When I tell people that I am a lecturer of Maths and Numeracy, I am usually met with one of two responses. The first is “I was rubbish at Maths in school,” and the second is an awkward “Oh right,” followed by a funny look and a swift end to the conversation.
You may find it hard to believe but I love working with numbers. Solving equations, sketching curves, investigating stationary point – I’ll take that over a book any day. But, trying to find someone who shares your passion for numbers? Well… they are few and far between.
One of the first things I ask my students is: Do you like maths? You’ll be shocked to know that the answer is usually a resounding no. But when I ask why? I am usually hit with: It’s boring, it’s too hard, I just can’t do it. Fair enough, I can get on board with the fact it might be a bit boring from time to time…But, I can’t do it. Well that’s a defeatist attitude if I ever heard it.
But, where does this negative perception come from?
Well, I have my suspicions…
Did you know that in the UK it is socially acceptable to be bad with numbers? If I had a pound for every time a parent at Parents night used the excuse: “Well, I was rubbish at Maths so wee Jimmy must take it after me, so it’s not his fault he’s been doing the square root of F’all in your class,” I’d be a flippin millionaire by now. This excuse grinds my gears- Can you tell?! – as being good at maths/numeracy isn’t only down to good or bad genetics- like everything else in life, you need to work at it. Just like you would with reading and writing.
How can we change those perceptions which have been ingrained for sooo many years?
Well, first off stop making petitions after every Maths exam. Maths teachers get a hard time as it is- having to constantly swim against the tide of negativity- saying that they haven’t been taught this working and that context…My goodness…That is certainly not going to help matters! I have to admit, I got so angry when I read some of the comments surrounding this subject. Yes, it did spark me to write this post.
But believe it, or not: Maths is a language unto itself. I have had so people laugh in my face when I have said this in the past- then they realise just how serious I am. To be fluent in Maths, you need to develop skills in lots of other areas: not just number crunching.
Yes, I know the main idea of Maths is working with numbers, blah, blah,blah- I’m not that daft. But, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
All the other key skills that are to be examined get quickly forgotten about. Like problem solving: developing the ability to read and extract information from what ever context and use what you have to make informed decisions. Being able to explain your decision in a cohesive and logical argument. Like you do every, single day in life.
So, why can’t we teach ‘all’ possible contexts? Well, because there is infinitely many of them. The new curriculum is there to try and make learners more independent and thinking outside of comfort zones (ie past papers). But at the end of the day, the EXAM is there to do just that: examine, test, CHALLENGE. Making learners more responsible with their learning and develop some resilience when things might not go their way.
Did you know that there is a difference between Maths and Numeracy?
To be honest, not many people do. While both work round the numbers element, numeracy is the more day to day Maths that you use without even thinking. In my new job, I have found that people are far more number literate than they think. At high school, a lot of time is spent giving learners a taste for all the more specialist areas, like algebra and geometry, with some numeracy chucked in every now and then for good measure.
When I moved to work within Further Education, it really opened my eyes to how important Numeracy is within every subject area. You have no idea how important ratios and percentages are in areas like Health and Social Care. Personally, i agree that some areas of Maths are not applicable in a lot of your run of the mill tasks. But, through focusing more on the Numeracy aspect, rather than Maths, many of my students have surprised, and surpassed, their own expectations of themselves. AND, dare I say it, begin to enjoy working with numbers a lot more…Well, more than they did. Even that small triumph is the reason I love my job.
So can we change our perceptions of numbers? Should we focus a lot more on our students being numerate, rather than specialising in maths? There is a lot of work to be done to change our opinions of numbers- that’s for sure. So, why not grab your calculator and come to the dark side- you might surprise yourself.
Being Numerate is for life- not just for Christmas. So be kinder to your numbers- they hold a lot more responsibility in life than you think…