hard to engage students in these 'interesting discussions' and still get them to pass the actual exam. If I had to choose between a teacher who was going to tell me how to get an A in my qualification and one who was going to go off on a tangent (i.e. talk about material that is not in the syllabus), I know I would go for the former. If they had time to do both, then brilliant; but generally they don't. School is about getting qualifications at the highest grade possible so that you can impress an employer, whereas education is quite different. People who genuinely want to learn will do it off their own back anyway.

    "I never let schooling get in the way of my education." - Mark Twain

    :yep:
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    I didn't really have any 'confidence' in maths. I always thought "I can't do this, so I must be rubbish."
    However, I worked so, so hard for my GCSE and getting an A is my proudest achievement ever. I think once I thought "This is just going to take more focus than any other subject" it all clicked.

    It probably is more of a mind-set, also, the fact it is a bloody hard subject :|
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    Personally, it's always been my most hated subject, but purely because I'm just so inherently terrible at it. I only grasped the concept of telling the time in Year 9, and I can be taught a simple rule or formula, and by the next lesson I cannot remember it or how to do it at all. I've always thought it might be something called dyscalculia, as strangely my younger brother is the complete opposite to me, finding maths relatively simple, but having severe dyslexia meaning he is unable to read or write at all at age 14.

    In short, maths sucks. But it's less life-hindering to be terrible at it.
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    (Original post by cke_xx)
    You can't be creative. There is rules that you have to follow by. Not saying that other subjects don't have rules, but Maths is based purely upon them.

    And in my opinion, it's boring. I'm less likely to try in something that I find boring. :yep:
    What a fantastic verification of my post (immediately above the quoted one)

    You obviously don't know what mathematics is and have garnered the impression that it is merely a set of strictly finite algorithmic calculi with no rhyme or reason. This is what the current school syllabus would logically lead one to think anyhow.

    Mathematics is very unrestrictive in a way that most subjects aren't; one way to characterise it would be to say that it is the subset of philosophy where one is able to formulate things in a particularly precise fashion. There is a wonderful freedom in mathematics in that we aren't tied up in real world constraints, we can assume anything and discover the consequences.

    Creativity is essential in mathematics; the innovation and creativity shown in the history and development of mathematics is astounding; there are some wonderful ideas and constructions out there.

    Saying that mathematics is based purely on rules is similar to saying that creative writing is based purely on rules because you have to form syntactical sentences and spell words correctly (not a completely faithful analogy I concede but analogous nonetheless)
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    (Original post by Melancholy)
    With Maths, it would seem, you're either good at it (and consequently 'love' it), or bad at it (and thus 'hate' it). I rarely see the middle ground to the extent that subjects like Biology or History receive. Like I say, most people on TSR probably can do Maths well, but I guess one of the difficulties is that it cannot be learned; it is a skill to which can be difficult to adapt at times.
    If that is true then one would expect a collection of students getting an A grade, a collection of students getting an F grade, and not much in between. Obviously that does not occur, so I would suggest that perhaps pidgeonholing oneself into the "good" or "bad" category is more of a psychological action, rather than any reflection of one's actual performance in mathematics.
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    (Original post by cpj1987)
    In subjects like English, new ideas and thoughts arise; in Maths you learn one technique (i.e simultaneous equations/angles) and apply exactly the same thing over and over again to get your answer.
    Why don't new ideas or thoughts arise in Maths? It's easy to have new thoughts about interesting things! I presume you learned how to solve a set of two simultaneous equations. Did you ask yourself whether you can always solve the equations (to give y=? and x=?) when you are given two equations? Is that always possible? When isn't it possible, and what does that mean geometrically? Hang on, though, we've only been thinking about equations in x and y. What about if we introduce a third dimension, so that we are considering equations in x,y, and z? What does a line in 3 dimensions look like? Can you ever solve a set of equations (to give x=, y=, z=) when you are given two equations? What about when you are given three equations? Can you ever solve the equations then? Can you always solve them? What does it mean geometrically to solve them? What different types of solutions are there? What does each type of solution relate to gemetrically? What does an equation like z = 2x mean geometrically if we are working in three dimensions? What about upping it again to four dimensions? What about working in n dimensions, are there any similarities that we can come up with when given m different equations in n dimensions?

    To say that new thoughts and interesting ideas do not arise easily in maths is a lack of creativity on your part, not a limitation of maths.
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    (Original post by cpj1987)
    In subjects like English, new ideas and thoughts arise; in Maths you learn one technique (i.e simultaneous equations/angles) and apply exactly the same thing over and over again to get your answer.
    Do you play a musical instrument, speak a language or play a sport?

    Because if you do or have done to any significant level of proficiency then I am sure that you would have drilled technique. This is just standard pedagogy; gaining 'muscle memory' of the mind - getting used to the basic objects.

    Please do not confuse a subject/body of work etc. with the way it is taught in schools. Summing up and basing ones opinion of something based on how it is taught in schools is like saying the view from the top of a mountain is poor because somebody gave you a difficult and awkward route that may or may not have reached the top.

    BTW. If anybody is really interested in this question, they should definitely read the following which addresses the issue:

    A Mathematician's Lament
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    (Original post by HappinessHappening)
    School is about getting qualifications at the highest grade possible so that you can impress an employer, whereas education is quite different. People who genuinely want to learn will do it off their own back anyway.

    "I never let schooling get in the way of my education." - Mark Twain
    True. Very good post.

    One thing to add would be that, unfortunately, universities have become the same. They used to be academies, now they are being reduced to restart courses for the middle classes.
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    I just have incredibly poor mental maths skills. Something like 78 + 239 would probably take me about 2 minutes to work out. Dull lessons with textbook teachers made me loathe it more. I got a B at GCSE, I put at least twice the hours in than I did for any other subject, and it was one of the lowest grades I got.
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    (Original post by kayscout)
    I just have incredibly poor mental maths skills. Something like 78 + 239 would probably take me about 2 minutes to work out.
    Funnily enough, some studies have suggested that there isn't much of a correlation between mental arithmetic and mathematics skills. Some of the lecturers at my university, for example, are fantastic mental calculators whilst some aren't very good at all.

    A famous anecdote relates how the great 19th century algebraists Ernst Kummer was terrible at mental arithmetic and struggled in a class (that he was teaching) to multiply 7 by 9!
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    Laziness?
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    (Original post by Jake22)
    BTW. If anybody is really interested in this question, they should definitely read the following which addresses the issue:

    A Mathematician's Lament
    One of the best things i've read in a while
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    (Original post by Kolya)
    Why don't new ideas or thoughts arise in Maths? It's easy to have new thoughts about interesting things! I presume you learned how to solve a set of two simultaneous equations. Did you ask yourself whether you can always solve the equations (to give y=? and x=?) when you are given two equations? Is that always possible? When isn't it possible, and what does that mean geometrically? Hang on, though, we've only been thinking about equations in x and y. What about if we introduce a third dimension, so that we are considering equations in x,y, and z? What does a line in 3 dimensions look like? Can you ever solve a set of equations (to give x=, y=, z=) when you are given two equations? What about when you are given three equations? Can you ever solve the equations then? Can you always solve them? What does it mean geometrically to solve them? What different types of solutions are there? What does each type of solution relate to gemetrically? What does an equation like z = 2x mean geometrically if we are working in three dimensions? What about upping it again to four dimensions? What about working in n dimensions, are there any similarities that we can come up with when given m different equations in n dimensions?

    To say that new thoughts and interesting ideas do not arise easily in maths is a lack of creativity on your part, not a limitation of maths.
    No, it indicates a lack of scope in high school education. I'm not saying it's any limitation of maths itself, as I said above, but it's what makes maths so boring at high school level.
    In school, you're given a textbook to work through - you learn the basic equations and you apply them to every question you come across. Other subjects are slightly more 'free' (though not much, admittedly). The whole education system at that level though, is just to work towards exams - there's no real learning involved - and as such, 'extra education' doesn't generally come into it - particularly in a scientific subject such as maths where it's easier just to learn what's required. At least with something like English someone might pipe up with an idea about another way to interpret a text - you don't generally find many children piping up with 'What if we do that a completely different way? What if that's not how it's supposed to be?', the general system is 'follow the guidelines and you'll pass, why try another way?'.
    Unless you genuinely are telling me that at GCSE you were encouraged to consider everything you mentioned above? That certainly wasn't all on my course.
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    I think the biggest problem with maths is that a lot of people only think of it as a load of methods, rather than something much more. The tendency nowadays is to teach maths as a set of methods and short cuts, which focuses on passing the exams. The result of this is people tend to feel maths is just a case of regurgitating facts/method (much like science at lower levels) and so feel it is beyond boring. The other effect of this is that a teacher can go through and explain how do a new topic, and the majority of the class will then not be able to answer a single question because the situations don't exactly match the explanation. The focus on purely exams means that the majority are left without the skills to work things out for themselves and never have any change of gaining some kind of comprehension of higher ideas behind the subject.

    When I was talking to a friend (who has a quite high a at AS maths), he mentioned he was doing 'the topic where you have an equation with a squiggle next to it and apply some method to it and you get another random formula' and that it was boring as hell because he would never use it. This was referring to integration and I think highlights the way a worrying large number of high school maths students may well think despite the fact integration has a important applications in pretty much everything. The teachers should be pressured more to try and impress some kind of understanding of what's actually going on, rather than drill the facts. There's absolutely no point with a population that can pass a-level/gcse/whatever maths without any understanding why.
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    Maths was pretty awesome, but at AS level it's totally different. There's not as much creativity and you pretty much learn a rule and apply it.
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    (Original post by Jake22)
    Do you play a musical instrument, speak a language or play a sport?

    Because if you do or have done to any significant level of proficiency then I am sure that you would have drilled technique. This is just standard pedagogy; gaining 'muscle memory' of the mind - getting used to the basic objects.

    Please do not confuse a subject/body of work etc. with the way it is taught in schools. Summing up and basing ones opinion of something based on how it is taught in schools is like saying the view from the top of a mountain is poor because somebody gave you a difficult and awkward route that may or may not have reached the top.

    BTW. If anybody is really interested in this question, they should definitely read the following which addresses the issue:

    A Mathematician's Lament
    As I've said a few times, I'm not confusing a subject or body of work with how it's taught in school, but that (the way it's taught in school) IS what makes it boring.

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