Why Making Mistakes is Valuable For Learning Math
Very often, students only want to know the right answer.
Whenever I ask students to try out a question in class, the first thing they want to know is .. “Teacher, what is the answer?” and I will ask back “What’s yours”?.
Surprisingly, they have not even worked out anything on the paper. They have merely just punched some numbers on the calculator. Or worse, some students just want to know the answer and write them down and declare “Done!” with the question.
Too often, students only see Math as just being RIGHT or WRONG. The problem with this mindset is that students feel a sense of failure if they keep getting wrong answers.
For me, as a teacher, I often do not just focus on answers. I will question students where they think they might have gone wrong with their solution, forcing them to check their working.
I will then ask why they had made those mistakes. Usually, upon checking, it was either due to careless calculations or having read the question wrongly or that they had missed out certain information in the question.
So, why is making mistakes in Math a valuable learning process?
1) It shows that students have tried.
Many students leave their questions blank rather than try. They said they didn’t know how to do it. Did they try? No. Because they were afraid of getting the wrong answers. If they had tried, there is still a chance of getting some marks but if they chose to leave it blank, it would be a sure zero.
I strongly urge students to try and if they get it wrong, it gives me an opportunity to discuss the mistakes in class and an opportunity for students to learn from it.
Those who try and get it wrong will learn more than those who didn’t try and merely wait to copy down the answers.
2) Mistakes set students thinking and developing their process and analytical skills
If students make mistakes, they learn to analyse where they went wrong and then fix it. They then own the understanding of how the questions work and not just depend on others to give them the answers.
They will also learn what methods work and what do not. And learn not to make the same mistakes by using the wrong methods when they see similar questions.
Students remember so much better this way. If they had merely copied down the right answers without analysing where they went wrong, chances are they will again make the same mistakes during exams.
So, this is where I tell my students that it’s alright to make mistakes now, in class, during practice, while learning new concepts and methods as long as they learn from these mistakes to become better and better.
Lastly, if students make mistakes and eventually find the right methods and answers, they will feel a sense of achievement and satisfaction.
This will in turn boost their confidence that they can indeed do it despite the challenges.
So, don’t think that making mistakes is a bad thing, but in fact, it’s extremely valuable as a learning process to be better at Math.