Sunday, January 23, 2011

Math and Science

The other night, at a small workshop, the following question was posed:  "I have a son who is good at reading, writing, and science, but bad in math and spelling.  People have suggested "math dyslexia".. Is there really such a thing?  Will it stop him from doing well in science?  What about spelling? How do I encourage him in the areas he is good at and help him in his weak areas?"

Well, kind a big question!  Let me try to answer at least part of this.  First, there is such a thing as math dyslexia. I know, because I obviously have it!  It was one reason I was pathetic in math when I was young. (The other reasons had to do with lack of motivation, frustration, self-fulfilling prophecies, and ultimately, giving up.) I didn't get better at math until I was an adult and had need to do so.  Since I've started working on it, I managed to teach through pre-calculus, run a business and then a non-profit corporation doing most of the bookkeeping myself, and be a statistics teaching assistant when I did my Ph.D.  Obviously, it can be overcome.  However, it takes a lot of motivation and determination, which are often not present in childhood.

Nowadays, for example, whenever I have to copy numbers (like from a checkbook to a ledger), I have learned I need to say them out loud and do them in groups of 3.  Otherwise, I'll have all the numbers, but the order will probably be wrong.  I'm appraising a house right now with the house number 2170...each time I use the number I have to look at it first.  I know there is a 2, a 1, a 7, and a 0...but it is 2710?  2107?  I've learned I have to check it EVERY time to be sure.

As far as the science connection goes, there is no need for math in the lower levels of don't need to know math in order to make a leaf collection, raise animals, study seashells, etc. (Of course, in some cases, it might be helpful....but it wouldn't prevent anyone from getting involved. ) If somebody later decides to become an actual scientist, and needs a degree, at some point the math will become important.  In order to get a degree in geology, for example, you need to take math all the way through calculus. As in my own case, I believe that the motivation will be strong enough later to overcome whatever real problems are present.

Also, I'm not sure how old the "son" in question is.   If he is still younger than 12 or so, it might not be a real learning problem at all. Perhaps it might be a question of poorly chosen curriculum materials (based on his learning style), lack of motivation, or other factors.  I have written extensively about this in the booklet, "Taking the Frustration out of Math" (also available as a cd)...For more info go to our website,

I'll tackle the "spelling question" another time.

1 comment:

  1. Good ideas - my daughter has math dyslexia and from 3rd grade on (fractions . . .oh, those fractions) she could do it in her head but not on paper.

    We found that there is no point in going on until she understands. Once there is confusion, stop and back up.

    We did the Davis Dyslexia therapy for a week when she was 17 because she scored in the 8th percentile (yes, that's right) on the SAT in math.

    After the week and followup, she was able to score high enough to get into the college of her choice.

    Now she still has issues with math, and her short term memory, but has skills to cope.

    She takes it all alone, in the summer, in the evening so she can study all day and hopefully it sticks until class time.

    There is help, and if you don't create stress over math, but let them know you want to help them succeed, you can find a way.