Motivation, Not IQ, Matters Most for Learning New Math Skills

Part of our math skills are innate, but a larger part isn't

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You don’t have to be born with math skills; solving problems is a matter of studying and motivation.

That may not seem like such a surprise, but it’s become easy to say ‘I just can’t do math.’ While some element of math achievement may be linked to natural inborn intelligence, when it comes to developing skills during high school, motivation and math study habits are much more important than IQ, according to a new study.

“It’s not how smart we are; it’s how motivated we are and how effectively we study that determines growth in math achievement over time,” says Kou Murayama, a post-doctoral psychology researcher at University of California Los Angeles and lead author of the study published in the journal Child Development.

Murayama and his colleagues studied math achievement among roughly 3,500 public school students living in the German state of Bavariain. The German students were tracked from the fifth grade through the tenth grade and given an annual (grade-appropriate) standardized math exam every year. The kids were also given an IQ test, and asked about their attitudes toward math.

In particular, the psychologists were interested in how much the adolescents believed that math achievement was something within their control, and whether the kids were interested in math for its own sake. They also asked the students about study strategies, such as whether they would try to link concepts together when learning new material, or simply try to memorize the steps to typical problems.

To their surprise, the researches found that IQ does not predict new learning — in other words, intelligence as measured by the IQ test does not indicate how likely students are to pick up new concepts or accumulate new skills. While children with higher IQs did have higher test scores from the beginning of the study, how much new material the kids learned over the years was not related to how smart they were, at least not once demographic factors were taken into account.

“Students with high IQ have high math achievement and students with low IQ have low math achievement,” Murayama says. “But IQ does not predict any growth in math achievement. It determines the starting point.”

So the children who improved in math over the years were disproportionately those who said they “agreed” or “strongly agreed” with statements such as, “When doing math, the harder I try, the better I perform,” or “I invest a lot of effort in math, because I am interested in the subject”– even if they had not started out as high-achieving students. In contrast, kids who said they were motivated purely by the desire to get good grades saw no greater improvement over the average. As for study strategies, those who said they tried to forge connections between mathematical ideas typically improved faster than kids who employed more cursory rote-learning techniques.

While not entirely surprising — it makes sense that more motivated students would do better and that those who put in more effort to learn would see better results — the findings provide reassuring confirmation that academic success is not governed by a student’s cognitive abilities alone. Instead, students who want to learn math and who work at it may find they make faster gains and learn better than students who are bright but less motivated.

That’s encouraging not just for students, but for schools as well, says Murayama. He notes that it’s not clear how generalizable the results from the German school system are to other nations, but he is intrigued enough by the results to investigate different instructional styles that teachers and parents may use to inspire kids to learn. While certain intelligence traits seem to be based in genetics and and therefore hard to change, previous research suggests that motivation is not innate, but largely learned. Even, it seems, when it comes to math.

96 comments
JenniferBonin
JenniferBonin

Well, no kidding.  But given that most American parents and far too many American teachers will proudly declare that they're "not a math person," I don't see how this is likely to help much.  After all, if the people who should be motivating you to work hard and try your best at math already accept that "math is tough," how likely is it that that attitude won't be passed down to the kids?

eetom
eetom

eetom 5pts just now

Isn't it obvious that motivation is the propelling force behind success in anything?  Why do some face eath to climb high mountains and some prefer to stay at home and watch TV?  To be a mathematician you have to be gifted.  But to pass high school mathematics and to learn enough arithmetic for a "normal life" one does not need to be a genius.  He only needs to be normal.  If a person has no appetite and starve himself to death, who is to be blamed?



Read more: http://healthland.time.com/2012/12/26/motivation-not-iq-matters-most-for-learning-new-math-skills/#ixzz2XPNSOUEI

midtongta
midtongta

@Nysa_Qe นิศาไปโพสในเฟสให้หน่อย

KaGif
KaGif

@Nysa_Qe @midtongta @meowmeowml @NiNew_PK @TUCK_Smile @faijungrai @Palatpat @preaw16 @llluminates @illsmilefy แล้วดูไรต่ออะ

BOTBKC
BOTBKC

@arizona_mesa Appreciate the RT!

JanMcDanielMills
JanMcDanielMills

Agile Mind has a program called Academic Youth Development that is perfect to help districts with student motivation and effective effort in relation to STEM courses.

rrm402
rrm402

@phillipshuskies @zite Absolutely! Motivation is critical to learning/achievement regardless of IQ!!

IgorKokcharov
IgorKokcharov

Practice makes perfect! To motivate students to exercise math is simple : challenge them with real life problems that are adapted to their level. This  is an example of such a challenge : www.aplusclick.com

Chris_Burt0n
Chris_Burt0n

@danicamckellar @TIME @TIMEHealthland Good to hear!

nbucka
nbucka

@dmiller212001 Thanks for sharing!

BrianFe53088939
BrianFe53088939

@nbucka reminds me of Dr. Lauren Resnick- effort vs. ability

jboyd_math
jboyd_math

@danicamckellar @TIME @TIMEHealthland, I agree. Motivation is controlled by the student. Teachers can try to spark it, but to no avail.

khvilsted
khvilsted

@erikgahner Det forklarer alt!

Vari_Audrey
Vari_Audrey

@Vari_Audrey @mindshiftkqed I wish more Southern Africans believed this. Persistence not IQ are the major determiners of excellence in Maths

mdh
mdh

@MindShiftKQED Now if we could just figure out how to teach/foster effort.

rodaniel
rodaniel

@earlsamuelson I think it's valuable to be + about worksheet development but most, I mean MOST, don't motivate but demotivate

TeacherArthurG
TeacherArthurG

@johnkuhntx Thank goodness for the trenchant insights of the mainstream press.

eetom
eetom

Isn't this obvious in learning any subject or in trying to achieve anything?  Did someone just discovered recently that 1 plus 1 equals 2?

SuSyStranger
SuSyStranger

@danicamckellar Mathematics is just Greek (μάθημα máthēma) for 'study hard!' ;0)

NickHoehler
NickHoehler

@danicamckellar after last calculus ten years ago, going back to school with differential equations, it's going to take more than motivation

CecilieTS
CecilieTS

@holmhelgesen Holdning, ydmykhet og mot er alt. Nesten alltid.

RonnieMatrix
RonnieMatrix

@TIMEHealthland Motivation does push you to the limit but you still need IQ in this area.

TMatysik
TMatysik

@arbitton Years ago, my high school math teacher said: "Never ask me, 'When are we ever going to use this?" Killed all motivation back then.

ideaalgorithm
ideaalgorithm

@TIME @TIMEHealthland Yes-but who's highly motivated?

roadtohell
roadtohell

@aubsorama @Butyraceous As children everywhere proclaim "See, I'm not stupid, just lazy."

CharlotteNordin
CharlotteNordin

@AndersGusson Stämmer! Har en 17-åring som kämpade m självförtr. i 7-9:an men som fann motivationen i gymnasiet och numera är en stjärna. :)

LaToniyaAJones
LaToniyaAJones

@NHarringtonJr That's why I'm a proud educator + motivator. I believe they can + act like it. @TIMEHealthland

andreash1
andreash1

@TIME @timehealthland@vickydavilalafm

moyamoyagarden
moyamoyagarden

@TIME @TIMEHealthland what about brain recognition and dyslexia ??

BillG2330
BillG2330

Applicable elsewhere? RT@TIME @TIMEHealthland Motivation, not IQ, matters most for learning new math skills | http://t.co/TdxaMhXP

BillG2330
BillG2330

.@TIME @TIMEHealthland Great article - thank you