Math…it’s a Workout

Math…it’s a Workout

“Your workout has to be fun.  You’re not going to stick with it if it isn’t fun.”  I hear this every time I’m in the middle of a difficult workout.  And every time I hear it I want to ‘bop’ the lady on the DVD who is guiding me through the “fun”.
 
It’s not always easy, but I try to get in a workout several times a week.  Unlike the opinion of Ms. DVD, however, working out is not always a lot of fun.  There’s usually some pain involved.  Those lunges hurt.
 
So the other day when she repeated herself for the umpteenth time, I started to think about why I continue to pop in that DVD and torture myself for 40 minutes.  After all, she said it was supposed to be fun and I wasn’t feeling the fun.  I just wanted the workout to be over so I could get that sense of accomplishment that comes with knowing you’ve done something good for yourself.
 
And there it was.  My motivator.  That sense of accomplishment.  And I was willing to endure some pretty tough exercises in order to get it.
 
But there was another motivator, too.  Results.  If I didn’t get any results from my pain, well then it wouldn’t be worth doing.
 
It’s the same in the math classroom.  Some math problems are not fun.  And some math problems are not easy.  But that doesn’t mean that they’re not important to do. The key is to help students make connections between the problems they’re working on and the reasons for doing them.  We need to show them the benefits.
 
That’s where Carole Dweck comes in – author of numerous books on Mindset Theory.  In her research, Professor Dweck shows that when we work on difficult problems neurons in the brain form new and stronger connections.  She likens our brain to a muscle that grows with effort and difficulty.  And as our brain grows, we get smarter.
 
Wow.  That’s pretty important stuff.  Too often kids think that “smart” people don’t need to put in effort.  We need to share with them that anyone can grow a smarter brain if they work at it.  And what a powerful motivator – knowing your brain is growing through the hard work you’re doing.
 
But, like my workouts, kids also need to experience results.  It’s these little victories along the way that build confidence and make the effort worth it.  So, as educators, we need to set up the environment so that kids can be successful.  There’s nothing like the sense of accomplishment for having completed a difficult task.  And as kids succeed and gain confidence they become better prepared to take on more and more difficult challenges.
 
Yes, doing certain things can be hard.  But doing things that are hard can benefit us.  So as we head into “testing season”, let’s remind our students that effort and difficulty grows a bigger, stronger, smarter brain.  And a bigger, stronger, and smarter brain will give them the opportunity to succeed at just about anything they want.  And that’s worth working hard for.

 

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