As with many people, my personal feelings towards maths are mostly negative. I continually struggle to get past the mental block where I shut down, claiming “I can’t do it!”
Throughout school my experiences of maths were not overly negative, but neither were they particularly positive. I remember having to memorise times tables (something that I still struggle with to this day), being put on the spot and feeling embarrassed that I couldn’t grasp concepts right away.
Within my family; inability to do maths has become a bit of a running joke. My Dad tells a very amusing story about sitting (or, more accurately; not sitting) his maths O level. While my parents encouraged me to try hard at maths, and helped me with homework and revision, I feel that their own negative impressions of maths fed into my own.
I left school with a C grade at GCSE, and the resolution to avoid maths as much as possible!
This all changed when I decided that I was going to make the move into primary teaching. No longer could I bury my head in the sand, and I realised that maths was an area that would require particular focus and hard work. Returning to maths at college was something of a revelation to me. Things were beginning to fall into place and the “I can’t do it” voice was fading away. This was largely due to the fact that my maths teacher was brilliant. Not only was she very supportive and encouraging, she also took the time to explain each concept clearly and thoroughly. That is the kind of teacher that I want to be.
I was very proud to be able to achieve an A grade (Band 1) at Int 2 maths last year.
Despite this success; when I think about maths now my initial reaction is still “I can’t do it!”
During this week’s Introductory lecture, we discussed maths anxiety and the very common negative attitudes towards maths. It was pointed out that innumeracy appears to be socially acceptable within the UK. Few people would admit “I just can’t read” in the way that many laugh off their lack of maths ability. This flippant attitude needs to be challenged and changed as maths skills make up a huge part of our lives, from planning our time and schedules, to organising our finances.
Following the lecture, I have begun to read ‘Mathematics Explained for Primary School Teachers’ by Haylock. The first few chapters discuss the negative attitudes towards the subject and the anxieties that student teachers experience as they begin to teach maths to children. It also covers the wider concepts that make up our maths curriculum.
One of the points that stood out to me is that we must allow the children to question, investigate and explore maths. This leads to understanding which is 100 times more valuable than simply learning by rote (following a procedure which may only work on that specific problem.)
The book has also, already challenged some of my pre-conceived ideas. For example, Haylock writes about equivalents and how they apply to times tables. For example; 7 x 8 is equivalent to 7 x 4 (28), doubled. While I knew this to be the case, it was pushed to the back of my brain because I felt that I should just know that 7 x 8 = 56. In maths, there are many different routes to finding the answer. My internal dialogue of ‘should‘ is unhelpful and may be the cause of some of my anxiety.
In order to build my confidence with maths, I must engage with it on a regular basis. I have been using the Online Maths Assessment tool which is provided through the university, however I find the process of receiving a score to be daunting and off-putting, so am also approaching my maths revision in other ways:
- I have been using online resources such as BBC Bitesize
- I have been reading and reviewing my previous maths notes
- I have ordered the workbook that may be used alongside Haylock’s book, which I will work through in order to deepen my understanding and strengthen any areas of weakness.
The impact on teacher anxiety surrounding maths is discussed in this article. It points out that anxieties could mean that teachers spend less time with their pupils working on maths. They may also stick rigidly to rules, and teach by rote, due to lack of deeper understanding. This will almost definitely have a detrimental impact on the pupils’ learning and will likely influence their own opinions of the subject.
I do not think that I will ever be 100% confident in my maths ability; however, if I wish to be a successful teacher, it is vital that I learn to approach the subject with understanding and with a positive frame of mind.