Greg Tang Gets Families off on the Right Foot with Math

Greg Tang has made it his mission to get children off to a great start with math—by teaching their parents new problem-solving strategies. Greg’s goal is to keep math anxiety at bay and help parents feel confident about guiding their children through equations and calculations. As he puts it, encouragingly: “There are two ways to do math—an easy way and a hard way. I want to teach you the easy way.”

Greg believes that the traditional algorithms we were all taught in school have us working too hard. Part of his approach with young children is showing them how to group numbers quickly, making the arithmetic easier and more intuitive. “That’s really what my program and my strategies are all about,” he says, “teaching kids how to be great with numbers.” His audiences get to practice his techniques on the fly, discovering that math problems can feel more like a series of puzzles than a dreaded chore.

For parents who were drilled in the old approach to arithmetic, Greg offers an instant appreciation of new methods of teaching math. He explains to parents how their children are being trained to look for patterns, draw pictures and break down big numbers rather than mechanically applying a cumbersome algorithm. Math-phobic adults often experience an epiphany during his talks: they suddenly see how math “makes sense.” Best of all, solving equations and word problems using visualizations, number sense and reasoning turns out to save a lot of time and labor.

Greg believes that with intelligent instruction, every child is capable of doing well in math. But he really enjoys showing parents—especially those who are math-aversive—how satisfying it is to solve challenging problems once you know a few clever tricks. Parents can then boost their child’s confidence and skills by practicing math and working on math games together at home.

To offer children mathematical challenges that are both baffling and a delight to solve, Greg has written eight picture books about math, including the best-selling The Grapes of Math. “You have to make math relevant to kids,” Greg notes. “What is truly relevant to kids? Only one thing: having fun.” His picture books offer funny, pun-packed poems; tricky but entertaining math riddles; illustrations that give clues to finding the answer; and surprising connections to subjects such as art history (Math-terpieces), the seasons (Math for All Seasons) and storytelling (Math Fables).

With his background in economics at Harvard and math education at NYU, Greg knows how essential it is that children are comfortable using mathematical concepts rather than avoiding them. “There’s so many fields that require you to use numbers, from business to math to science to social sciences,” he notes. “If you’re good with numbers, all of that stuff is easy. When you’re bad with numbers, especially big numbers, all of those fields are very difficult.” He adds, “I just want kids to be comfortable with numbers, to actually understand how to work with numbers to make them easy and to become good problem solvers, not just in math but really in anything.”

Greg sums up his unexpected career as “math missionary” this way: “It’s about giving children a better, faster, more efficient set of tools—reasoning. If we learn them as a child, from the beginning, then math is not so laborious. It makes sense. And finding solutions becomes more satisfying.”

If the very idea of solving for x in an algebraic equation makes your heart sink, you might enjoy Greg’s illuminating TEDx Talk; he may have you enjoying the process for the first time ever!