Maths and Play

Play is an important part of learning and is vital to a child’s development. Play is used across the curriculum to aid learning. There is a focus on active learning in Curriculum for Excellence, it aims to provide opportunities for investigation and exploring. Through play, children can discover and ask questions they may not of thought of, solely working from a textbook. It is a popular method of teaching among other subject areas, so why not maths?

Friedrich Frobel believed that children’s best thinking is done when they are playing. Some may question how play can be achieved during maths, even I wouldn’t have immediately paired the two together. Maths, however, is connected to maths in numerous ways. During play, children are making decisions, predicting, experimenting with strategies and more! Developing these basic skills will flow into their overall learning, and therefore they are more likely to remember the lesson if they enjoy it. I know that the lesson Eddie showed us has stuck with me.

We looked at measurement and we did this by using small linking elephants and a beaker of water. We were able to see how much the water rose and work out its weight. I was able to see in front of me how this was maths, and putting this in perspective made my own thinking clearer. By making the teaching active and playful, you are making it easier for the child to explore and clarify their thinking.

This input inspired me to look at ways I can make maths fun and create a relaxed, comfortable environment whilst learning.

The energy and enthusiasm that these pupils show towards learning maths is something I never experienced, however believe that this is the best way to learn. One of the teachers pointed out that she aims to have the children learn without realising they’re learning. One way to achieve this, is taking the pressure of children. When they don’t feel as if they have to get everything right and learn statically, they are more open to taking risks in their learning and are then able to learn from their mistakes without feeling judged. Math’s is stereotyped as a subject that needs to be learned at desks from a series of textbooks, this module however is helping me to break my own stereotypes and focus on how to change this view. Encouraging children’s enthusiasm towards maths right from the get go sets the right attitude towards the subject and will help to prevent maths anxiety from developing. Finally, if children see that the teacher is having fun they will see maths as a life long subject.


Maths is Fun?

For me, even the word “maths” has connotations of dread, boredom and simply just not enjoyable. Traditionally, maths is taught on a blackboard, followed by textbook work to consolidate the learning. What if, however, you simply don’t understand the explanation, switch off halfway through because you aren’t engaged and then have no idea how to complete the textbook work? This cycle then repeats itself and you progressively become more and more lost, which kicks in feelings of panic and anxiety. I personally feel as though this was my main issue in school, resulting in my hatred towards the subject. How could this cycle be reversed? The key to this is making the subject engaging to pupils.

The Boring Subject

I think many of us would agree that maths is one of the more boring subjects out there. This was my view anyway, until after some of Eddies inputs. We were shown a few ways that maths can be taught in a more active and engaging way, which made me realise maths can be fun! I think it is extremely important that maths is active and engaging and had it been presented to me in this way, I would have a very different outlook on it. Making a maths lesson more memorable is more likely to have an impact on the pupil and make it easier for them to remember concepts and start to make links to other areas within the subject. In addition, if they are enjoying what they are doing they will associate that feeling with the subject. In turn this will decrease the feelings of maths anxiety.

Maths and Art

I was in Spain this summer and walked through many streets with pretty tiles, the floors in our hostel were even tiled. I didn’t look at them and think of maths, shape and symmetry, I just thought they were aesthetically pleasing. After Eddies workshop about creative maths, I realised that maths is all around us in a variety of creative ways. What I was looking at were different tessellations, that had all individually be planned out and put together using shapes that fit. We had the chance to create our own, and I found it very engaging.

We used three different shapes to create this, however, some that we were looking at had as many as 8 or more! This activity forced you to think about the different shapes and all the ways the shapes can fit, without realising you were doing maths. This was a stress free maths activity, one of the very few I have experienced. This is exactly the type of stress free environment I want to create in my classroom.

Maths Anxiety

What is maths anxiety? According to Mark H Ashcraft, chair of the department of psychology at the University of Nevada, maths anxiety is “a feeling of tension, apprehension, or fear that interferes with math performance” (Guardian, 2015). These feelings of fear are something that I can relate to, as I have experienced them myself. This was one of the main reasons behind my decision to take this module, as I want to overcome this before going into the profession.

Where Does it Come From?

Maths anxiety typically stems from a previous bad experience relating to the subject. I can vividly remember sitting in my primary 5 class with tears rolling down my face, all because I couldn’t grasp the concept being taught. This then developed my hatred for maths and I began to believe I wasn’t a ‘maths person.’ Still to this day, the idea of completing a maths question makes my brain freeze.

Some pupils, however, have developed anxiety towards maths through their parents and this is alarming. Parents influence their child’s life heavily and therefore can pass down values and attitudes towards particular subjects in school. With maths being viewed, by many, as a subject you are either good or bad at, this makes it a popular subject to ‘hate’ and dismiss. The seeds of maths anxiety can be planted with a simple comment such as “I hated maths at school.” It is important that children don’t adopt these negative attitudes towards the subject as it can lead them into a negative mind set, which can often be difficult to reverse.

How it Effects The Profession

Maths anxiety is a ‘thing’ and needs to be recognised, as according to researchers it effects up to two million children! This is where the role of the teacher becomes important. We need to be able to identify maths anxiety in children and use a variety of methods to help the pupil to overcome and conquer this feeling. Some signs of maths anxiety include paranoia, the child believes they are the only one incapable of solving the question or passive behaviour, the child will do anything but solve the question they are faced with. Going slowly and using concepts children are already confident with to develop their skills further is one method that can help to ease maths anxiety in pupils.

Not only is it important for teachers to recognise maths anxiety in their pupils, but also in themselves. As stated previously maths anxiety can be passed down through parents and the same applies with teachers. We are also an influential figure to children and therefore it is crucial that we are confident with the subject ourselves. This will then enable us to provide thorough explanations of each concept and have a bank of solutions to help the pupils identify the easiest methods to suit their learning. This is especially important for me as I am aware of the feelings I have towards maths and I am conscious that they need to change, in order to provide the best education I can for my pupils. I also do not want the children I teach to experience maths in the same way that I did.

Moving Forward

Now that I am aware of the impact a teacher can have on how children view maths, I know that I need to change the way I feel about the subject. It will require self development and confidence in my own skills. I enjoy maths when I grasp the concept and see my answer match the answer section. I need to remember that feeling and apply it to all areas of maths.

Values: Self, Society and The Professions Workshop

Our first values workshop started out as what seemed like a normal group task. We were randomly split up into four groups, I was put into group one. We were given an envelope which contained a variety of resources including rubbers, pens, etc.. Little did our group know, that we had been given the best resource pack compared to the other groups. We were then asked to use our resources to come up with something that would be helpful for first year students coming to university. It was very easy for our group to produce an idea as we had a lot to work with. Our end result was a “starter pack” which included a campus map, stationery, useful numbers and emails.

All throughout our task, Carrie our lecturer, was very engaged in our groups working; always giving us compliments and listening to our ideas. She spent a lot of her time over at our table, asking us questions and getting involved. This enthusiasm continued when we presented our idea, she seemed very interested, giving us eye contact, and good feedback. This gave our group a sense of achievement; making us feel good about our work. The response Carrie gave us however, was the stark opposite to the one she gave group four. She was looking at her watch, out the window, and didn’t acknowledge their hard efforts despite having very little resources in comparison to our group.

After noticing Carrie’s lack of enthusiasm towards group four, she then explained the aim of this task; which was to represent the structural inequalities in todays society. It then became clear that group one represented those in society who have a lot of wealth and status. Compared to group four who represent those in society who struggle with living costs and day to day expenses. The task also highlighted the way people are treated depending on how much status they have. Group one were constantly being encouraged and praised, compared to group four who were ignored and looked down on. This demonstrates how in society those who are finically stable are looked up to and given benefits. Where as those with lower incomes, are often ignored or not given opportunities to better their situations.

Overall, this task was very stimulating and made me reflect on the structural inequalities that occur in everyday life. In relation to the field that I will be going into, inequalities appear frequently; and this made me realise that as a professional I will have to work to try and eradicate these inequalities as best as I can. There are children of all backgrounds that walk through the classroom door, and as a teacher, it will be part of my job to make sure that those backgrounds have no influence on the type of treatment that child receives. Every child should be given the opportunity to use their education to flourish into confident individuals; who have the chance to do whatever they aspire to do.

Why Teaching?

Why not? I have never understood the reasons behind others not wanting to become teachers. I love working with children, watching them grow as individuals and seeing their enthusiasm towards learning. I have always liked the idea of becoming a teacher, after gaining experience however, I now love the idea of becoming a teacher.  As cliché as it sounds, working with children and seeing them progress as a result of your input is very rewarding. In addition, I love the creative aspect of the job. Teaching allows you to inspire future generations, whilst being fun and imaginative; making the learning environment a fun and positive one. Teaching brings new challenges everyday. I love variety and therefore love teaching.