Guest post: "I can't do maths" - if you're saying it, your kids probably are too
Recent studies have shown that numeracy is a bigger indicator of disadvantage than literacy - and yet being 'bad at maths' is often made light of.
In this guest post, Wendy Jones - trustee of National Numeracy - explains the impact parents' attitude to maths has on the development of their children's skills, and argues that we must be more positive about the subject in front of our kids.
Read the post and let us know what you think on the thread. Did you hate maths at school? Have your kids picked up on it?
Trustee of National Numeracy.
Posted on: Thu 13-Mar-14 11:26:21
(51 comments )
I remember one particular parents’ evening at my children’s infant school. It was dedicated to maths. The displays of equipment were superb and the head teacher was desperate to persuade us that maths was something real. "Now who’s used maths today?” she asked.
We knew we were being slightly patronised. We wriggled around embarrassedly on chairs designed for very small bottoms and came up with lacklustre variations on “I've been to the supermarket” or “I've checked off invoices at work”.
One mum, whose day – or rather night – job was as a croupier, injected a touch of glamour into an otherwise flat (but well intentioned) evening, with her examples of maths usage. But this wasn't what we’d come to parents’ evening for - we wanted to know whether our kids were being taught their tables and tessellation, and we left none the wiser about how our offspring were really learning maths.
This was a long time ago – my children are now at work or university - but the school obviously did something right because two of my three (the two girls – to confound gender stereotypes) went on to do A-level maths.
But I have a feeling that, in some ways, things are little changed when it comes to parents and maths. The fact that there weren't many of us there that evening, and most of us were a bit nervous about discussing maths, was telling.
The reluctance, or worse, that many parents feel towards the subject can settle in early and get passed on too easily to our children. But it shouldn't be so.
Young, pre-school children are naturally enthusiastic about numbers and shapes and counting. It’s easy to encourage them to look out for maths in every aspect of daily life – in cooking, shopping, sorting things, going on a journey - to normalise maths. That stands them in good stead for when school maths does start to get more abstract.
We do need to be aware of this country's cultural oddity of rubbishing maths. And – I have to admit – it does seem to be more common among my female friends. All the research evidence suggests that girls and women are less confident about maths too.
But perhaps even more important is to talk about maths positively and to continue doing so as they get older. The real danger is of denigrating maths. Of saying: “It’s not that important, you can get by without it.” Yes it is, and no you can’t. Or: “I'm no good at maths.” If that is the case, do something about it rather than bragging about it.
I'm not suggesting that we start lecturing our kids about the links between numeracy and getting a job, earning a decent wage, managing money, being healthy and happy even (although it’s worth bearing these things in mind, and there is plenty more in that vein on the National Numeracy website).
But we do need to be aware of this country’s cultural oddity of rubbishing maths. And – I have to admit – it does seem to be more common among my female friends. All the research evidence suggests that girls and women are less confident about maths too.
When we started up National Numeracy two years ago, the Today programme interviewed a woman called Paula, who admitted that she “just didn't get” maths at school. In adult life, she was often unsure whether she was being short-changed in shops. But it was when she heard her children saying they were “rubbish at maths, just like mum” that she decided to do something about it. She went to numeracy classes at college, and she did start to get it.
That's the point. Maths is not a ‘can’ or ‘can't do’ subject. Everyone can learn to get better at it.
This week National Numeracy have launched the National Numeracy Challenge. It’s a big drive to improve numeracy across the UK and at its heart is an online site that lets you check your own everyday maths skills (in the privacy of your own home!), so you can see exactly where you need to brush up, find online learning resources that match those needs, then return to the check-up to see how you've improved.
As the Challenge stresses, the important thing is confidence.
So, if you’re unsure about your maths skills, have a go. If you’re already confident, try it anyway and encourage others. Mention it at work, to friends, at your child’s school. Get the school to sign up as a Challenge school.
National Numeracy’s parents and carers' page has more information on how you can help your children learn. And if you want to know more about how your children are learning maths at school, there are links to a lot of information on that too.
In Wales they've already started a What You Say Counts campaign to encourage parents to be positive about maths. As a Jones, I have to salute the Welsh for taking the lead in this. We need the same throughout the UK – a commitment not to say negative things about maths in front of your children – ever.
By Wendy Jones
I often wonder why it is socially acceptable for an otherwise educated person (often but not always female) to announce with a giggle, and perhaps even a touch of pride, that she is "useless at maths." Nobody says that about reading. You would be too ashamed. In both cases, the person should do something about it and work hard to become BETTER at maths/reading and to ensure that their children do not fall into the same trap. But please let us not confuse arithmetic (adding up and subtracting) with maths. Maths is about understanding logic, patterns and reasoning. This is not about getting your grocery bill right. It is about life.
It is only as an adult that I have realised that actually, I'm pretty good with numbers. My mother always said that she was awful at maths and so when I found bits difficult I decided I was too. I think it is bizarre that one would feel shame to have to say "oh, I'm illiterate" but it's some sort of badge of honour to be innumerate.
I am good at maths (University level qualification). However, I find it very difficult to teach it to my seven year old son. I find it much harder to help him with his maths work compared to reading and writing. I think a possible issue may be that parents don't know how to help their children with maths, and may end up confusing them more than helping them (as I have done recently). My son's school runs an evening for parents to help with this, which is a good step.
Have been helping my son recently with Times Tables so wanted to make it fun. This is the result bit.ly/1lZcV1P
Sorry, I'll put it in another format www.josandelson.com/heir-raising/times-tables-shortcut/
i find maths a real struggle i always worry about what will happen when my children go to school. dh is amazing and uses maths in his job every day. yet i feel like the dunce of the family.
its not easy when even the basics of logic and maths are a struggle.
Agree with all previous posters, and I think the campaign is great, however, if as much focus was put on kids who fall behind in numeracy as those who fall behind in literacy, we,d have better outcomes.
You only have to look at the angst over reading levels on the boards here to see that numeracy is an afterthoight for a lot of parents(myself included).
I never seen on a thread,"my childs school is testing for dyscalculia".
Truth is for a lot of children/adults maths is a problem.
Earlier intervention, I think would make a difference.
It,s amazing how quickly kids start telling themselves that they can,t do something.
I might be horribly misrepresenting someone here, but this is my recollection of something said by John Humphreys (who I consider to be, if nothing else, well-educated).
They were discussing a proposal to increase the entry requirements for teaching. The proposal was to bring the requirements for maths in line with English (GCSE C?). John Humphreys said something like "I can see that even a non-specialist English teacher would need to use English every day, but Maths?!".
OK, he's not exactly known for not being provocative, but I had the urge to throw the radio across the room.
There are some fantastic tools out there to help youngsters grasp numbers eg cuisinaire rods, fraction boards, maths magic mixer game, logic puzzles. With young primary school children, these may be of more use than sitting down going through sums (although that has its place and satisfaction). I too am a university level (Cambridge) mathematician and still often think in colour coded numbers using cuisinaire colours from nursery school. Everyone can naturally do logic, and maths is just imposing a set of coherent artificial rules on the number system in a logical fashion. Learn the rules then you can do the maths and the results are magical.
Rats, will have to nc now. I always think of that quip: "How can you tell if someone has been to Cambridge?" Answer: "because they tell you in the first 5 minutes." I try never to mention it but just failed. Gah!
known as 'the five minute rule' round our way
I'm a maths teacher and every parents evening get at least 2 or 3 comments from parents, in front of their kids, mentioning that they are rubbish at maths. If it's a kid that's good at maths 'they didn't get it from me' or if the child is struggling 'I was never any good at maths either, I can't help'.
I do sometimes wonder if other teachers get similar comments about being rubbish at PE or geography.
My approach is to ask the dc to help me with maths related stuff. I'm certain I have dyscalculia but of course back in the 1840s when I was at school it was unheard of. All three dc are 'gifted' at maths - how did that happen? No idea but it's great at tax return time.
The fact is they wouldn't, Noble - and there are lots of maths teachers out there who would love to help patents understand their child's work. (I know you know that! Just making the point. )
I am scared of Maths which is rather sad. Would love to conquer the fear and tackle GCSE Maths but the block is so strong. Will check and see if any local numeracy initiatives near me.
My children's school has recently purchased several copies of a new board game called PLYT - and my kids love it. Getting them to talk about their day is usually like extracting teeth but they openly volunteered the information when they first played the game.
Anyway we borrowed a copy from school and I have to say it wasn't what I expected. It was great - actually playing an educational game that we didn't have to dumb down for and the children could play as well.
The reason why I'm telling you is because as parents we played and felt like we were being challenged - and after a few games we became so much sharper. And in our case, that set a great example to the children - they could see us doing more and they wanted to do more as well. Win-win.
I'm in adult maths classes at the children's centre and my dc think I go because I like maths. If only they knew. MIL tried to tell them why mummy goes to maths classes but I interrupted by saying let them think that, they may want to like maths too.
In reality, maths was just made so abstract as a stand alone subject when it isn't really. If someone had bothered to take the time to explain to my teenage self that if I could work out whether I could afford a lipstick as well as a dress because it had 40% for example, I could do maths. Or that because I knew how much I had to buy food (child carer) and could add up the cost of my shop as I went along then I could do maths.
Stupidly the part of maths I enjoyed the most was algebra because it was a puzzle and not at all maths like. Now I want to step sideways into teaching I need my qualification in maths. All those years doing reports and forecasts and statistics count for nothing other than I know I can do maths now.
There's a brilliant book called Sum Hope by Steve Chinn, of Mark College, which is for adults to help them recognise dyscalculia. It's revolutionary. I found I am slightly dysc, can't do arithmetic, but adore the logic of non arithmetic maths. I too had cuisenaire and loved them, but wished they had come in 12s.
I was taught great things like venn diagrams and sets in infants in Australia, great system.
Revelatory, not revolutionary.
I would never let on to my dc, but I really dislike maths as a subject.
I got an A in maths at gcse, so it's not that I can't do it, it's the rigidity of the subject, there being only one answer, that means I have very little interest in it outside of everyday uses.
There was a thread on here recently about fractions that crystalised my view.
Of course if dd or ds are interested I would encourage it, as with any subject.
Isn't it more that maths used to be taught in one rigid way, which, much like "look and say" reading methods, worked fine if you have the right kind of brain to join up the dots, but if your brain doesn't work in that particular way then you were basically screwed because they didn't tell you how to figure that part out, you were supposed to learn it from the teaching.
Now maths is taught very differently, there is far more focus on the underlying building blocks which make up numbers and I think it's easier to understand, whether you have "that kind of brain" or not.
My sister and I both like maths and are good at maths but our mother is a big "can't do maths" person. I can't remember why but one evening we ended up going through how to do a calculation in various ways and she said "Wow, if maths was taught like this when I was at school, I think I would have been able to do it. It's easy, it just makes sense!"
I like maths because it is very logical and everything slots together. I don't find it rigid that there is only one answer, it's comforting because it means you can do it backwards and check that you've got it right. You can't generally follow an argument like that in any other subject, possibly some parts of the physical sciences.
I didn't like maths at school, and when I got older I wondered if it was because my mother always went on about how terrible she'd been at it and how much she hated it.
So I have been very very careful not to do that with my dc. I've always been really positive about it. But... my dd (age 8 ) has started saying she hates maths and is rubbish at it. She's not actually - she is above national average - but she still has that negative attitude, as though she finds maths scary (which was exactly how I felt).
Math Anxiety affect a fair portion of the population here. It something that needs to be seriously addressed.
The real problem is is that it spans every aspect of a persons life. If you're math anxious then how difficult will it be for that person to budget their money, work out how far to go on what they've got in the petrol tank. Or if that "deal/sale/bargain" is good or not.
Its a pretty serious thing, think of all the people working in the Financial Services sector who are making decisions based on numbers who feel uncomfortable with basic (let alone complex) maths.
Take for example this
eleven plus two = twelve plus one it's mathematically correct, but its also an anagram. And that starts to take away elements of anxiety when you have that "Oh yeh!" moment.
Take for example, how far on what I have in my petrol tank?
I just asked DW that question, she looked panicked, litres by volume against miles as a distance. Basically two plain simple units of measure, yet she had difficulty with visualising it as 20 litres in the tank and 40 miles to the litre, then 20 x 40 = 600, kerching! Anxiety gone, calculation done.
Yesterday, my 5yo DD said "plus 3" Daddy, so I blithely started to explain infix, postfix and prefix notation and alternative names such as polish notation and reverse polish notation, cos I was on the bus and slightly bored. Today, her teacher asked me Why she's going "plus 3 its prefix".
Hopefully, I'll be able to pass on my comfort with numbers.
I’m well educated.. I have a good first degree and 2 post grad degrees in social science subjects and my job is in research and statistics and I’m considered good at it, but I have no maths O level and despite taking it 3 times at school and after , I failed each one.. Because I just don’t understand the language,
I was told that I wasn’t any good at maths at school and never would be... and Im not,
I can do economic and statistical forecasts because it’s not 'maths' ...it’s like another language and one I can understand... it’s also something I taught myself.
It’s not 'maths' that’s the problem; it's how you are taught. It needs to be made accessible and relevant. Kids don’t need to be bullied and belittled about it like I was....a because if you have a teacher that thinks you are rubbish at it and tells you so (like the ones i had) , then you are rubbish ..
When it comes to 'counting' adding up, multiplying, working out how many rolls of wallpaper etc... I get by, For doing percentages I have formulas stuck on the back of my calculator (and I do now, after all these years, have a rough idea of what the answers should look like for percentages). some fractions are ok and relevant to real life, but then they ask you do stupid things like multiply them ..and as for algebra, what is that all about unless you want to be a research scientist or something ? ... In my day that was all they concentrated on (why? these things are completely incomprehensible and simply not relevant to most of us in real life at all ).
I bluff at the maths I need to do and usually no one notices because they can’t do maths either...
But actually I just don’t engage with it unless I have to ( but when I do , I’m always scared that someone will pick me up.. but they dont usually because they cant do it either) I think it will always be thus... people get bullied for being good at maths and for not being good at maths .. It’s seen as a test of intelligence (but its not..its just a test of whether you can do maths) ... and that people have to be 'brainy' to do, and if they cant do it then they are thick... and that’s why people keep quiet about it...
My experience was 40 years ago but I’m pretty sure that the teaching in school isn’t much better now .. But . interestingly you are now f*cked without maths... When I was going to be made redundant I was told by the job centre that I simply could not apply for even basic jobs because I didn’t have maths...
Pity the kids like me today... It’s just mad... when are we goingto realise that it’s not your qualifications but what you can do?
BTW I’m really good at English (but just can’t type!) I’m not even feeling sorry for myself... just ranting about bloody maths and the unnessary stupid importance it has, and how this perception f*cks up so many people who would be good at other stuff and lables them 'underachievers' ).
Of course I know those here who are good at maths wont agree with me and yes I do understand that we need it for somethings.. its justthat schoold etc dont seem to get that its not fo reveryone.. andlables those that 'cant do it' as simply thick and stupid..
I struggled with maths at school and scraped an O level at the lowest grade. I wanted to make sure that DD didn't have the same problems. Nearly 40 years later we have the wonderful internet and enlightened teachers to enable struggling students to understand the intricacies of algebra, geometry etc.
DD says she finds maths hard, but it is the only subject she is ahead in, and that is because I make her work hard. We use the MyMaths website all the time and find it very useful.
When DD gets homework I do a crash course in MyMaths and then am on hand to explain the how and the why.
After my rant above there is something I would be very interested to know..and that is: How useful is the maths we learn at school - apart from learning basic calculations (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, money, measurements and possibly percentages) to your real life after school or college?
So apart from helping kids with homework,and basic calcs , has anyone here used algebra, logarithms, geometry, calculus etc, since they left school, and for what ?
Has anyone multiplied fractions for anything and what?
Has anyone ever used algebra for anything
( I didnt do calculus , but ive never used any of the above..except some basic geometry when I learnt yacht navigation ....which ive never used since mind you,
Would be intersting to find out
What I tell the kids who whine 'when am I ever going to use this in real life?' is that even if they don't use that precise skill in real life, maths is teaching them lots of things that will be useful in real life.
It teaches logical thinking. It teaches looking at a worded problem and analysing what it is actually asking you to do. It teaches you to think 'what do I know, what do I need to know, and how can I use one to find the other?'. It teaches you to be organised in presenting your working. It teaches you to give solutions to problems and not simply answers.
There are many, many situations in which those skills are useful.
And besides, even if you never use algebra ever again, that doesn't mean it wasn't worth learning algebra. Because at the time, you didn't know you weren't ever going to use algebra ever again, and the doors which require use of algebra remained open to you.
I'm not really sure the enthusiasm a child has for a subject is that closely related to their parents' attitude towards it tbh. For me and my siblings, it was just a matter of our natural aptitude for a subject, regardless of how my parents' felt about it. My parents left school at 16 and although they helped with practical, everyday arithmetic in the primary years, they had no idea about trig or complex numbers. That didn't affect my decision to continue studying maths (and further maths) at A level (and then Physics at university) - I chose the subjects because I enjoyed them. I'm sure I would have chose to do those subjects even if they had told me how much they hated maths or couldn't do it.
My sisters both studied Psychology at university (they enjoyed the theory but hated all the maths involved!). That's a subject my parents had no idea about - it wasn't covered in their school curriculum. So my parents had no real influence over subject choice there.
My son enjoyed maths until the secondary school years but sadly has a personality clash with his maths teacher, and has now lost all enthusiasm for the subject. I encouraged him over the years to enjoy doing maths activities, but frustratingly that's all but disappeared now. He's good at computing and I can see from his skills there that he has all the right thinking processes necessary to do well with maths, so it's not a matter of ability or confidence. It makes me sad to see that he's lost his enthusiasm but I don't think attending any special parents' evenings or looking at the National Numeracy website could have changed his attitude.
I don't think saying you're no good at maths is like being illiterate, more like not enjoying reading. And I definitely know people who claim not to have read a book since they left school.
Basic literacy and arithmetic is important and it's great that there are schemes to help people who struggle with either. But there's a lot in gcse maths that most people don't need in their daily lives.
I love maths. But I don't think that everyone has to.
I agree with cornflakegirl - not everyone has to love maths, or even remember half of what was taught at gcse.
I finished school 12 years ago, not once have I needed to work out an angle by multiplying the other two angles (trigonometry) and besides, if I know the other
two angles I probably have the necessary apparatus to handto measure the third angle!
So I think it's ok to be 'rubbish' at trigonometry, that's more like not enjoying Chaucer than being illiterate.
It's vital that everyone has a very good grasp on the basics - because we use them every single day. Beyond that it's difficult to make a strong case for excellence apart from the fact that maths is a building block for many other subjects and sciences - so generally speaking good maths can open up more choice as you move forward.
I must say I find it even harder to make a strong case for reading Shakespeare or learning French - it's more about choice and preference.
However, that is a little too simplistic and misses the point. Today's global society is hugely competitive and we are losing the education race - especially in maths - to other countries. From being one of the great educating nations who led the way, we are now ranked 28th.
The argument about usefulness gives way to the requirement to be competitive - and we must as a country improve our maths grades if we want to be competitive. To an employer, or university - the candidates with the higher grades have an advantage and it is as simple as that.
It teaches looking at a worded problem and analysing what it is actually asking you to do. It teaches you to think 'what do I know, what do I need to know, and how can I use one to find the other?'
I think that the 'worded' problems are the ones that make maths the most difficulty and obscure for people who don’t see numbers.. As a child I would totally lose the 'sum' question in the 'Jack has two apples and Jill had there and there are seven hungry kids.. thing bit.. it (ok that’s an easy example and yes I probably wouldn’t be able to think of any more complex , but for me the words just clouded the sums than it needs to be and make the 'maths unecessarily obscure and more difficuly in my opinion.. )
It teaches logical thinking Philosophy (which ended up being my subject) also teaches logical thinking.. and I think is much more practical in informing useful real life thinking skills than any maths beyond the basics we use every day. But we are not considered stupid or illiterate if we have never studied Philosophy ..
I always really enjoyed Biology, Chemistry and Geography at school but was told I couldn’t take the subject at O level 'because I couldn’t do maths' .. I.e. not clever enough! If I had taken chemistry maybe I’d have grown more into maths as then the practice of using it for anything but in vague terms would have been shown. Geography was my best subject (i went onto get a grade 1 gcse later on) but i was forced to drop it at school becauseof the percieved 'problem' with maths).
It teaches you to be organised in presenting your working. Many people who are really good at maths are simply not organised at all (as you will know if you have ever worked in a university!) Quite the opposite in fact .. Unless you are playing 'maths games' ( i.e. doing higher maths for its own sake which is quite another thing ) organisation and presentation doesnt matter ..It’s what comes out in the end that matters. It’s simply not relevant and can be just another stick to beat kids up with . How unfair if you have the answer correct ( which is the whole point) but you don’t get the mark because you didn’t show the working- that happened to me lots and was one of the things that put me off the whole thing )
It teaches you to give solutions to problems and not simply answers. What it teaches you is formulas , and tricks , and yes, these are good to know if you need these things especially for everyday stuff, I'm not arguing you shouldn’t know this stuff. I use them all the time..
But why all the mystery ? Why spend time forcing the kids who really can’t do it to do any more than the practical usage .. And why the degradation of people who simply don’t get it?
We don’t bully or belittle or make value judgements people who can’t do other things , such as read or spell or play the piano and they can all be useful skills . But we do with maths .. It’s simply thought of as being a sign of being unintelligent and a fair target to beat people up with ..
I’m stopping now as I'm actually feeling sick thinking of maths lessons I endured.... You know , we once had a lesson when i was about 7 or 8 when all the kids who got all the answers right in the end of term maths test were allowed to completely fill in their star chart and those who didnt had to sit and watch.) I tried really hard at that lesson (stars were reallyhard to get in our school.. i think igot about 3 the whole time) , but still I only got about 75% of the sums correct (really good for me) so was one of those kids who were forced to sit and watch the 'successful' ones get rewarded andto be humiliated for simply not being good enough ...
You know, I think thats when maths and me parted company .. Ah well . not looking for sympathy here Iknow im 'damaged ' by naths and ill never chime with what others are saying here .
BUT my son's experience 30 years later was aboutthe same (and he's good at maths) .. I'm just saying that its not maths per se but the way its used to bully people
hope it's better now. .. but I bet it ain't
I have used maths a lot in my working life. I am a computer programmer and it is a very useful skill to have. My previous job involved writing computer programs to mathematically model DNA profiles, if I didn't have good maths skills I wouldn't have been able to do the job!
You use algebra all the time, but because it's not set out as x x y - c + b we don't notice. You use it to work out whether the multipack of 4 tins of beans is better value than the four individual tins on a special offer, or how much paint you need for a room, every time you use trial and error, the petrol example used above.
I don't know what maths teaching is like now, but I would hope it had improved from 30, 40 years ago, because back then it was shocking - you had to instinctively make the connections rather than having the connections explained to you. I thought the modern methods did more to explain those connections, actually, perhaps not.
but for me the words just clouded the sums than it needs to be and make the 'maths unecessarily obscure
but in 'real life' the maths won't be presented to you on a plate, you will need to pick it out. It's not making it unneccessarily obscure, rather, more realistic.
How unfair if you have the answer correct ( which is the whole point) but you don’t get the mark because you didn’t show the working
If you're a plumber giving a quote, how many people would be happy with simply being presented with a figure and no breakdown of the costs? Of course how you got to the answer is important, it shows that you know what you are doing. It convinces someone who doesn't know the answer that your answer is correct, or someone who is checking your work that you know what you are doing and didn't simply stumble over the correct answer by accident.
Our primary school gives a clear indication that they consider literacy more important than numeracy. From reception, my children have brought home a reading book every day - until now when they reach reading stage of using their own books from the library - but we still need to note it down in a record that they have done some reading.
Maths wise, we get yearly homework support meetings where they encourage us to "do a little" maths every day or "when we can". Too vague and not enough importance placed on numeracy through this. I have all the Letts maths books and try and get my DC to do a quick times table/addition exercise or two most nights - but the fact that the school haven't specified exercises or an amount of time (like we had at school - do these maths sums by tomorrow) mean that there's no emphasis on HAVING to do the maths. No one checks like they do the reading record.
Net result - my DC don't know their times tables but they can read well. I think primary schools need to have compulsory maths homework - even 5 minutes a night, that is guided. Not parents having to try and find out what on earth their children are studying at the moment in the maths class.
I agree with Laska42 comments.
Intelligence was only measured in Maths at my school too. My own bloody Maths teacher told me to give up with it FFS. I was 14. So effectively any lofty academic ambition on my part withered from that moment.
The humiliation alone (during class you were supposed to stand up and answer random maths questions verbally) destroyed my confidence and maths became something to be feared.
Every day numeracy is important. It frustrates me no end that i break into a cold sweat if i have to do it.
I have never said i was crap at maths in front of my kids. I don't want them to be influenced by that or so utterly discouraged like i was.
I think learning maths is very important - because the children in the countries who currently excel at Maths don't have any great Maths-gene or secret...what they do have is tenacity and perseverance and a refusal to give up until they reach a high standard.
What we do in this country is allow people to give up too easily.
We also have an appalling attitude that girls not being good at Maths or science is ok because they have girl brains - that really pisses me off.
You use algebra all the time, but because it's not set out as x x y - c + b we don't notice. You use it to work out whether the multipack of 4 tins of beans is better value than the four individual tins on a special offer, or how much paint you need for a room, every time you use trial and error, the petrol example used above.
Excellent examples from bertiebotts. If you understand algebra, you work it out without thinking it's algebra.
Same with multiplying fractions, which Laska asked. How do you work out what's 1/2 of a 1/4 cup, or a 1/3 of a 1/2 cup? I use recipes from the US a lot and they have cup measurements and I work that out into the equivalent mls in my head usually. (The answers are about 30ml ie 2 tbsp for the first, and about 40ml for the second).
I also get my phone out to work out if the mega pack nappies are cheaper than the jumbo packs, by calculating their per nappy cost. I do that everytime there's a multi-buy on. Often times I found it cheaper to buy 4 smaller packs in Asda than actually getting 2 of the bigger packs!
I do use maths everyday, in the very 'abstract' sense. I'm a software developer. It's a very logical discipline, and supposedly, almost everyone who's good at it is also good at maths. Or that it's the same people who brag about being rubbish with computers and maths. I've noticed a lot of females like to brag about being rubbish with computers, btw.
To be honest I think there is a huge issue in schools re confidence and ability in children and parents that needs addressing before you deal with parents.
I have two boys very good and confidence at maths and a dd who could be equally as good(her mental arithmetic skills are actually quite good,yes I know that means very little) but who is crippled by a lack of confidence.The continual message from school is parents are crap at maths,they were taught in a crap way alongside some people just aren't good at maths.I find it interesting that if it was literacy the attitude would be completely different.
I have continuously pointed out that my dd could be very able at maths and that a lack of confidence is the issue only to be told that I have to accept some people just aren't mathematical and are better at literacy.This from the maths co-ordinator.Said co-ordinator also said if I wanted to improve her confidence I should simply stick her on a roller coaster.<deep sigh>
My able sons can work out quite complex mental arithmetic problems in seconds but then have to write up pages and pages of "workings" after for 5 problems.The inference being you can't be trusted to just work things out quickly.It can often kill enthusiasm.
We find the modern methods bewildering(we have 3 degrees between us with dp having two in quite maths orientated subjects). I am a former teacher so have o'level.After much foot stamping we did get an info evening which was useful although said maths co-ordinator took great delight in putting us parents on the spot and continuously highlighting just how crap and pointlessly we were all taught alongside how much better our children allegedly are.Doesn't fill you with much confidence when supporting maths homework.
After further foot stamping I think my dd's school is finally getting the confidence issue as she is now getting confidence boosting sessions with some other children and extra homework( which I had to repeatedly request).Dd is starting to enjoy maths as her confidence improves.
I am pretty tough,not all parents are.On being told you were taught maths the wrong way and your dc will never be good at maths most I'm sure would simply accept it.
Just to add we've heard nothing about this from school.
<We've haven't heard anything about this campaign from school.>
The trouble I have with maths is the lack of correlation between the theory and real life. We use maths unconsciously all the time (as has been mentioned above) but we then have people wondering what it's useful for. That's not a dig at anyone but is a classic question that comes out from the mouths of students. Yet maths is a part of everything we do.
I a m biased as I'm an engineer but without maths (or a fundamental understanding of it) our world would never have got this far. It's high time people were made more aware of this but IMHO is unsurprising when the uk places no value whatsoever on engineering and the sciences.
I don't understand either why some parents think maths is harder than learning English. with maths there are rules. English breaks loads of rules in my opinion.
Because people have aptitudes for different things. Because the reason something is easy or hard is not onlly about how many rules it follows or breaks. Astrophysics presumably has rules. Doesn't mean it's easy. English is easy for me because I have been hearing it since I was born and speaking it since not long after. You are immersed in it (both in its written and spoken form) all day every day. (That was in reply to Merlypuss btw.)
I find English hard as I have dyslexia and words look correct to me. I E and E I are particular ones that catch me out. I am not suggesting I could be a nuclear pyhsacist but I wouldn't mention that I am bad at spelling in front of my two in case they presume it is a barrier. like I wouldn't say maths is hard. Everything newly learned presents challenges. I guess I was lucky that my maths and science teacher in primary made it a bit of a game. Whereas I was the thick kid for english . We are going back a good few years.
I don't understand why some people say they're rubbish at maths almost with pride, and normally countered with the comment that they are good at English, implying you can't (normally) be good at both. It certainly is a cultural thing peculiar to the uk.
In our household, we've always emphasised the importance of maths. We'd even go so far as to say (not in front of dc) that it is more important than English/humanities at primary level in terms of having a solid foundation and as a general life skill.
Head of Maths at ds's secondary school ran a series of "three line whip" workshop for all staff about this- many of the teachers were shocked when they realized how many times they said things like "Hang on while I add that up- maths has never been my strong point" to the kids. Everyone has agreed to make a conscious effort to stop. And he has also made a maths booklet for each year group for form tutors to hand out at times when they would normally tell the kids to read their books.
I say I am crap at maths because I am shocking, I cannot do the Level 5 questions my daughter has, partly maybe because of the format, but a lot just lack of the basics. I do hold a senior management position and use maths but it is always the same maths - it certainly isn't geometry or converting litres etc...and to be fair calculators help ;)
However my children are all really good at maths, with my eldest daughter being rather exceptional at it - Dh has a degree in maths and helps them quite a bit with it but 2 have a real flair for maths...the other two less so but can still hold their own.
I really don't think my attitude has had any influence in their maths ability, and it isn't exactly something I can hide when I can't help them with their homework!!! I think it is healthier for them to laugh at their mum and be proud they are doing so well in a very important subject.
As an aside, the maths tuition in primary has been absolutely shocking - there seems to be a hell of a lot more emphasis on English at their school anyway.
For me, maths has always been like a 'bad boyfriend', pulling me in, intriguing me, affording me transient moments of satisfaction and longer periods of feeling anxious and inadequate.
My DB (twin) was close to being a child prodigy in maths, doing very well in national competitions. He was significantly more able than I was and corrected me regularly in a matter-of-fact rather than nasty way. I felt humiliated by my mistakes and can't remember a time when I felt I was good at maths, although DB and I both sailed through school-level exams.
Even as an adult, and having studied maths to quite a high level, it has been difficult to shake the feeling that maths is for people like DB rather than people like me.
Still, I am drawn to the subject. I find it beautiful and doing maths will always be the ultimate intellectual pursuit in my eyes. I just wish I could leave behind all the emotional baggage I have around maths and enjoy it in an ego-free way.
I do not want my DS to ever feel that maths 'belongs' to others who are more talented than he is and I hope I will not transmit my lack of confidence to him.
It is good to remember that it is not only parental attitudes that can colour a child's perception of their abilities but that the influence of siblings can be profound.
Message deleted by MNHQ. Here's a link to our Talk Guidelines.
Join the discussion
Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.Register now
Already registered with Mumsnet? Log in to leave your comment or alternatively, sign in with Facebook or Google.
Please login first.