What is maths?

On Monday in our third Discovering Maths input we were asked the questions what is maths and why do we teach it? This got me into thinking so what actually is maths, other than the basic formulas and calculations we always think of?

We use maths on a daily basis without even knowing and when we do use it we don’t think about how we do it or why we do it, it just happens. There’s countless occasions from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep where maths is used without even thinking about it e.g. checking the time when you wake up and throughout the day, using money to buy things, even looking at a parking space and checking the size and angles to see if you’ll fit. All these things use the maths skills we are taught from day 1 to make our day to day life that bit easier, so of course we need to teach it!

Some of the main problems with teaching maths in school are maths anxiety and the idea of maths being boring. To me, a lover of maths, it could never be boring. It’s logical, there’s a problem that can always be solved and it requires strategic thinking which comes with great satisfaction when getting an answer right. So why is it that some people find it so stressy and plain?

A main factor which contributes to “maths anxiety” can be the idea that people are just not born with a maths brain. You hear it all the time in schools and work places that someone’s brain just isn’t wired up properly in order to be able to be good at maths. I used to think this was true to some extent, as I believed I had a maths brain but not a language one – which by the way, was never an excuse allowed to be used in my school’s English department – but now having gone into a class on my first placement, I have seen some people either just don’t try or don’t have the confidence to push themselves. Being a maths enthusiast made me really try and give the pupils different strategies and activities to help them to be successful and realise that they all can be successful even when they find something tricky. I think it’s so important for teachers, and us as student teachers, to really facilitate the learning of maths in an active and creative way, and encourage pupils to find what works for them so they know that it is possible to be good at maths and do well even when they seem to be struggling or think they just can’t do it.

Albert Einstein said “Do not worry about your difficulties in mathematics. I can assure you, mine are still greater.” showing that even the smartest minds find things hard and confusing, but you have to persevere and keep trying in order to make a breakthrough and succeed.

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