Emotion Gives Meaning to Math

Emotion Gives Meaning to Math

by Geoff White, B.Ed.

A fact or information has no meaning for the learner unless it has an emotional connection or impact on the learner.


This number has no meaning for you, the reader. It would be very difficult for you to remember it and would be extinguished from memory or at least corrupted very quickly.

I can remember it easily however, because it is my credit card number (not really). Even though I seldom need to recall it because of the tap feature, I can still recall it effortlessly when I log in to online banking.

Similarly my 9-digit SIN is embedded in my memory. After four years working abroad I was asked for this number on my return to Canada and it came to mind instantly. It has meaning because of the emotional connection I have with it. It is my identity to the government and in the case of the first number above, with my bank.

So, if I gave you a list of 20 ten-digit numbers, how long could you remember them? You have no emotional connection to them, so I am sure they would be forgotten before you could write them down. Is the following string of numbers any more meaningful to a young child? 6x5=30, 6x6=36, 6x7=42, 6x8=48, 6x9=54, 6x10=60

Meaningless abstract symbols. No possibility of an emotional connection.


How about if we make them concrete by using manipulatives? How about if we play with them?

This is 3+6=9 (see figure below) Now we can play with it. Now it is a concrete object we can feel. The ‘explore and discover’ play establishes emotional connections immediately and permanently without effort or pain as, say, memorizing number facts would.

The emotional connection need not be love or joy, or anything classical. Merely building a rectangle by adding two pieces together yields a sense of satisfaction. Reinforce that with a “well done!” from parent or teacher and it is solid forever. Now, it has meaning.

see also Acquiring Meaning

see also Acquiring Meaning

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Table of Contents
The Premise 								P.1
The Five-Minute Overview of the Method 					P.8
Key Phrases in Mortensen Math 						
Very Brief Summary of the Method 					
Psychological Principles at Work 					
Introduction - cont'd  							
Create a Math-Rich Environment  					
The Teacher's Role & Student Self-Esteem  				
Six Key Ideas from Jerry Mortensen  					
Section One - Counting							P.46
Section Two - Addition
Section Three - Subtraction
Section Four - Multiplication
Section Five - Division
Section Six - Fractions
Section Seven - Algebra
Section Eight - Solving Equations
Section Nine - Functions & Relations
Section Ten - Story Problems
Section Eleven - Mortensen Math Program & Materials			P.240