dadzclub resident expert, school teacher and dad, Nick Myers talks about mathematics
On Mathematics (and Old Dogs)
Next time you're out having a pint with some mates hold a quick survey of 'favourite school subjects'. I guarantee you that one subject will be conspicuous by it's absence: mathematics (good looking teacher notwithstanding).
Why? Why, despite the crucial role maths plays in our daily lives is it vilified, feared, avoided, or even painfully remembered as a personal journey into the 'Heart of Darkness'?
Now, I could promise to write three dozen articles covering every operation from addition to differential equations. However, this might only serve to reinforce the arcane status many people ascribe to the subject. Instead, I would like to suggest that the reason maths causes hot flushes and inward groans is because unlike history, story writing, art, etc. Maths questions as a rule have one thing in common that we all learned in our first few maths lessons. Maths questions have only one right answer. Furthermore, to offer anything other than this single, absolute truth... is to fail.
Nobody likes to fail. Moreover, it takes a lot of guts to revisit a failure. In the staffroom we often talk about maths in terms of risk taking. In addition, my own experiences have shown that even the most competent, high achieving pupils often require a great deal of reassurance when addressing 'problems', as opposed to carrying out the same operation repeatedly, i.e. a page of times tables.
So how can you instil within your child, if not a love of maths and a 'can do' attitude, a positive 'will try' frame of mind? Fortunately, nature has provided you, the mature adult, with the means.
It is often quoted that the human brain ceases development some time around the end of adolescence and the onset of adulthood. Many people take this to mean that the sun has set on one's time as a learner. My own reading and understanding leads me to concur in terms of the physical development. Then, not that long ago, I heard an interesting announcement on the radio. Indeed, our brains do cease to develop new synaptic pathways, but something else happens within the old grey matter. Our existing, established pathways become more efficient. We become more wily, crafty, even cunning. In short, we become better problem solvers with age.
So when you sit down with your child to tackle the weekly maths homework assignment and find yourself thinking, "I remember these sorts of questions, but we never solved them like this!". What you are going to do is roll up your sleeves, put on your poker face and tell your child you are comfortable with numbers, which is a must for instilling confidence. Then, with pencil, paper and appropriate resources (counters, number line, hundred square, calculator, on line advice), talk together, work together, fail together (good-humouredly) and succeed TOGETHER. Heck, you might even learn something:- you Old Dog!