You Can Count on Maths….
How best to teach different subjects is a seemingly endless debate and last week it was the turn of mathematics to hog the headlines. Prof. Jo Boaler, the Professor of Mathematics Education at Stanford University, made waves when she said that we should stop teaching times tables to young pupils because it the anxiety it causes in them can put them off maths for life.
Her claims are based around reach which indicates that ‘maths anxiety’ begins around the age of eight, when times tables tests become a standard for pupils. Because not all pupils cope well with the speed and memory recall required, they lose confidence and start to switch off from the subject.
Of course, not everyone agrees and many of her academic peers have disputed her claims. Whichever side of the debate you stand on, one thing is certain – that many pupils do struggle with confidence in maths, which is why you hear so many people of all ages stating “I’m no good at maths”.
As we’ve mentioned before, what is most surprising about someone making a statement like that, is that it rarely raises an eyebrow. Everyone should be able to perform basic maths, so something must be at fault somewhere along the line.
It could be the way in which maths is taught at different stages of the curriculum or it may be to do with social attitudes, where it has become the norm to accept people being ‘no good at maths’. Whatever the reason, it is apparent is that many people are fearful of tackling maths problems, particularly when asked to deal with them without any warning.
Yet everyday life is full of maths, whether it’s working out how long your journey will take, or checking your change in the supermarket, and many people cope just fine with these things, as long as they don’t stop to consider that they’re ’doing maths’.
When we go into schools to teach young people about financial education, we’re conscious to avoid any talk of maths. Instead, we present them with different challenges that feature maths but which focus on the context of the problem, not the calculation involved.
One example of this is when we discuss the extortionate rates of interest that payday loan companies charge. Students watch an advert and then feedback what they think the key points are. In doing so, they calculate the interest payments but they don’t worry about that as they’re too busy focusing on the overall challenge.
While the answer to how we should teach maths is likely to be debated for many years to come, one thing that remains certain is that we must equip young people with the necessary skills to manage their adult lives. That means putting the financial challenges they face in context, making them relevant to their lives and building their confidence in tackling them wherever and whenever they occur.