Two of the saddest words to come out of a child’s mouth when it comes to math and science! Two words that I have heard one too many times from capable children who just aren’t getting what they need from the classroom and are at serious risk of getting turned off of math way too early in life. It’s interesting, because at the elementary level, we’re seeing a huge increase in the amount of kids getting tutored. Sure there are the main culprits – the new curriculum, newly introduced teaching methods, untrained teachers, and a lack of fundamentals. But there’s a not-so-obvious reason that we’re seeing this marked increase: boredom. It’s a scary one because usually it’s the very capable kids who suffer from it, the kids who aren’t necessarily classified as gifted, but who are near that upper spectrum. It’s also scary because it means one of two things: there’s the bored child who manages to scrape along and do what’s required of them, but eventually gets totally turned off of math and has no interest in pursuing anything STEM related. And then there’s the bored child who, due to their total disinterest, is unmotivated to pay attention or work hard, which results in doing poorly in the classroom, which ultimately leads them to believe that they’re actually BAD at math, therefore turning them off completely. Either way, boredom prevents these otherwise capable and intelligent kids from entering STEM fields, and it’s got to stop.
People often ask me what the point is of encouraging their child to continue with math and science in high school when they have absolutely no interest in STEM fields. What's the point of trigonometry? Of Calculus? Of anything aside from the basic math you need to live your daily life? The focus has been on teachers to show kids that these higher level concepts are relevant in the real world, and often, while rocketships and rainbows do exist in our reality, kids still feel no emotional tie to them. I've always thought that this focus has been skewed, that instead of inspiring kids mathematically by showing them that math is everywhere, that instead we should be focusing on what mathematics REALLY is: a different lens with which to view the world!
The act of 'learning,' of 'acquiring knowledge,' is one of the most beautiful acts that we in the Western world have the privilege of. Often, in the humdrum of trying to achieve test scores and the marks we need to get into university, we forget that that's what school is for: it's for learning, for being inspired! Teachers have the tough job of relaying the curriculum content mandatory for each grade level while keeping kids interested, and the truth is that often there simply isn't time to extend what might seem to be otherwise boring concepts into applications which are actually FASCINATING! Just like many kids who pursue soccer or hockey at the extracurricular level in order to deepen their enjoyment of what they learn in regular gym class, tutoring and after school programming can be used in order to augment a child's understanding and enthusiasm for math and science!
I had a parent call me last year about their 5 year-old child. She said that he had an interest in math beyond what the classroom could cater to, and that he had requested to take math 'for fun.' She was shocked. She asked me if that was 'weird' and if there was 'something wrong’ with him. I thought it was so interesting, because how could there be anything wrong with wanting to learn math for fun? After all - math is amazing, fascinating, and it really IS fun - once you have the ability to really get into it, which often in the classroom you simply don't have the time to do.
Enrichment has received a funny stigma, because it seems to belong only to those who classify as 'gifted,' and that is one of the most harmful misconceptions when it comes to education. Enrichment belongs to those who want it, crave it, and are open to it. It is the act of taking knowledge to the next level and of making it ones own. Often I hear from parents who tell me that while their child is succeeding in math class, that they're 'bored.' That to me is a giant red flag telling us that a child has the capacity for math, but that they're at the risk of losing the motivation to excel in it! While those children don't necessary qualify for a specific gifted classroom, there are a litany of resources and programs that can inspire these kids to take their aptitude for math and turn it into sustainable passion.
I never ever want anyone being discouraged from STEM due to boredom or disinterest - to me it seems like the biggest waste of natural talent, and something that can be so easily prevented. Here are a few ways in which you can help your child become inspired and re-invigorated by the beauty that STEM has to offer!
I’m a huge fan of taking math & science to the next level by doing it outside of the classroom, that’s why I started The Math Guru! I personally found school boring – I hated the smell, the colours of the walls, the stuffiness of it all. So I started a tutoring studio where kids could get to experience math in a different way – in a place of warmth, cozy smells, and twinkly lights. I think it changes a child’s relationship with the act of learning and that, to me, is one of the most important things. Most people think of tutoring as something that’s only used for struggling students, but that’s a total misconception! I think of tutoring like getting a personal trainer. Most people who get trainers want to better themselves, to work on something with someone who can motivate them, understand their needs, and switch it up so that they don’t get bored! That’s what tutoring is. It’s all about connecting with someone who your child can look to as a mentor, someone who can understand how your child’s mind works and that can make math fun, exciting, and interesting for them. Someone who can inspire them! Especially at the elementary level, most of the younger students we see come to us because they’re at the risk of getting lost…simply because they’re bored! It’s amazing what having a personal math coach can do – look for tutoring services that are passionate about what they do and are selective in hiring their tutors!
If your child is bored because they’re finding what they’re learning is simply too easy, ask their teacher for extra resources! Often teachers have a good idea of how to take the concepts they’re teaching to a more challenging level and may be able to engage your child by giving them tougher problems or even resources from a higher grade level.
I’m constantly on the lookout for unique programs that take math and science to the next level, and there are SO many out there! Whether it’s a weekly thing, an intensive camp, or a one day event, STEM programs can inspire your kids by showing them how to actually use what they’re learning in school in real life! Some of my favourites include the programming that Actua comes up with. An organization that’s big on encouraging diversity in STEM, Actua has a variety of engineering camps where kids get to build and create, as well as Codemakers which is a national program in partnership with Google in which kids get to design and actually create apps! Local school boards and universities also usually have their own external programs that are open to interested kids, so that’s something to check out. STEM is huge now and there are a ton of innovative approaches to it! Just type “STEM programs” into Google and get excited – there is so much out there!
Have another strategy to cure boredom in the classroom, or have you tried one of the above? I would love to hear about it! Talk to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It takes a village – together we can change the game!