The Psychologist’s Role in Teaching Mathematics

Historically, psychologists have studied math but have been noticeably absent when it comes to doing direct mathematics work with children.   Notable exceptions include Diennes, Bruner, and Vygotsky, but to this day Psychologists tend to assess and make recommendations for treatment.  This surprises me, given the cognitive processing involved and the anxiety that so often appears in achieving and struggling math students.  I have designed and delivered treatment programs for struggling mathematics students for nearly 15 years, and I believe that other Psychologists could really contribute.  Psychologists have a unique and relevant skill set that would add value to a treatment team.  I have used mathematics as a vehicle in promoting a variety of therapeutic outcomes.    The hours I spent working on math may be my most favored memories of my practice.   To learn math for many of these youngsters is to conquer fear.  I offer a few thoughts on the role of psychologists in teaching math.

Psychologists can:

1) Discover the structure of the child’s thought through constructing mathematical models and problems.  Given space, children can do more than simply apply the sometimes confusing rules that might work on tests only to later fail to appear when encountering real world problems.  Psychologists aim to enhance thinking performance which leads to confidence and resiliency.

2) Psychologists might help make sure that math enjoyment survives past 2nd grade.

3) Psychologists get training in helping children use the imagination.  These techniques are well suited to mentally manipulate mathematical relationships, calculation problems and decoding symbols as mental objects.  Psychologists teach visualization, for instance, which goes far in enhancing performance by using visuospatial skills.

4) Help children understanding  concepts,  meanings, and numbers. Math is a language developed for measuring and describing the natural world.  Symbols appear, in part, to prove  underlying ideas, relationships, and concepts.  Physical objects are the reality, the symbols allow us to manipulate it.  (There are exceptions in higher math, of course).

5) Help children use discovery to make math meaningful. Rote Memorization=boredom.  When we play and build math problems, the inherent creative strategies transfer to real life problem solving.

6) Psychologists can make math fun. What if Math were fun? What if Math became an aesthetic experience?  I often repeat “fun is solving a problem mentally” which is how   Raph Koster defines it in his book A Theory of Fun).

7) We feel better by doing better.  The Psychologist might help  through a combination of play, motivational psychology, mindfulness, assessment, talk, and other interactive skills.  The psychologist trades in  building resiliency and helping patients solve problems.

Chime in and let me know what you think.  Have I made a case for it?


Filed under Bullying, Dr. Marty, education, educational gaming, Game On Learning, Game On Math, learning, literacy, Math, mathematics, parenting, Primal Math, Psychology

2 responses to “The Psychologist’s Role in Teaching Mathematics

  1. DrMarty

    Thanks for the response, LaToniya. Math becomes a lot less threatening when we can see it and make sense of it. People love to play with puzzles and math just becomes another puzzle. For more on this, readers can check out your organization @

  2. You are on it Dr. Marty. Math is visual, rectangles help learners make better connections to math concepts, games makes math fun, and the opportunity to team with a psychologist makes the motivation and cognitive piece fit the missing piece of the learning puzzle (formally and informally).

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