Can everyone be successful at Mathematics?

A common misconception with regard to Mathematics is that we fall into two groups: those who are good at it and those who are not. Underlying this is the belief that those who are successful possess a special ‘gift’. What if this simply isn’t the case? There is now substantial evidence to suggest that success in Mathematics can be attainable for every student, given the right training and beliefs about ability.

Whilst we all have a unique set of genetic traits, success in any domain is about more than this. It’s also about attitude and perseverance. Let’s think for a moment about talented musicians, athletes and artists. Do we not recognise that any innate ability is just the start? Success comes from the hours of practise, dedication and passion for the domain, and Mathematics is no different.

The brain is said to be plastic, that is it physically changes as we learn and experience new things. Neuroscientists tell us that with each new experience and memory, the brain changes by making connections between its neurons. Doing something over and over again doesn’t just make it easier, it actually changes the brain. Cells grow, some form connections with new cells, some stop talking to others.

Information we no longer need may get lost over time, whilst other connections strengthen and it becomes easier to remember things. The brain continues to develop and change throughout our lives so it’s never too late to start learning something new.

This plasticity of the brain also applies in learning Mathematics. Developing fluency in recalling factual knowledge and choosing appropriate procedures requires practice and repetition, but will lead to the ability to tackle more advanced problems without having to think through each step involved.

As with anything in life, success will come from time, effort and endurance. Continue to learn skills to expand your intellectual capacity in Mathematics. Strengthen understandings through concerted efforts to practice. Challenge yourself to persist with problems for extended periods of time. According to Malcolm Gladwell in his book ‘Outliers’, “Success is a function of persistence and doggedness and the willingness to work hard for twenty-two minutes to make sense of something that most people would give up on after thirty seconds.” Be your best persistent and dogged self!

Adrienne English
Enrichment Coordinator at Grimwade House

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