Saturday, 17 September 2011

What is it not? Or how to make maths less scary.

I went on a training course the other day and it was brilliant. It was all about supporting primary school age children with maths. Now, although my first job involved using maths ( lots of mental arithmetic ) I hated maths at school. It was like someone pulled up a big grey curtain infront of me and expected me to punch my way through it.

It all seemed pretty stupid. As I started this course I could feel the old resentment and dislike of maths rearing its ugly head. I admitted to my friend just how much I hate teaching maths. I moaned about lack of resources, lack of enthusiasm ... I just felt myself filling with negativity.

And yet, as the course went on, the woman running it began to change that feeling. She was brilliant. She made me realise that it wasn't about having lots of all-singing all-dancing resources, it was about familiarity, positivity. She talked about 'scaffolding for success'. Well, when you see that written down it seems a bit airy fairy, but in reality its excellent.Its about creating an environment where children can feel positive and can see themselves succeeding. Her favourite phrase was 'Good Mistake!!!' Because even though a child might have got something wrong their mistake will be a stepping stone to getting it right.

There will be something in their answer that will show you they are heading in the right direction and that works for other subjects too, not just maths. For example they might think that a 'b' is an 'h'. Yes, they have got it wrong, but the good thing is that they knew 'b' and 'h' both have a similar shape. 'Good Mistake!!!'

She also emphasised the importance of developing memory. As adults we can hold facts in our head, but children have to learn this skill. She talked about having a memory tray - a tray full of everyday objects - and you play the game of remembering what was on it, or maybe you take something away and they have to work out what it was. Simple games, positive thinking and behaviour - that's the key.

She also talked about changing our thinking. Instead of asking 'What is 5+2?' you ask 'How can you make 7?' Immediately the mind has to open up and think of lots of things, not just be limited to a closed answer.

Another idea was asking what something is 'not'. Asking a child to look at the number 8 and to think what it is 'not' opens lots of thoughts ... its not odd, its not bigger than 10, its not a banana.

How about 3 numbers next to each other? 7, 11, 28 ... what is the same about them? or what is different? or ... what can you tell me about them?

The course made me realise how to make maths so much more interesting and therefore so much more understandable. Repetition and familiarity create confidence and a solid foundation. If you think you are good at something you are far more likely to enjoy it so building that success into activities is a good thing to do. I have to say - none of these ideas are mine - I have been a maths dinosaur, but I am hoping to use what I have learnt so that maths isn't as awful as I always thought it was.


Jacqueline MacLean said...

I wish my son had experienced this approach - would have made a hell of a difference. Thanks for taking the time to post this. V interesting.

sarah at secret housewife said...

Hi Jacqueline. Thank you for leaving a comment! I am so glad you liked the post. Sarah x

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