# Why do we need Maths?

I always enjoyed Maths at school, from learning to count in P1 right up to sitting my advanced higher last year.  I always liked the continuity of maths, the knowing that those foundations of numbers that I had learnt all those years ago would still be relevant and essential when attempting the most complex of equations.  I also liked the practical nature of maths, that I could follow a formulaic structure multiple times and prove to myself I had grasped the concept, where in some subjects, this opportunity is not available.

Therefore, I have always struggled to understand why Maths is so stigmatised in our Society, why some children develop a fear of maths.  I think a lot of people believe that with maths, there is a right way and a wrong way, and that the fear of failure holds them back from even trying.  Certainly, there is a myth that you are either strong at literacy or numeracy, but never both.  This may be because people struggle to see the creative nature of Maths, but if their is no imagination or creativity, then how do we come up with ideas to solve Mathematical problems?

Not all questions are black and white, some may take an array of processes combined and some may require a new, innovative kind of process entirely.  Creative Problem Solving has become a key concept which can be easily incorporated into Mathematics to inspire more engaging discussion and activeness.  One of the surprising elements of learning Maths which was mentioned in the PowerPoint was Talking, though in a way it makes complete sense. Why wouldn’t children talk to their peers about their Maths; it’s an effective way to broaden their knowledge of techniques and also emphasises to them the many different approaches that can be taken to Maths.

In a way, approaching the way Maths is taught more discursively can simultaneously render a lot of the anxieties felt towards Maths redundant, anxieties like; having to be quick at working with numbers in your head or it not being acceptable to use your fingers for counting, as pupils will witness their friends practising these things in a safe and secure environment.  The ultimate aim of Primary School Maths is to eradicate the insecurities felt about Maths, with the main way of achieving this in the classroom coming down to the surrounding atmosphere in regards to Maths.  It’s essential then that Teachers attempt to push past an issues or grievances regarding Maths in the past and radiate a passion and confidence so that children have a positive attitude that they can ultimately emulate.

# An Important Moment in My Professional Development

As part of the Working Together module delivered in Semester 1, we focused on the collaborative practice of teachers with other professionals from a variety of disciplines, in particular, their close knit relationship with Social Workers and CLD Workers.  One particularly defining moment for me, professionally, was our visit to Partners in Advocacy in Dundee.  Before the visit, I was rather uninformed about the role of an advocate and how much our two professions overlapped.  As I recall the visit, I remember my fascination at just how much work they do with children in all different, and rather difficult, situations, which you may say I was slightly naive to.

All I could think of was, “Will I have children in my class who need that extra bit of support in making their voice heard?”  Certainly, in a child’s education, I could emulate an advocate to ensure their views and opinions as learners are being recognised.  This sort of advocacy on by teachers on behalf of the pupils learning responds directly to one of the key design principles of CfE, “personalisation and choice”, where children are given the opportunity to have views on their learning and I am merely acting as a vessel for them to voice those views.

It has been suggested that “teachers have been an underutilized voice on how to improve schools” (Flom, 2010).  As a result, both their views and the views of their pupils have been forgotten, even undervalued.  My now newfound knowledge regarding advocacy and it’s role can ensure that as a professional, my opinions are listened to and that I will pay extra attention to guarantee others’ views are treated with the same respect.  The visit provided me with a sense of empowerment and I was able to evaluate the injustices I had heard of.

Of course the work of the trained advocates must not be undermined by teachers, in fact it should respected and engaged with.  As a teacher, I would feel as though I could only go so far in advocation whether I wanted to or not, but the independent nature of the advocates must be appreciated by teachers.  Teachers have a particularly strong bond with their pupils that it may be impossible for them to adhere to the impartiality needed in advocacy.  Therefore, teachers must rely on outside assistance from independent parties to achieve this and ensure true advocacy is taken place.

Thinking back to the visit, I almost felt ashamed that I had never heard of advocacy before when it is such an integral part of the holistic approach to a child’s health and wellbeing.  I feel as though prior to university, I was perhaps in my own little teaching bubble, where I hardly considered the work I would do outside the four walls of my classroom.  Semester 1 has really opened my eyes to the collaborative nature of our work as teachers to provide the best possible level of care for every child, particularly in reference to the GIRFEC approach (Getting It Right For Every Child)(Children and Young People (Scotland) Act, 2014).

Not only has collaboration been emphasised to me but also the reliance on continual reflection has become apparent.  I particularly like Schon’s (1983) concept of reflection-on and -in-action, with both of these theories playing equally parts in a teacher’s career.  I consider being able to reflect on a current situation, in the moment, as a valuable skill for any teacher.  The classroom can be very fast paced and a teacher must be prepared to adapt their lessons for any number of reasons in order to keep up the focus of the children.  Equally, a teacher must be able to look back on their work in more depth with a critical eye, to either learn from their mistakes or develop their successes.

References

Schon, D.A. (1983) The reflective practitioner. New York: Basic Books.

The Scottish Executive. (2008). Building the Curriculum 3 – A Framework for Learning and Teaching.  Retrieved from: https://www.education.gov.scot/Documents/btc3.pdf

# The Importance of Early Year Relationships

There has been multiple debate surrounding the importance of building up strong, nurturing relationships within the first four years of a child’s life.  Dr Suzanne Zeedyk discusses the flexibility of the human brain in the first four years of a child’s life and how it can be shaped as a consequence of relationships.  Once these relationships are formed and the subsequent pathways a child will follow as a result of these relationships, it is very difficult to adapt the behaviour that their brain has come to recognise as crucial for coping in challenging environments.

It’s important that as teaching professionals, we recognise that some children have spent the first few years of their lives in a rather stressful environment and have not had the opportunity to form and develop good relationships due to a variety of circumstances.  Therefore, a child’s first experience of a healthy relationship could be with me, as their teacher.  Associate professor in EC Education, Sheila Degotardi, explains how, “a focus on relationships places interactions with others at the very heart of the learning process, with the view that learning is socially and collaboratively constructed through mutually responsive interpersonal exchanges,” (Degotardi, p1).  Peer relationships can also be encouraged through a teacher’s style, whether that includes a focus on partner and group work, or the classroom seating arrangement; providing children with further opportunities to build up strong relationships from the beginning of their lives in a controlled and respectful environment.

The environment created within a classroom can impact how the brain fully develops; a stress-free and welcoming atmosphere can be created by the way in which a teacher decorates and organises the presentation of the room.  A teacher can also impact the mood of the classroom through their techniques and mannerisms.  Teacher who continually shouts, rarely rewards praise and puts unnecessary pressure in the early years are providing the grounds for early development of anxieties which have a long-lasting effects, such as worrying and constantly feeling threatened.

Dr Zeedyk speaks technically regarding the brain, explaining how brains that feel threatened metaphorically “drown” in a stress, causing young children, who’s brains have developed this way, to be physically incapable of calming themselves down.  Obviously, some children have a genetic affinity to stress but it’s becoming more apparent that relationships can have an equal impact on a child’s future behaviour.

John Carnochan equates the atmosphere that some young offenders grow up in as “war-like” as he expresses the need for consistency in a child’s life from the very beginning.  Teachers can easily provide a child with the stability and consistency they require by being there as a responsible adult each week.  Sometimes, through no fault of the parents, children do not receive a lot of attention and their time to build up a relationship is compromised.  Parents may believe they are doing the best for their child by working to support them but they may be unwittingly depriving their children of healthy relationships.  Often, the strong bond between parent and child is replaced by another significant adult, like a grandparent, but in some cases this role may be partaken by the teacher.  Equally, a teacher can provide support to many parents to aid them in the emotional development of their child, a concept they may not fully understand how to achieve but something teachers have studied and developed techniques to achieve.

# Values Module Workshop

As part of our first workshop for our Values: Self, Society and the Professions module, we were split into groups of around 10 people and given the task of creating something useful which would aid new first years arriving for their first week at the University of Dundee. There were four groups and each group was giving an envelop with various materials, such as paper, pens and other pieces of stationery, with the catch being you could only use the materials provided in the envelope; no outside materials could be used.

The first thing that happened was the splitting into groups, a completely random process, where I ended up in group 2. Towards the end of the session, the need for the groups to be numbered became increasingly apparent. As I was in group 2, we were provided with a healthy amount of materials to create our design, though I personally did not realise other groups had less or more materials than us until it came to the presentations. Our design was a “Student Survival Kit” which acted as an essential care package for any student staying away from home, including; a welcome letter, handy tips and advice, shopping list and recipe templates, flash cards and the stationery basics.

After all the groups had shared their designs, it came to the production. There was plenty for everyone to do and all the tasks were divided up efficiently. Throughout the manufacture process, Carrie repeatedly came across to our table, asking questions and taking a real interest in our design. She even commended how well our project was going. It wasn’t until all the final presentation of our products that I noticed the difference between the groups. Groups 1 and 2 had lots of materials at their disposal and they were given great feedback from Carrie. Where as, Groups 3 and 4 had the bare minimum to work with and when they were presenting, Carrie hardly engaged with them at all and looked as though she wasn’t interested in what they were saying.

Most of the group quickly picked up on her mixed attitudes towards each group and began to question it. It was then explained to us why each group got what they were given and why Carrie was behaving in that manner. This short exercise largely resembled today’s society in which we live, where a lot of the time people have more than others yet we are all held to the same standard despite our advantages/disadvantages. Also, Carrie also represented many peoples mentality towards possessions, where many show their keenness to those who can provide them with something in return; in essence, people look out for their own best interests. There is also the point to consider how, in society, it is said that, “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer”, which was highlighted in this task, as Group 1 were given all the encouragement they needed to be more successful than ever but Group 4 were shunned and not given any form of help to take what little they had and grow on it.

As a whole, the task was very though provoking, which quickly lead to further discussion about how money plays a large part in peoples’ standings in society, something which is even true in Education. Those children who come from affluent backgrounds have the opportunity to join private funded schools, can afford the very best materials and can pay for expensive tutors to further their capabilities. Children from disadvantaged families don’t have the same opportunities and when they realise their position within society they perhaps become disheartened and self-defeatist. It’s therefore important, as teachers, that we do not succumb to societal pressures and treat every child with the dignity they all equally deserve, regardless of their personal situation, so that each child has an equal playing field at least when it comes to their Education and can begin to create good opportunities for themselves in the future.

# Why teaching?

I have always been interested in being a Primary Teacher.  At school, I enjoyed studying a wide breadth of subjects, from English to Maths, from Art to History.  Teaching, therefore, seemed the obvious choice of career for me, as choosing to follow just one path of study was far too difficult.

I was also fond of the prospect of being an influence to young children, after all, a part from their parents, Primary Teachers have the largest input in the development of a child.  I like how I would have the opportunity to witness, firsthand, how my lessons, my counselling and my guidance can impact another in such a way that I could end up being their future inspiration; much like many of my teachers motivated me to join the profession.

I am very aware that the process of reaching my end goal as a fully qualified Primary Teacher will be a difficult one and at times the job may be trying, but I struggle to think of a career more rewarding than shaping the young minds of today.  For me, the look on a child’s face after they finally understand a concept they have been struggling with for a while will be priceless, rendering all the trials and tribulations insignificant.

In my view, by becoming a Teacher, I would not only have a successful career of my own, but also provide the building blocks for many future, successful careers, providing me with satisfaction to the highest degree.