Category Archives: Discovering Maths

Creative Maths

When I think about maths, I think about all those horrible equations I had to learn to pass my exam.  I never thought that maths could create something that’s actually pretty beautiful.  During the input about maths and art, we spent some time looking at tessellations and different examples of Islamic Art.  I never realised how important maths was for these forms of art.

At the start of the input, we looked at different shapes.  These included polygons, quadrilateral shapes, and also looking at whether these were regular or irregular.  We discussed the properties of these shapes, which then led us onto tessellations.  A Tessellation (or Tiling) is when we cover a surface with a pattern of flat shapes so that there are no overlaps or gaps.  We explored different shapes  to see if they would tessellate, and discovered that only triangles, squares and hexagons are the only regular shapes which can.  This is because, for a shape to tessellate, they need to fit together at the vertex (the point where two lines meet in a shape), and the sum of each angle on each vertex need to equal 360 degrees.

Here is an example of a tessellation using hexagons:

We then began looking at Islamic Art, which uses lots of different shapes to create a repeating pattern.

Can you believe that it was Maths that created this?! Neither can I!  You can see all the different shapes, including circles, triangles, stars and much more.

Now that  I have learned about the importance of shape in these forms of art, I have a new appreciation for maths.  Before this input, I would of looked at this example of Islamic Art, and overlooked the shapes and repetition of pattern.  However, now I can see the beauty of the math within it.  I really enjoyed this input and will definitely use this in my practice to how children that maths isn’t that bad, and that we can use it in a fun and creative way.

Maths Anxiety

Maths anxiety is very real.  Not only that, but it is very common.  During school, I would always hear people saying ‘I hate maths’ , or ‘I’m so confused’ and ‘I can’t do this.’  I was definitely one of those people, and similar to many – maths was the only subject that made me feel that way. In fact,  it is still the only subject that makes me feel this way.  In this blog, I am going to explore maths anxiety, and how we, as teachers, can work towards lifting the negative outlook many people have on maths.

What is Maths Anxiety?
Tobias and Weissbrod (1980) define maths anxiety as “the panic, helplessness, paralysis, and mental disorganisation that arises among some people when they are required to solve a mathematical problem”

Another definition given by Hembree (1990, p45) is that maths anxiety is “a general fear of contact with mathematics, including classes, homework and tests”

Personally, I prefer Hembree’s definition.  To define it myself, I would say that maths anxiety is a dread, worry and lack of confidence when it comes to anything mathematical.  This agrees with Hembree as his definition states ‘contact with mathematics’ whereas Tobias and Weissbrod suggests that maths anxiety only arises whilst solving mathematical problems.

What is Maths Anxiety Like?
Maths anxiety can cause both physical and psychological symptoms. These include:

Physical Symptoms Psychological Symptoms
·         Headaches ·         Strain on Working Memory Capacity
·         Increased Perspiration ·         Confusion
·         Muscle Spasms/ Aches from Tension ·         Inability to Concentrate
·         Shortness of Breath ·         Incoherent thinking
·         Increased Heart Rate ·         Mind Blanks
·         Digestive Problems ·         Forgets Known Formulas
·         Dizziness ·         Easily Distracted

Why do we Experience Maths Anxiety
Personally, I experience maths anxiety because of my previous knockbacks within the subject, which I spoke about in my previous blog post.  I think this will be the same for a lot of people.  Previous failures and knocks to our confidence could be a reason our performance in maths is low.  Another thing I think that causes maths anxiety is the pressure which is put onto the subject.  When I was at school, I was told I would get nowhere without maths, and if I wanted to go to University, I would definitely need Nat 5 maths and should think about Higher maths too.  I was so worried that if I didn’t do well in my exam that my future would be at risk, so I always questioned my confidence and understanding of the subject.  Another thing which has been suggested is that maths anxiety is usually linked to the teaching styles within the classroom, which is usually focused on memorisation and repetition.  Teachers who are anxious of maths themselves are likely to produce anxious learners, and over emphasise that maths approaches are ‘right-or-wrong’. (Finlayson 2014).

How do we overcome maths anxiety?
I think it is extremely important to get rid of this negative outlook many people have on maths.  From Finlayson (2014) suggesting that anxious teachers produce anxious learners, it suggests to me that if we do not overcome the anxiety, it will be a never ending circuit of anxious learners and anxious teachers.  In a step towards overcoming this, we as teachers should be encouraging children to try and try again, and not to worry about mistakes or getting things wrong.  We need to teach them that mistakes is a crucial part of learning and understanding the subject.  We should provide encouragement, motivation and support for our learners to strive into becoming confident and able mathematic students.

Tobias, S., & Weissbrod, C. (1980). Anxiety and mathematics: an update. Harvard Educational Review, 50(1), 63-70.

Hembree, R. (1990) ‘The nature, effects and relief of mathematics anxiety’, Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 21, pp.33-46.

Finlayson, M. (2014). Addressing math anxiety in the classroom. Improving Schools, 17(1), 99-115.

Why I Chose Discovering Maths

When it came to choosing an elective for my second year, Discovering Mathematics was one of the options that I automatically avoided.  All I could think about was my previous experiences of Maths and ‘why would I want to put myself through that again?’.    However, after discussing the elective with someone from third year, who had actually done it themselves, my mind was changed.  They explained that the elective wasn’t about formulas or standard deviation, or any of those other horrible topics of maths, but more of the understanding of maths, why we need it and how we can use it.  I thought this would be really useful for me as a learner, as well as a teacher.

My Maths Experience
Throughout primary, I was in the top group of maths and found most of the work pretty straightforward.  The only thing that I knew I wasn’t good at was my times tables and this really knocked my confidence.  Every night me and mum would sit and practice them, over and over again.  Eventually I could see myself improving, which helped my confidence within the subject.
Then came secondary school, where my confidence and ability in maths took a drop.  Preparing for my N5’s, I remember dreading a Tuesday morning; double maths first thing.  I was still in the ‘top group’ and our class was moving at an extremely quick pace.  During class examples, I would still be processing the question we had been asked and the rest of the class would be shouting out answers.  I never contributed to these discussions, I knew I would get it wrong! In the end, I got a tutor to try and help me pass.  It was going well, and my confidence was growing the more we practiced.  About 3 weeks before the exam, I was packing up after a session with my tutor feeling good about my ability.  She however, explained to my mum and I, how worried she was about me, and that I should speak to the school about getting a calculator for the NON-calculator exam!! I completely freaked out, if she thinks I need a calculator for the non-calc exam then I have no chance in passing!  I just gave up at that point and gave up trying, it completely knocked my confidence.

Thankfully, the exam paper was good to me and I managed to get a good grade.  I dropped maths after N5, so I have never been able to rebuild my confidence. Through this elective, I am hoping to regain some of the confidence that I lost and also increase my knowledge and understanding of maths.  I need to work towards this as to teach a subject, I need to know it myself.   I definitely regret dropping maths as soon as I could, as I feel as though my knowledge of, even basic maths, has taken a hit from this choice.