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Time + Commitment + Understanding = Success

Let me start off my saying the word ‘yes’. Yes, I am aware that we use maths everyday, whether that be in telling the time so you are not to miss your train, or working out the change you are due when paying for your bus early on a Monday morning. Whilst I am not in a place, nor do I want to be in a place, to speak for others, I find this obvious. Of course, we use maths everyday, even if we don’t necessarily realise it at the time of putting it into practice.

Initially, I am then left pondering the question “What exactly am I going to learn in this class?”. The module is titled ‘Discovering Mathematics’. In aid of finding out an answer, looked back on my personal experience of Mathematics – if one could call it that.

More so in the later stages of primary school, the most vivid memories I can recall of my maths ‘lessons’ was using the teacher’s best friend – TJ Textbooks. Complete a page, get it marked. Complete a page, get it marked. Complete a page, get it marked. That format changed very Image result for tj publishersrarely, and when it did, it usually followed the similar format of ‘complete the end of chapter assessment, get it marked’. Hence, going on placement last semester and seeing the range of ways Maths was taught was a bit of shock delight. One group having a lesson with the teacher on the carpet, one group digitally learning on the iPads, one group working independently, one group working through activities with the Teaching Assistant… but I digress. A variety of ways to support ones learning and understanding of number work was used on placement. For me personally, this was not the case. We were moving on topic by topic regardless. If you didn’t get it, maybe you would get moved down a group, where you would repeat the same work at a later date with the assumption that since you have been pushed back, the work is now doable.

Secondary school followed a similar experience, particularly in undertaking National 5 and Higher classes. There was so simply no time, in the teachers eyes, to flesh out the most interesting and engaging Maths lessons possible. Their prime focus, and rightfully so in my opinion given the circumstances, was to get us our qualifications. The teachers are at no real fault here. They have been given a deadline, which I experienced many times over, of content that needs to be in our heads by May. If it’s not, we fail. They don’t have the time to let us fully comprehend logarithms – partially evidenced by the fact that I have absolutely no idea in regards to their function or place in life outside of the Maths classroom, despite undertaking the Higher course twice.

My teacher, whom I will refer to us as Mrs. Says-It-How-It-Is, admitted to me very early on in 5th year (my first attempt of the Higher course) that she was fairly certain that me being able to cram enough of this content into my head with around 6 months until the exam was going to be an extremely difficult task. I remember being in-denial of this at the time, with the optimist inside me fighting through the course. I attended every study support possible, took my poor prelim score with a pinch of salt, worked tirelessly on past papers – yet I failed. I was devastated. What now? If my teacher knew I was going to fail since last Autumn, is anything achievable if someone already believes it’s a fool’s errand?

Image result for failure

Fast forward a year however and my facial expression of sadness and despair had turned right side up. I passed, with a grade B nonetheless. Upon re-visiting the school to thank my teacher, the simple and casual (to her) but powerful (to me) words she spoke to me have stuck with me ever since, and this module is an excellent place to shed some light on them:

“Some people just need a little big longer. For some, they need the two years.”

Okay… so what? Who cares, and why is this relevant? It’s relevant because of the message I took from it, and this relates to the importance of time allowance.

Liping Ma (pictured below) writes of four fundamental principles of mathematics:

  1. “Inter connectedness”Image result for maths liping ma
  2. “Multiple perspectives”
  3. “Basic ideas/principles”
  4. “Longitudinal coherence”

Like many subjects, especially Language, we are determined to inject the children with as much information as possible from the get-go. This is not to say building strong foundations isn’t important, however we get extremely worried if they are not reading to our expectations, or cannot recite their 8 times table off by heart at a young age.

Linking back into the four principles, if one is to properly adhere to them then slowing things down is one the best ways to do that. Let our classes have the time to understand the relationships between the different basic principles. Allow them to understand the role something plays in a mathematical process. Make it a mission for the youths to comprehend how something develops overtime. If we can’t do this, then there is an issue of the introduction of misconceptions and confusion. We as Primary Teachers are vital in perpetuating these ideas – because for the time being, secondary school staff (specifically those teaching senior school) simply can’t – quite literally.

As a second year student, I am far from knowing all the answers. Very far, in fact. Luckily however, I now have the one key thing I was babbling on about above – time. The Discovering Maths module is now a place of hope where I can not only get over my anxiety of maths, but really get to grips at how vital it is in everyday life – because I am willing to bet it’s far more than handling money and following an itinerary.  I now have a safe space to truly explore the diverse subject and hopefully gain an understanding of how on earth I am going be teaching it for the rest of my life.

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This blog post also references the first input on the Discovering Maths module given on 10/09/18 by Jonathan Brown. 

Author’s Note: Discovering Maths 1