In this blog, Cath from Learn Well discusses the importance of having a positive outlook when learning or teaching maths and provides some top tips to nurture a passion for maths!
When we think of the subjects that are full of passion and emotion, we tend to think of the creative ones; art, music, drama and literacy. Their ability to touch our hearts and souls, make us laugh and cry (and every emotion in between) is recognised by all of us. However, I’m going to suggest that maths brings out some pretty strong emotions in both adults and children too!
Maths is a bit of a marmite subject; by the time you reach secondary school, you either love it or hate it. It has always surprised me how, when meeting someone for the first time and maybe mentioning that I was a maths teacher, so many adults will confess ‘oh I hated maths at school’ or ‘I wasn’t any good at maths’ or ‘they lost me at algebra’.
But, I’m absolutely sure that all of these people are using maths in their every day lives, comfortably and confidently. They somehow carry a burden of not being good enough and I’ve got a suspicion that these negative feelings are passed on to their children.
So, if a parent ever asks me, ‘how can I best help my child with maths?’, my first response is always; be enthusiastic and positive about the subject. If your child presents you with a problem that you can’t solve or asks you to explain something you are struggling with, try saying something along the lines of:
- ‘Oh it’s exciting trying to work this out!’
- ‘Let me have a think about it, I love a puzzle!’
- ‘Shall we try and work it out together’
Or even my favourite ‘Get out of jail free’ card:
- ‘There are lots of ways of solving a problem, and we did it differently when I was at school, let’s ask the teacher together tomorrow and I’ll enjoy learning your way with you’.
It might sound cheesy, but there is only so much your positivity can achieve in the classroom – parents need to be on board too!
As teachers, I think it’s so important to think about the emotions that are at work when we teach maths. If children don’t have a strong sense of number, it is so hard to add new concepts and this creates feelings of frustration and sadness which ultimately start to build a defensive wall. It can often be a bit like trying to read without recognising the letters of the alphabet.
My heart leapt for joy when the maths mastery philosophy started to filter into our thinking. This is the idea that as teachers, the focus should be on tackling concepts in lots of different ways to allow children time and space to properly understand and master them for themselves. However, the reality of the busy classroom and the burden of assessments and progress can make this quite a challenge.
So, what can you do? What great ideas have I seen put into practise?
- Run a ‘Helping your child with maths’ session for parents to attend. Focussing on the positivity aspect of their role, you can show them the value of being positive for their children. Do as many of these as you possibly can, for all year groups.
- For each child’s mathematical journey, build their self-esteem with lots of affirmation of what they can do as they step into new concepts.
- Keep maths concrete! Make your classroom a space where grabbing any resource is a normal everyday part of learning something new, from number lines, base 10 rods and units, number frames, etc. And I’m talking about Key Stage 2 and beyond.
I’ve seen teenagers transformed by taking them back to the beginning and building their times tables (and their self-esteem) with real objects. As things started to make sense for the first time, a smile appears and their confidence grows. Instead of learning their tables by rote, they truly understood why 3 x 4 is the same as 4 x 3. You need to hold maths in your hands before you can hold it in your head.
- Don’t be a slave to your scheme of work, allow those wonderful ‘wow’ times to happen. Think big, think outside, think about bringing maths to life. Link maths to stories and real life, make it magical.
- Let the worksheet full of ticks not be your measure of success but the child who explains to their friend how to work it out, the child who smiles to themselves because they understand, the child who tries again instead of giving up.
- Let your classroom be a place where children feel that it’s good to fail and look for another way, to ask each other for help, to work together to solve a problem.
- Strive to have children who love maths, children who see its value and its magic.
If you haven’t seen Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk on creativity, then please make yourself a cup of tea, put your feet up and prepare to be inspired. This will stay in your teaching heart forever and change the way you look at things. Watch it here.
If you’re inspired by Cath’s blog, then Maths Week is a great time to start using these ideas. Find out more on how YPO can help here.