Updated: Dec 6, 2019
How many children when they are learning to first walk, stand up and walk across the room without falling down? None…. How many children recite the A, B, C’s the very first time without practice and repetition? None…. The point is the human brain is designed to grow and learn. But you can’t grow and learn without practice. And sometimes practice means struggle. Learning to walk usually means holding someone’s hand when you first get started and inevitably it means falling down. No eight-month old announces to their parents, “I just can’t walk. I’m not smart when it comes to walking.” No toddler says after a few attempts, “I’m no good at the alphabet. I can’t do it.” They practice, they learn the abc song and before you know it, they have it down.
When it comes to math though, some elementary, and middle school students have given up and don’t realize that their brain was made for struggle and learning. Researchers have discovered that our brains are similar to muscles and that intelligence can actually be changed. Body builders know that if they push their physical abilities and do exercises that are a struggle, the muscles grow and come back stronger. The brain, while not actually a muscle, is similar. Neural pathways are built and strengthened by struggle, practice, and trying more complex problems. Scientists have discovered that making mistakes and practicing new skills actually builds up your brain and “make you smarter.”
The bottom line is that the more you use your brain, the stronger it gets. So, the next time you or your child struggles with a math problem, this should be reason to celebrate. It’s an opportunity to embrace struggle, and know that this is when your brain is growing the most. Review a problem you missed on homework or on a test, reread the lesson, watch a video, ask a friend or a teacher for help and find out what you did wrong. Then when you see a similar problem the next time, you can practice what you’ve learned and before you know it, you will have mastered that skill. That’s how our brains work!
Take a moment and check out this brief video on Youtube by Sal Khan, “You Can Learn Anything,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtKJrB5rOKs . Better yet, watch it with your student and you will both feel encouraged the next time homework is a struggle.