Archives For July 2012

You’re 15, in a maths lesson, and your class teacher announces that today you are going to learn about percentages.

You don’t understand percentages. You did for a week or two last year, and also the year before that. In fact, it is quite possible that you have understood percentages (for a week or two) every year since you were 10.

Maths in secondary school is taught in topics. Once you’ve learnt percentages, you will move onto equations, or probability, or some other topic that may even feel like a separate topic altogether. Maths has always been taught like this, so why the problem?

There are two problems: first, by the time you are 15, you don’t want to be learning percentages for the fifth time, knowing you’ll forget it in a couple of weeks; second, teaching in this way can often make maths seem like a series of discrete, rather than interconnecting range of topics.

Of course, the brightest students, to whom maths comes easily, will remember from year to year how to do each topic, will see links between topics for themselves, and will continue progressing towards an A or A*. But for the substantial majority of students whose only goal is a C, they forget what they have learnt pretty rapidly.

The solution is to give students the opportunity to review what they have learnt, as well as to learn the new stuff. I believe that for students aiming for a C at GCSE, over half of their classroom time should be devoted to reviewing what they already know (or, should I say, have been taught.) With maths, if you don’t use it, you soon lose it. As adults, with our secondary education well behind us, most of us are familiar with this.

Week after week, in my capacity as an educational assessor, I meet children who have lost the love of maths. As toddlers they loved to count and sing number songs but, often a few years into their formal education, they loathe it. I frequently ponder the reasons why. Here are my 5 tips to helping your child feel good about maths:

1. Don’t let them know if you have your own feelings of inadequacy in maths. All too often parents tell me, in front of their child, “It’s no wonder they find it difficult, I’m dreadful at maths.” Children assume that they will be like their parents and automatically imitate their feelings and actions.

2. Talk about maths in contexts away from the maths books. Pizzas are great way to discuss fractions. Cooking, car journeys and train timetables all help with measurement and time.

3. Think about maths on your family days out. Theme parks are great places to consider speed, measurement and money. Pose questions such as “How high do you think that roller coaster is?” “Is this ride faster than x?” “How much is it for two adults and two children? Is that more or less than one adult and three children?” Visit technology, science and transport museums such as www.techniquest.org, www.ltmuseum.co.uk, www.sciencemuseum.org.uk. Simple trips to the swimming pool or cafe provide the opportunity to calculate with money or estimate the number of customers per hour, consider the most popular sandwich fillings or calculate the most frequent transport method to get to the destination.

4. Let your child play the teacher. Children love to be the teacher. Ask your child to explain partitioning or equivalent fractions to you. This will not only boost their confidence but it will help you to understand how your child is being taught.

5. Finally, if you struggle in maths yourself, endeavour to help yourself as well. There are maths books for parents who want to help their kids, there may be maths courses for parents at your local schools,or download DoodleMaths and work through the explanation section and remind yourself – after all, it was a long time ago!

The DoodleMaths blog has been quiet for a while since we’ve been preparing for release. Now we are up-and-running, we’re finding a great deal of interest in people simply wanting to find out their “DoodleMaths Age”.

This is not a new concept and there are websites such as Maths Whizz that already assess children in this way. Parents have long-had their child’s ability in the literacy-related disciplines of reading, comprehension and spelling described in this way. This is simply a way simplifying the mysterious-sounding national curriculum levels, sub-levels, attainment targets, strands etc. etc…

Your DoodleMaths Age is a comparison to the maths ability to an average child of that age. This means that in a typical sample, about half the children will come out with a DoodleMaths Age of above their chronological age, and half below. Two interesting points came out of the testing process:

  • The range of DoodleMaths ages from a typical group of Year 4 children (aged 8 to 9) was from 7.1 to 12.1. This indicates the typical range of abilities that face a primary school classroom teacher (not a surprise to teachers but perhaps to parents)
  • Of the (rather smaller) sample of adults who were willing to do the assessment, the average DoodleMaths Age was 10.4 (not a surprise to parents but perhaps to teachers!)

As well as giving parents an idea of their child’s ability, this also allows us to benchmark progress through the use of the app.

**You can download DoodleMaths for free from the Apple App Store if you want to work out your own DoodleMaths Age.