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I have always been passionate and fascinated with maths, my job revolves around the subject, but I'm not an educator. Today I met the 8 year old son of a friend, I had the opportunity to speak to him for only a few mins, in that time he told me he hated maths at school and he didn't see the point of it.

I wanted to say something that would inspire him, but I was stumped, as the examples that I was thinking of in the moment were too complicated/abstract for an 8 year old, and especially one that appears to have no interest in maths.

He's football (soccer) mad, so I'm trying to think up related examples to show him that maths is more than learning times tables, in a manner he can grasp.

I really want to do our subject justice, and at least give this little boy some inspiration - and who knows it might change his mind on the subject.

I'm sure I'll have the opportunity to meet him again in the future and I'd love to be armed with things I can say - only a few sentences, that could really help to make him think more about maths.

Thanks in advance!

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    $\begingroup$ In my sad experience there are no magic incantations which can inspire a love of mathematics. $\endgroup$ Feb 15, 2023 at 0:49
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    $\begingroup$ When I was your age, I hated cooking and didn't see the sense of it. Now I'm an adult without a wife cooking for me. Luckily during my life I learnt not to hate cooking and now I love it so much, I even follow cooking lessons to get better at it (do you remember the last time you had dinner at my place? You liked it, didn't you? :-) ). You say you hate math and you don't see the sense of it. I'm telling you not to hate it, not to hate anything too hard (there's no fun in hating, you know :-) ). So give math a chance, you never know the nice surprises it may give you if you abandon hate it :-) $\endgroup$
    – Dominique
    Feb 15, 2023 at 9:38
  • $\begingroup$ If they're a fan of soccer, then maybe anything from this playlist might be entertaining: youtube.com/playlist?list=PLt5AfwLFPxWI94tcKe--gFFOryaYL23a6 $\endgroup$
    – ruferd
    Feb 15, 2023 at 14:33
  • $\begingroup$ This is similar to a question about on this stack exchange "imbuing a six year old with a sense of mathematical wonder." matheducators.stackexchange.com/questions/10163/… I am sure that the answers to this question can be used in your situation. $\endgroup$
    – Amy B
    Feb 17, 2023 at 13:32
  • $\begingroup$ You could say that you first have to learn some boring stuff, but once you've got through the boring stuff, you're in a position to understand the really cool stuff. Or something to that effect. Similar to, for example, playing an instrument or playing a game console game, or sport... $\endgroup$ Feb 17, 2023 at 22:41

2 Answers 2

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It is a fine thing to wish to do, but likely not feasible. You might consider why they hate mathematics and do not see the point of it.

  1. Maybe it is just a thing they are used to saying, with no particular thought, emotion or commitment behind it.
  2. Maybe their identity/role/storyline is such that they are supposed to hate mathematics, since others with similar identity/role/storyline also hate mathematics. To act against it requires effort, bravery and active work with own's own identity. This is not quite where 8-year olds tend to be.
  3. Maybe their experiences with school mathematics are boring, difficult and irrelevant.
  4. Maybe their mathematics teacher(s) assume they are bad at mathematics and they have adopted the attitude.
  5. Maybe they just are not very good at mathematics (at this point in their life, for whatever reasons) and they defend their sense of self by hating mathematics; they can still be competent at football, for example, and thus see themselves in a good light.

These are pretty difficult to change quickly, especially if you not in a teacher-like position.

In particular, anything relying on future benefits the 8-year old can not easily visualize are unlikely to go through. Sure, should would could, but are they really going to believe, understand, remember and be motivated by some adult saying something will happen in ten or twenty years?

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    $\begingroup$ Maybe his parents hate math and passed it to their son. Maybe they haven't played any math-related or logical games with him. Maybe they don't take him along shopping. $\endgroup$
    – Rusty Core
    Feb 17, 2023 at 23:28
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe the child's teachers hate math. Unfortunately that is very common for teachers in primary school. The children typically don't pick up that the teachers hate math, but they pick up that the math they're taught sucks. $\endgroup$
    – Stef
    Feb 20, 2023 at 15:52
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On the pure mathematics side, you can show him the truncated icosahedron:

truncated icosahedron beside soccer ball

Why exactly can these pentagons and hexagons fit together like this? It would be a good mental exercise for you too. What happens if you shrink the pentagons? What about shrinking the hexagons? This can lead to talking about the platonic solids and crystal structures and so on. Did you know about fullerene? Did you know that many viruses have icosahedral capsids?

On the applied mathematics side, you can explain that mathematics allows you to demonstrate that (ignoring wind and air resistance) you can kick the ball furthest if you kick it upwards at an angle of 45°, which can lead to talking about the fields of analysis, quadratic curves and optimization.

Unrelated to soccer, I recommend introducing people to concrete interesting mathematics rather than the dry fare that most textbooks are filled with. I would say that true mathematics is much closer in spirit to solving (genuine) logic puzzles than to learning from typical textbooks.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm just gonna say that I'd love to see a video of the childs face when you ask him "Did you know that many viruses have icosahedral capsids?" in a genuine attempt to get them interested in math. $\endgroup$
    – David S
    Mar 23, 2023 at 20:56
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidS: A curious child (like I was) would love to know about viruses, if only their parents knew enough to tell them about it. But did you realize that my question was directed towards the educators? $\endgroup$
    – user21820
    Mar 26, 2023 at 3:26

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