Mathematics. It is a subject that fills most people with fear, dread and overwhelming anxiety. A subject that most will claim is too difficult to comprehend and only for those who are very smart. I have been in this mind-set for a long time, seeing a maths question and feeling that it was impossible to answer. That feeling has not left me though I do realise that there is maths involved in everyday activities – purchasing items, measuring ingredients and so forth. By taking Discovering Maths I can change my outlook on maths and find it less daunting.
During Primary and Secondary School, most of my maths lessons consisted of a short input onto what we would be looking at, followed by answering questions from a textbook. By the end of a lesson I would feel so overwhelmed by the number of steps and rules that it felt impossible to remember. Though I managed to get through my National 5 and Higher. It was not until the first week of this module that I realised that most of my learning had been focused on the ‘how’ instead of the ‘why’. We were asked what and angle was – answer, a measure of rotation. Over a decade in school and I had learned how to name the types of angles, use a protractor to measure angles, work out how to find the missing angle and other information about angles, but had not realised what it was. This example made me think about the amount of time teaching children the rules and how to get the answer – meaning children are missing out on a whole aspect of maths that could help their understanding of maths. Ford et al. (2005, cited in Haylock and Manning, 2014, p.6) highlights that those who are anxious/apprehensive about maths impacts how they handle maths in the classroom. This nervousness leads to the students need the support of rules to learn which adds to the anxiety – especially when confronted with something they have not seen. Haylock and Manning (2014) also go on to add that rote learning and anxiety both inhibit a child’s ability to work out a problem creatively. What does this actually mean? Exclusively focusing on the ‘how’ of maths means that the anxiety of children increases, and they become scarred by the subject. Children struggle in maths and another generation can go by with a negative outlook on maths.
It is becoming more apparent how much responsibility the teacher has when it comes to shaping a student’s view on maths and how they manage at the subject. It is down to us to think of creative ways to teach maths and to help support them discover the subject. During my placement with a Primary Seven class, I taught a series of maths lessons on 2D shapes and symmetry. It was not a topic that left me terrified but I did not foresee how nervous I would be teaching it to a real class. Researching common misconceptions surrounding the topic assisted to an extent as I could try covering these during the lesson. However, like any class there were unforeseen difficulties that arose which highlights every changing nature of a classroom. With the placement and the module, the importance of making maths interesting to the class has become more apparent and I also realise that I still have a lot more work to do to reach that point.
Overall, maths can be difficult, and it can take time to overcome and see it as something interesting and less challenging. Personally, I still remember the difficulty of maths throughout school, though with help and dedication of my maths teacher have realised that it is not something that is impossible to manage. Though this has definitely enabled me to empathise with students who struggle. By undergoing the Discovering Maths module, I will see maths as something interesting as opposed to a subject surrounded by anxiety.
Haylock and Manning (2014) Mathematics Explained for Primary Teachers. London: SAGE