Can you learn to speak French by memorizing a dictionary?
Imagine a music school that has no musical instruments, and the focus is only on learning music theory. For years, students are taught how to read and write music:
By the time students graduate from this school, they are experts in music theory - they can easily draw staffs and bar lines, and notes and clefs. But in all those years, they have never once listened to any music.
Sounds absurd? Yes, but this is exactly how our children are learning math! For more than a decade in school, children learn the theory of math - facts, formulas and theorems, but they never get to listen to the music of math - the meaning behind all of the theory.
Ask a primary schooler what 12 times 7 is, and they will answer 84. Ask them what 13 times 7 is, and they might say, “We haven’t done the table of 13 yet!”
Ask a middle schooler what (a + b)2 is, and they will answer a2 + 2ab + b2. Ask them why this is so, and they might just say, “This is all I was taught in class!”.
Ask a high schooler to graph 10 + 5x, and they will not struggle. Ask them to model the total fare for a taxi that charges a $10 down payment and $5 for every km travelled, and they might just give you a blank stare.
Most children learn math by memorising it. By memorising the what, but not understanding the why. And it’s as absurd as trying to learn French by memorising a French dictionary.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Learning math can be an easy - even joyful - process, if the focus is on the why instead of the what.
Take the triangle area formula. Instead of just memorising it as ½ x base x height (the what), the child should be made to see that the triangle’s area is just half the area of the rectangle drawn on its base (the why):
Or take the (a + b)2 identity. Instead of just memorising it as a2 + 2ab + b2 (the what), the child should be made to see that in a square of size a + b, the area of the larger square - which is (a + b)2 - is equal to total area of the four smaller parts, which is a2 + 2ab + b2 (the why):
In my experience teaching thousands of students of all kinds, I’ve seen that when the focus shifts from the what to the why, even the most struggling students start making unbelievable progress.
The why is just so much easier to understand and remember than the what. It’s just the way our minds are wired - even when studying history, we are engrossed by the story (the why), but never the dates and the names (the what).
That’s why we follow the why-over-what philosophy extensively in Cuemath’s math and coding curriculum. And that’s why, as a parent, you must encourage your child to ask why as often as possible.
If you liked this, you might be interested in exploring Cuemath’s live online classes, where expert tutors teach math and coding by focusing on the why instead of the what.