Math Is Difficult, but Far from Impossible
Maryke K. is a Nobel Tutor. She knows a lot about Chemistry, Physics, English Language, and Statistics, but one of her greatest loves is Math! She makes math fun (yes, it’s possible!) and finds the best way for students to learn it. Here she answers common questions about math and shares her personal experience in learning it.
Question: Let’s begin with fun stuff. What is the best math joke you’ve ever heard?
Maryke: What do you get when you cross a mosquito with a mountain climber?
You can’t cross a vector and a scalar… (laugh).
Q: Can you tell us how did you end up falling in love with mathematics? How did you become the math tutor?
M: From an early age, math has been fascinating to me. Because of that, I focused on it and worked hard. As I began sharing my knowledge with others, I discovered that mathematics was a path to helping people, and that’s what I love to do! And that’s why I became a tutor.
Q: Even though some people, like you, enjoy mathematics, there are others who find it hard. Based on your experience, why do some students fall behind in math?
M: Some people have a natural aptitude for mathematics, but that’s not the reason why others fall behind. I think the reason they do fall behind is they need it explained in a different way and there isn’t always time to do this in a classroom setting.
That’s why math tutoring exists! Not because you don’t have the ability to do math, but because a tutor is usually a few years older than you and they were in your shoes a few years before. So it’s easy to relate and find a great way to explain the unexplainable.
Q: Is there anything you’d recommend to those students? How should they study math?
M: If you don’t get math, just like anything else you don’t like, you’re going to have to motivate yourself.
Still, what I used to do is play. When I was younger, up to 6th grade, I would use computer games. I played educational games which meant I had to constantly do math in my head. Because of that, and by really putting thought into it, I made math fun, linking it to games.
So how you should study math? You find the fun in math and keep practicing. If you’re not good at it, practice is the only way to fix that.
Q: You’ve already mentioned teachers. Do you think that if you don’t understand math, maybe you have the wrong teacher?
M: It’s not about the teacher all the time, it’s usually about their workload. You can’t put a workload of 40 students on a teacher and expect every one of them is going to be catered to.
I think that everybody should be able to get tutoring. But since not everybody can afford a tutor, perhaps ask a friend who’s good at math to help you with the things you’re having difficulty with. You just need to have the additional help.
I come from a very humble background. I begged my parents to get me tutoring because despite having good grades, I needed even better grades to enroll in this program I wanted to get into. But we couldn’t afford it. The only help I had was reading math books and learning it by myself. That still wasn’t enough. I feel that if I had been in a smaller class, if my teachers could have catered to me specifically, then I would’ve had even better marks.. But it just wasn’t in the cards.
So I worked with a friend who was good at math and we made sure we helped each other. I did that my whole university career – we’d teach each other those concepts that we mightn’t otherwise understand.. We’d just work together and help each other. I feel everybody should do that because there’s always something that you don’t understand. So let the students be the teachers, as well.
Q: Some people believe that being good at math is a natural ability. What do you think about that? Can anybody be good at math?
M: I don’t think everybody can be good at math. However, I think everybody can do it. You just need the right way, the fun way to approach it.
There’s always going to be someone who gets 100% no matter what – someone with the natural aptitude. It may seem like you’ll never be as good as that person, but you can do it! You just need to accept that you have to practice a lot more than they do.
So, you can be good, but you have to practice. Practice as much as you can and eventually results will come.
Q: Natural talent vs. hard work. Do you think that people who aren’t naturally good at math but practice a lot eventually can become better at it than people who are naturally good but don’t practice?
M: Yes, that was me! I fell behind in my first year of engineering because I was like, This is going to be so easy! And all those people who were a little bit weaker than me in high school, were surpassing me. They were doing so much better than I was!
That’s because at some point math catches up with you. You might think it’s easy now, but there will be a time when you don’t understand anything. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way, so you don’t need to.
Q: What is your approach to teaching math?
M: Making it fun. I’m a very outgoing person and I always try to make people think of a fun way to go about something. I use visuals, I use tricks, I use anything that might make something entertaining and interesting!
No matter what your learning challenge is, what your skill is, it has to be fun!
Q: How do you choose between being an authority figure and a friend?
M: I think balance is the key. You need to be both an authority figure and a friend. I do believe my students respect me, but I also believe I open this door into letting them talk to me about their personal problems, not just focusing on math.
You need to listen to the challenges they have as that can affect their learning as well. For example, if their dog dies and they just don’t feel like doing math today, take things easier.
Being their teacher doesn’t mean you can’t be their friend. You just need to evaluate when that is appropriate. They’ll learn to trust you, and then they will respect you.
MAKE MATH FUN WITH MARYKE
She can’t wait to meet new friends!
Q: Does fun make math easy? Do you find mathematics easy overall?
M: Math is never easy. I have an engineering degree and when I was doing models I failed the math model. Yes, that thing destroyed me (laugh).
Now I’m doing a mathematics degree. I’m in my final year now and I’m realizing that math is always difficult. If you’re in that spot, it’s going to be hard. Right now, final-year math is unbelievably difficult, but first-year math was also unbelievably difficult. Math will always be difficult. It’s up to you to practice and find a way to understand it. So practice, practice, practice.
Q: Do you have any advice for parents to help their students with math?
M: Don’t start too late. I wish my parents had started earlier in letting me have fun with mathematics. I did start early, earlier than most people. But if they’d started even earlier, I feel that I would’ve been further ahead right now.
You need to make sure your kids are exposed to this environment. Let them play puzzles, let them play logic games when they’re very young. Because it opens a door for problem-solving skills and so on.
Make it fun and start early. But don’t overdo it. so that they start to hate it. Like anything, if you push your child too much, they’re going to resent it. Make sure you strike a balance between giving them constant stimulation and not overworking them. A great tutor would know how to help in that area, for sure.
Q: And if I’m a parent of a student with learning challenges (ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia…), what approach would you recommend for me to help my students with math? What should I do?
M: We all have those times when we’re faced with difficulty that causes anxiety. So did I. I know it’s not the same as ADHD, but it does pose a challenge when it comes to learning. One way to deal with it is to learn how to study despite the difficulty. Wishing it away won’t help, but finding a way to figure things out will.
What I would actually do was enjoy some free time but then dedicate 10 minutes to some math homework. It forced me to think about it, but not overwhelm myself. Of course, if you have a lot of homework you might need to up that to 15, 20 minutes. Some people will go up to 30 minutes or more, but if you constantly push a child they’re just going to completely resist.
If you’re helping your child with math, you need to make sure they’re not overwhelmed and that you are making it, again, fun. They need to have that feeling of I really want to solve these logic puzzles.
Also, I’ve always told my mom she needs to reward my brother, because my brother was a very, lazy boy when it came to math.The way she got him to finish his math was by giving him rewards. He has ADHD, and the reward for finishing was time playing computer games. And he would be so excited! Because that’s what children like to do, including me (laugh).
So,give them rewards, make it fun, and don’t make it too intensive!
Q: Why do we need math? Do we really need to know algebra, geometry, integers..? Why does math matters in the real world?
M: The things you’ll use depend on the field in which you’ll work. I don’t think you’ll need all the complex formulae and stuff.
But the basic reason everybody needs math is for logical reasoning. If you know math, you build a certain skill when it comes to reasoning with people, when it comes to logical thinking, solving problems at work in the future… So even though you don’t need quadratic equations, you still need to build these skills to be able to function in life and today’s world.
Long answer short, reasoning in real life and problem-solving skills.
Q: What are the uses of math? Are there any benefits to knowing math for a future career? What are applied-mathematics jobs?
M: As I’ve said, reasoning and problem-solving but not just that. For example, you’ll use it if you’re an animator. You’ll need math to put things together in a program and work through possible problems you might encounter when you animate different things. The same would apply to working as a game designer, It doesn’t mean that if you’re not good in math you can’t go into these areas. However, knowing math can be helpful.
Additionally, think about engineering, architecture, law… each requires logical reasoning, (especially law) and a background in mathematics. Computer science, astronautics, the visual arts (such as painting).
Q: What message would you like to leave with our young readers?
M: Mathematics is always useful, so practice it and study it. You’ll use it in any career you choose. You’ll use it in the future just by practicing reasoning and in everyday activities that you need to think about.
However, if you’re not good at math, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to be successful. If math is not going to be your career, you just need to find someone who can help you with logical reasoning so you can have a foundation to build on in your future life.
Math can be very useful and if you can’t figure it out on your own, there are great tutors to help!
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