I have always loved Mathematics. I find it a little hard to believe that most people are uncomfortable with mathematics especially the Calculus part. Every branch of mathematics is related to each other and can be learned as easily as any other subject. I feel the real reason behind students disliking Calculus and other branches of mathematics lies in the way they learn the subject.
Most students try to by heart the formulas. What they do not understand is that calculus is a part of our daily lives. It is connected to almost everything in our lives. Every formula in calculus has the meaning. How hard would learning literature be if you start by hearting stories, poems etc? The same applies to calculus. It is all about training your brain to think in a particular manner, obviously slightly different from how you would think when reading a biology chapter or a thriller.
Calculus is an enlightening and entertaining subject. But when students and especially teachers limit the subject to contrived examples, arcane proofs, and abstract symbols, and learning through memorization, we are limiting our thinking and capacity to understand Calculus. The ‘mathematics is difficult’ attitude is what stops most students from making an attempt. Also educational institutions trying to concentrate more on their results and profits are in fact limiting students their freedom to explore the subject.
It is not possible to blame any one category of schools or institutions. Calculus, which was previously taught at college level, is now being taught at high school levels. This is a good move as students can develop some basic idea regarding the subject and the educational system need not overburden the students by teaching them all the concepts in the short period by limiting calculus to college level. But the expected positive effect cannot be seen unless we change the method in which mathematics is thought from the very early years of a student.
Imagine complicating an arts class. If instead of allowing students to use their imagination and creativity, the arts tutor puts barriers to the method of learning arts, complicates the subject by making students stick to a given set of rules as to how to paint or how to hold the brush…..well, that will not promote creativity. Most probably you will end up killing any artistic talent in the students.
Consider by hearting poetry. You would take out all the fun and entertainment from a poem by trying to study it rather than enjoy it. Calculus attempts to find solutions for the problems that we face in our lives. By training students to by heart formulas we are manipulating their ability to deal with problems. Calculus is more about ideas and less about formulas.
Look at Calculus from a different point of view. Instead of approaching the subject with a blocked brain and senses which has been preprogrammed to treat calculus as a difficult subject, approach the subject with an ‘I can do this’ attitude. If you think that you will not understand Calculus then you are never going to understand Calculus. The key to conquering any subject is the right attitude and dedication to learn.