There’s a common stereotype that Asians are ‘innately’ good at mathematics, but you will find that this is unfortunately untrue in the case of Malaysia. In 2015, a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found the mathematics and science proficiency among 15-year-old Malaysian students to be equivalent to their peers in less economically privileged countries. Our southern neighbour Singapore was ranked first, while Malaysia was ranked 52nd out of the 76 participating nations.
Stereotypes of some students – and some ethnicities – being inherently ‘good’ or ‘bad’ at mathematics are unhelpful since educators should ideally aim to help each individual student attain his or her full potential. It is true that some students show up with more curiosity and aptitude for this technical and abstract subject than their peers, but it would be counterproductive to assume that their more disinterested counterparts are ‘destined’ for mediocrity.
Whether you are teaching in a government school, private school, tuition centre or working as a home tutor, here are a number of ways to make your maths tuition classes more interesting and effective:
Make it multi-dimensional
Part of Singapore’s success can be attributed to its Ministry of Education’s multi-faceted approach to teaching the subject. American education scholars coined to term “Singapore math” to describe the nation’s specific methods of instruction, which prioritizes genuine mastery of mathematical concepts over drilling and memorization.
Instead of having your maths tuition students simply memorise formulas and then apply them to over and over again to similar problems, spare the time to help them gain a deeper understanding of the concepts of the day. Home tutors and tuition teachers might find this easier, since they usually have smaller class sizes.
Utilise different means of instruction – concrete, pictorial, and abstract – to allow students to understand the mathematical concept in different ways. A variety of approaches does not only keep boredom away, it also helps students who learn better from visual and tactile educational cues.
Relate your lessons to real-life scenarios
Every teacher or home tutor has heard the question “Why am I learning this?” Instead of saying “Because it’s in the syllabus”, try and demonstrate the real-world significance of the mathematical concepts you are trying to get them to master.
Demonstrate how mathematics is used in daily activities such as cooking, setting timelines, making purchases at the grocery store, taking out a car or house loan, and planning for one’s retirement. For secondary school students, highlight sophisticated uses of mathematics in engineering, physics, economics or even astronomy and animatronics to keep them aware of the utility of what they are studying.
Pay equal attention to your ‘A’ and ‘F’ students
John Mighton, the founder of Jump Math, has argued that every student has the capacity to engage with mathematics at a high level. Social dynamics are the main reason why most of them fail to live up to their full potential: “very early in school many kids get the idea that they’re not in the smart group, especially in math. We kind of force a choice on them: to decide that either they’re dumb or math is dumb.”
Teachers often – consciously or not – end up ignoring weaker students and focusing their efforts on a few exceptional students. Home tutors can attempt to remedy the attention gap, since they usually have to divide their attention between fewer students. Instead of perpetuating the gap between the overachievers and underachievers, try to narrow it by inventing new ways to motivate and inspire confidence in your struggling students. Show them that you believe that they can excel at mathematics as well, and patiently wait for them to believe it themselves.
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