Watching a group of children – ages one to three years, is very entertaining. The little ones celebrate their freedom from adult’s grasps by running, jumping, stooping and peeking through their fingers.
This is a fun time for them. They never sulk. They dash here and there; often so fast they fall on all fours. With exuberant giggles, they climb to their feet and run again, attempting to press the envelops of the new capabilities. This is also a time for learning. With each activity, the little ones develop muscles to run faster, jump higher, stoop lower and observe more. Mastering these activities is fun. But it is hard work and it requires a lot of practice.
Jesus of Nazareth, one of the great teachers ever to live, used imagery of child behavior to describe how to excel in a spiritual life. In Matthew 18:1 – 4, Scripture records:
1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2 He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3 And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Paraphrasing the great teacher, those who attain greatness in a spiritual life must come with enthusiasm to master the new life skills. But more importantly, they must enter the new life unencumbered and be ready to meet its challenges.
Learning and a New Life
Learning opens us to a larger set of truth. The new knowledge (truths) offers a hope of better decision-making, thereby promising a chance for a better life. Effective use of our new knowledge takes us from our past life, with all its mistakes, into the new life of promise.
In Matthew 18:2-4, Jesus announced that one attained greatness in a spiritual life by having the attitude of a child. This winning attitude is characterized by enthusiasm to master the new life’s skills, freedom from encumbrances of the past and openness to new possibilities.
The model that Jesus used to explain gaining ” the kingdom of heaven” holds for gaining proficiency in mathematics. If one substitutes “learning mathematics” for the phrase “enter the kingdom of heaven”, the previous consequences continue to hold. Those who seek – in wonderment and astonishment, the laws of mathematics and push themselves to a deeper understanding of its nature, gain the proficiency (skills) of a mathematician.
Likewise, that analogue holds for teachers of mathematics. They, too, must have the same childlike attitude. For only a teacher with conceptual knowledge of basis skills can lead a student beyond rote learning to understanding. Such teachers have laid bare the secrets of what they teach. Therefore they are not likely to say
“… that’s the ways it is…” , or
“… you must do it this way…” or
any other statement whose frequent use impairs a student eagerness to know, when seeking a clear explanation from a teacher who is not able to provide it.
Conclusion: The willing attitude for success in mathematics is the attitude of a young child. It is characterized by enthusiasm, inquisitiveness and the drive to master tasks.
Postscript: Kloosterman & et a suggest building motivation in the elementary classroom with the following points. But they aremhelpful in nurturing the willing attitude for learning mathematics. Concerned parents should assess their value to help their child’s mathematical development. Watch young children play. Imitate their behavior then prepare to better appreciate mathematics
• Establish the importance of mathematics to students and to society. Explain that our society is built on bedrock of mathematics, whether they see it or not.
• Communicate your belief that your child can learn mathematics and you wish to help them to learn it.
• Place importance on progressing in mathematical development over making the highest score. This may be hard to do since high grades are educator’s benchmarks of success. However it this may be the difference between your child’s attitude to continue to try versus his attitude to stop trying in order to protect his self-esteem. (The argument is: If I do not try then I can always say, “If I can do it if I want to.”)
• Create an environment beyond the classroom that supports the above. Elicit the church to support these suggestions when possible.
a Kloosterman, P. & Gorman, J. (1990), Building Motivation in the Elementary Mathematics Classroom, School Science and Mathematics, 90(5).