Some years back, I met 15-year-old Matthew – “Ah everyone says I’m crap at Maths, my teachers, my mother. I am. I hate it”
During the lesson, I asked him if he knew what 12 divided by 3 was. He didn’t know. So I said if I gave you €12, how many chocolate bars could you buy at €3 each. “Four” he said, immediately.
It transpired that this boy was indeed good at Maths. In fact, he was really good at Maths. He just didn’t know he was. He didn’t expect to be and most significantly, he didn’t have the vocabulary he needed to access his skills even if he did.
Some students can even pinpoint the exact moment in their lives, they decided “I hate this”.
Brene Brown’s research found that as high as “85% of people remember something so shaming that happened in school that it forever changed how they thought of themselves as learners”
So why do so many children find Maths challenging and how can parents and teachers help?
Unlike other subjects, Maths is modular. Like the bricks in a house, you need to keep building the skills on top of each other. So if some of the bricks are missing or not stuck so well, confidence takes a shake, and the house becomes unstable. What motivates us in life has many contributing factors, usually the fun factor, the interest factor and the reward or achievement factor. Maths is no different.
Language is massive. It amazes me the amount of Maths books that miss this point. As my story about Matthew demonstrates, Matthew knew the concept of dividing three into twelve. He just didn’t understand the word divide or perhaps had never been exposed to it.
I always think that if a child leaves primary school (aged 12) knowing very little in Maths apart from their times tables well, they know a LOT. This is the foundation. It feeds CONFIDENCE and motivation and enjoyment. It supports and facilitates most every Maths topic.
Lastly, try to create a fun, easy-going atmosphere and pay attention to what works and what doesn’t work for your child or students. Notice their mood, their energy levels, what they respond well to etc.
Try not to use any well-meaning comments like “I wasn’t good at Maths in school either” or “it’s too difficult” or “don’t fret, you’re just an ordinary level class. ”This is not to be confused with Be Human. I think the difference is in the tone we use. The subtle difference between, “this is a hard one, we’ll need to practice some more before we try that one” compared to “this one is too hard for you”
Using humour and analogies always helps. I try to use analogies all the time that the students can relate to like “This is like going training every week before a match, we wouldn’t just turn up at the match without having practiced” OR “it’s like learning to play the piano, you have to get your fingers used to moving and learn a few bars and practice them well, before you can play the whole piece”
Motivate them by making it fun, short lessons (little and often).
Develop and ensure an understanding of Maths language.
Batter the Times Tables and smile. Practice, Practice, Practice.
Play card games or games like RUMMIKUB
The nice teacher who understands or makes them laugh is very important. And thankfully that nice teacher can be Mum or Dad or Gran too.