Math can be a puzzling and often frustrating subject for students.  Some pupils seem to effortlessly pluck A+’s from the heavens, while others grind away to earn average grades at best.  Why the discrepancy?  Are some brains simply predisposed to math success, while others are hopelessly misaligned?  Of course not.  If I believed that, I wouldn’t be teaching math.  So what’s the deal?  Why the blaring gap in math performance?  One key factor is learning styles.  Despite what your folks might say, people learn in different ways.  Some students naturally thrive in standard Prussian style classroom settings; others, however, only truly soar in different environments that are better tailored to their particular strengths.  If a student is struggling in math at school, it could be because the standard curriculum is not in sync with his/her learning style.  This article will (1) run through the seven learning styles, (2) explain how to identify where students fit on the learning style spectrum, and (3) advise how to optimize math education accordingly.

Social/Interpersonal

Social learners prefer to learn in groups surrounded by other people.  They are often charged up by the presence of their classmates, and usually derive energy from social interactions.  They are the prototypical extroverts.

Telltale Signs Of A Social Learner

  1. They are known for possessing a wide network of friends and associates
  2. They feel excitement and energy when around other people (i.e. extroverted)
  3. They are particularly adept at negotiating and resolving conflicts

Suggestions For Math Education

While learning math in a group setting can be difficult for many, folks who thrive in social environments are best served when surrounded by their peers.  Working in teams to complete homework assignments and prep for exams can often charge the energy levels of a social learner.   Moreover, creating a supportive network of caring classmates can help nurture an interpersonal child struggling to improve his/her grades.

Solitary/Intrapersonal

Solitary learners thrive in isolation.  They often do their best when working alone and using self-study.  Reading books can be an especially effective learning vehicle for these individuals.

Telltale Signs Of A Solitary Learner

  1. They prefer solitary activities
  2. They spend a great deal of time reflecting introspectively
  3. They recharge their energy levels while alone (i.e. introverted)

Suggestions For Math Education

Solitary learners are usually folks that thrive in our modern education system. Their characteristics set them up nicely to achieve high marks in standard academia.  But, however, to help an intrapersonal learner soar even higher, it is important to recognize that these students are designed to work alone and in isolation.  So, finding a spot free of disturbances is often the first step to maximizing their abilities.  In addition, it is useful to simply recognize that the majority of information they learn will usually be absorbed at home while studying (as opposed to in class during the lecture).

Verbal/Linguistic

Verbal learners, as the name suggests, prefer learning with words in both speech and writing.  These types of minds soak up knowledge through various mediums centered around language.  Words naturally resonate with these folks.

Telltale Signs Of A Verbal Learner

  1. They have a natural affinity for words when reading, writing, listening, and speaking
  2. They have an uncanny ability to recall definitions and spellings of words
  3. They enjoy creative writing such as poetry

Suggestions For Math Education

For these folks, I recommend sitting down with a teacher or tutor after class to hear in depth explanations.  While the material may not sink in during chalkboard lectures, verbal learners will be more likely to pick up math lessons that are conveyed in plain English.  Words, after all, are their bread and butter when learning.  They should steer clear of relying too heavily on symbols and drawings.  Instead, they should seek word-based explanations, either written or oral, from a teacher.

Logical/Mathematical

Logical learners do their best when employing logic and reasoning.  They are effective problem solvers and typically succeed with task-based learning.  These minds often do well with standard math education.

Telltale Signs Of A Logical Learner

  1. They enjoy asking questions and finding solutions
  2. They are often preoccupied with puzzles and other logic based games
  3. They have a knack for mathematics and other variable based subjects

Suggestions For Math Education

Since logical minded people often enjoy games and puzzles, it makes sense to frame math problems in the same mantle.  Now, I have always felt that math assignments are inherently similar to logic games or puzzles, and are naturally fun for folks who like these types of challenges.  But, for the logical brains out there that still find it hard to enjoy their math homework, I recommend searching out math-based games.  One decent website for such games is http://www.coolmath-games.com.  In addition, I suggest employing rules during study time to make practice problems feel more like a game.  For example, adding time constraints can make the practice problems feel more like a game.  Additionally, keeping track of percentages and trying to beat out old scores is another way to make the process more fun.

Visual/Spatial

Visual learners are specially built to use pictures and spatial tools.  They learn well when lesson plans incorporate photos, videos, visual maps, and other pictorial based instructions.

Telltale Signs Of A Visual Learner

  1. They visualize problems clearly in their minds
  2. They tend to learn better from pictures and movies than word based mediums
  3. They are naturally drawn to activities that involve visual design

Suggestions For Math Education

For the mind that learns with pictures and images, I suggest infusing math education with loads of drawings related to each concept.  They should be encouraged to draw out diagrams and use visual cues to ease memorization of various operations and theorems.  In addition, they should color code their notes and study materials.  This will help their visual brains organize and assimilate various pieces of information.

Aural/Musical

Aural learners are best equipped to understand and store information absorbed via sound and music.  Their ears are particularly adept at deconstructing and parsing heavy mixes of tones.  They will often do better with books on tape versus printed versions.

Telltale Signs Of An Aural Learner

  1. They deeply enjoy listening to and making music
  2. They have a natural understanding of music and its various elements
  3. They tend to connect emotional experiences with various sounds and songs

Suggestions For Math Education

Many aural learners enjoy listening to music.  I suggest that they play pleasant music in the background while learning mathematics.  This will evoke positive emotions and stir up a bit of energy while working.  Just make sure that the music is not overly distracting or played too loud.  In addition, musical minded people should try to organize formulas and operations into musical patterns or rhymes.  For example, coming up with a rhyme or melody to remember the quadratic equation would be more effective than simply attempting to remember the visual image of the formula.  Finally, when reviewing notes and examples from the textbook, they should read aloud so as to stimulate their aural memory.

Physical/Kinesthetic

Physical learners learn best by touch and movement.  A lot of superb athletes tend to fall into this category as physical processes and activities seem to sync well with their learning and memorizing capabilities.

Telltale Signs Of A Physical Learner

  1. They enjoy physical activities such as dance or athletics
  2. They spend a great deal of time being active and physically engaged
  3. They like to express themselves using a wide range of physical gestures

Suggestions For Math Education

For physical learners, devising a specially tailored strategy to approach math is a little trickier, but still doable.  Since these types tend to learn best when active, it is important for them to stay in motion while studying.  This could involve squeezing a stress ball while working, or simply taking a break every 20 or 30 minutes to walk around the room.  Hands on models are terrific as well when applicable.  If there is a tangible learning device that the student can actually touch and interact with, all the better.