I love mathematics. This is not usually the first line that you read when someone is writing about their feelings towards mathematics. Most are negative, sometimes extreme in their descriptions of dislike. How is it possible that I enjoy and appreciate the flexibility and depth of mathematics as a subject, while others block themselves to its beauty by disregarding it as useless, or a thing that they cannot do? I had a positive image of mathematics from my home life. Both my parents studied biology at a university level, so they helped me to understand the importance maths has in understanding the world around us. For many, however, the stereotypes of mathematics have been passed down through the generations, by parent/carer or teacher, to our children. Haylock (2014, p.10) gives these examples from trainee teachers:
“My Mum would tell me not to worry, saying, ‘It’s alright, we’re all hopeless at maths!’ It was as if it was socially acceptable to be bad at maths.”
“Maths has an image of being hard. You pick this idea up from friends, parents and even teachers.”
My memories from primary school maths are neither negative or positive, but I do remember a level of competition. We would play a game called Buzz, which involved counting from 1 and saying ‘buzz’ every time you reached a multiple of the times table we were focusing on. This would be made more complicated by the addition of other times tables. While this game is fun to some pupils, it clearly highlights the differences between each pupils ability, and there will be an eventual ‘winner’. This could have a damaging effect on children confidence in their ability at that subject, leading to the anxieties that might be carried in to adulthood, then passed onto other children or learners.
Looking at the positives, this game did provide us with a more interesting way of remembering the multiples of different numbers. I still remember visualising a string of numbers, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6… with the multiples poking above the others, in a different colour.
The usefulness of my thought process was not known to me at the time. This is sometimes why mathematical concepts are so easily dismissed as irrelevant, because there is a lack of examples of future applications provided for the learners. This animation is an example of how that thought process can be visualised. (I also included this because prime numbers are incredibly interesting and should be much more widely thought about in day to day life. Use this link for the Wikipedia page and research from there!)
With technology in primary schools it is possible to use resources like this in the learning of mathematics. There is software with mathematical games suitable for use in early years, and commercial videogames sold for entertainment that use recognition of patterns as the main challenge. In the Standards for Registration, section 2.1.4, it is expected that provisional and registered teachers should “know how to use digital technologies to enhance teaching and learning” (The General Teaching Council for Scotland, 2012). By incorporating ICT into our maths learning it can help reduce any anxiety that children might have picked up from their parents/carers and demonstrate mathematics as an engaging and everyday activity.
I went onto study mathematics, physics, chemistry, electronics, and music in secondary school, all of which require mathematical skills. The lack of confidence in maths leads to students not engaging with the sciences which can lead to a drop in scientific literacy. The exploitation of societies illiteracy in these subjects by the media, politics and businesses already happens today. These are some sentences I made using the Curriculum for Excellence four capacities to demonstrate the importance of mathematic and scientific literacy.
- Successful learners with openness to new thinking and new ideas and able to make reasoned evaluations.
- Confident individuals with ambition and able to asses risk and make informed decisions.
- Responsible citizens with commitment to participate responsibly in political, economic, social, and cultural life and able to make informed choices and decisions.
- Effective contributors with an enterprising attitude and able to apply critical thinking and new contexts.
(The Scottish Government, 2009)
Haylock, D. and Manning, R. (2014). Mathematics Explained for Primary Teachers. 1st ed. London: SAGE Publications.
The General Teaching Council for Scotland (2012) The Standards for Registration: mandatory requirements for Registration with the General Teaching Council for Scotland. Available at: http://www.gtcs.org.uk/web/FILES/the-standards/standards-for-registration-1212.pdf (Accessed: 29 January 2017).
The Scottish Government (2009) Curriculum for Excellence: Building the Curriculum 4 – Skills for learning, skills for life and skills for work. Available at: https://www.education.gov.scot/Documents/btc4.pdf (Accessed: 29 January 2017).