I Hate Math Part 2– Boys, Boys, Boys…

Earlier this week I was working on math with one of my high school boy students.  We were reviewing some difficult Algebra II concepts that he had been struggling with. He was an ace at the formulaic aspect of the problems and with solving the multi-step word problems associated with the concepts, but part of what he was also being tested on was writing verbal explanations for his answers.  When I asked him to explain to me why he had solved the problems the way he had, and what steps he had taken to solve them, he literally stared at me blankly.  He finally said, “I don’t really know how to explain it;  I just know how to do it!”  I found it interesting that this young man could do the computation part of the math so quickly and correctly, but couldn’t, for the life of him, find the words to explain his methodology. To my female math brain, the explanation to these math problems was easy-peazy-lemon-squeezy, but to his brain, not so much.

The reason why my student was struggling to explain to me the “whys” of the math he had computed was because I was asking his brain to switch back and forth between the hippocampus and the cerebral cortex.  I was asking his hippocampus to solve the problem, then for his cerebral cortex to decode the math solving and translate that information into words. His brain was being taxed!  This tutoring session reminded me of the differences in the math brains between boys and girls; this session was another confirmation of the different teaching methods required for teaching math to boys.

Teaching Boys:

  1. Do NOT use context to teach math to boys.  Just teach them the rules, formulas, & techniques.  Boys do not do well with context because it forces their cerebral cortex to get involved in the math learning process.  Unless your son faces an unusual math exam like my student this week, leave the cerebral cortex out of this!   An exception may be in using sports scores and stats to interest a boy when learning math.  Those real life contextual examples tend to be beneficial.
  2. Use symbols, abstractions, and pictures, instead of words, as often as possible with boys. These tools are very helpful to them in conceptualizing math. These techniques promote more visual learning than auditory.
  3. When boys are young, Grades K-3, they do better when they can move around when learning math.  Active math games, competitions, and even standing up can help young boys process math more productively. This is called kinetic learning.  I once had a Mom tell me that her son learned all his math facts while spinning like a top in a desk chair.  While this made Mom seasick to watch, it was key in her son mastering his math facts!
  4. Don’t over coddle boys in the math learning process. While girls are people pleasers and need a large amount of positive feedback, boys tend to become math arrogant when coddled too much. The more brilliant a boy thinks his math prowess, the more rushing he tends to do while working on problems, the less double checking he does on quizzes and tests, and the lazier he gets with the work he produces.
  5. Boys tend to do more mental math than they should.  Because boys view solving a math problem as a game or competition, they like to show off their skills by trying to figure things out in their head–quickly.  Unfortunately, almost 50% of math errors come from mental math done in a rushed fashion.  Encourage your son to write things down and “show his work” because the eyes will often catch errors that the mind alone will not catch.  Some experts believe that 25% of math errors come from messy writing, but if you compare that with the 50% generated by careless mental math, I’d say the written work has better odds of producing correct answers.
  6. Who is better working with boys: male or female tutors?  Both! In my experience, I have seen boys succeed with both male and female tutors equally.  The tutor’s gender doesn’t seem to play as discernible of a role in student success or conceptual understanding with boys as it does with girls.

Now that I have taxed your brain with the tips and tricks to better teaching math to the genders, you are probably looking forward to the summer when you can leave math (and school in general) behind you and your student for three whole months!  Not so fast, Mom and Dad.  My last bit of advice to you is do NOT let your student go all summer without any math work and review.  Make sure to have your student do some sort of intellectual math stimulation or else all of the last school year’s teachings /learning/concepts/etc. will be for not.  If your child’s brain is left unattended for three entire summer months, there could be drastic setbacks seen next school year. Stay tuned for some great ideas on how to help your student stay intellectually savvy over the summer and how to ward off the summertime brain snooze!

- By Kelly Trotter King


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