Most individuals who are training to be primary teachers hear the words maths and they instantly get an overwhelming feeling of fear and anxiety. There are often many reasons for this, for example:
- They have had a negative experience of maths at school, mostly due to the teacher they had.
- They never understood the subject and it didn’t make sense to them.
- Simply because they didn’t think they were any good at it.
The truth is, these anxieties are not needed. This is because it is our job as educational professionals to encourage children and allow them to enjoy maths. One key stage in this process for children is that they understand exactly what they are doing and the skills involved.
During our first maths input, we discussed some of the myths people have about maths. Two that caught my eye were firstly, some children will tell you ‘ I don’t have a mathematical brain’ when in fact this is far from the truth. Although people will always be confused and wonder ‘when am I ever going to use this again in life’. The answer is all the time. Most things we do in our daily lives are surrounded my maths and problem solving. Some examples are setting our alarm and planning when we need to set it in order to be ready for school. This requires time telling, estimating, planning and problem solving skills. One more example would be simply paying for the bus to school, in this situation, you have to pick out the correct change or notes in order to pay the fare. This clearly uses skills with money.
The other myth that I am choosing to mention is that there is a right way to teach a maths problem. There is most definitely not. When listening to people in the input’s experiences of maths in school, one factor that made an experience positive was that the teacher was open to new ways of solving problems and the negative experiences were because teachers wanted children to do it the teachers way. Teachers will have a much better chance of being successful in helping children’s development skills and enjoyment in maths if they vary the ways in which they teach each topic and ways in which a problem can be solved.
I believe that it is important to allow children to be fully engaged in their learning 100% of the time and one essential way to achieve this is to use a variety of different teaching methods.
In our input, we learned that children can learn maths in three different ways:
- “Doing Maths”
- “Talking Maths”
- “Seeing Maths”
This clearly shows that you can’t expect children to learn by simply filling out worksheets continuously. You have to get children engaged in order to further their skills, understanding and development. Children will respond to this, thus increasing their enjoyment of what they are learning.
Personally my experiences of maths were on the whole very positive. I achieved an “A” in national 5 maths and a “B” in higher maths after about 12 years of studying the subject. In primary school, maths was always very enjoyable, due to the enthusiasm of the teachers and the variety of different resources and methods of teaching which inspired and engaged the whole class. The difference for me, when going into secondary school, was that sometimes I struggled due to the different pace and teaching methods used by secondary teachers. If some children didn’t understand what was being taught, then the teacher would just usually move on. Fortunately for me this was never the case, due to the fact that I would ask if I was stuck as I felt comfortable talking to the teachers. They would always be there and willing to help however they could.
After reading ‘Mathematics Explained for Primary teachers’. 5th Edition by Derek Haylock with Ralph Manning. Published in London by SAGE publications 2014, p.3-33, I was able to broaden my understanding and knowledge of how children can learn strategies in order to carry out addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Of course every child learns differently, however teachers have to realise that children can’t all learn things simply by memorising things taught to them. This all links back to how essential it is to vary teaching techniques and methods of learning. I read about many examples within this chapter of how children make additions and subtractions easier, for example ‘friendly numbers’; e.g. if a child is faced with the sum of 742 – 146 they may find this difficult to get their head around but by using numbers that have a friendlier relationship to each other, the sum can be made easier to understand. Looking at the above sum this would be done by adding four to the first number to make it 746 – 146 which is a much friendlier looking sum with an answer of 600. All the child would have to do now to find the answer to the original question is takeaway four to get 596.
Everything I am talking about links back to the type of teacher I would like to become and what one of the most important roles is going to be for me as an educational professional. I would like to be the teacher who is going to inspire and engage pupils and to encourage them to enjoy and understand maths as a subject. I believe that it is of vital importance for teachers to realise that every child will learn differently and that some children will need more support. Whilst teaching maths, it is vital to ensure everyone understands what they are learning before moving on and that if someone is struggling then you help them in anyway possible. Being a supportive teacher will really make a big difference and will allow you to consider everyone’s needs in the class.
Overall, we have to show them that maths can be fun and creative and hopefully through placements, people training to be teachers will be able to get over their anxieties and get rid of any negative experiences they had at school, by making their very own positive experiences for children.