Dubai: Paul Bradwell, Subject Leader Mathematics, Kings School Barsha, Dubai, explains how parents and teachers can make the subject be appreciated for its beauty and application.
1. Who is responsible for making maths seem like a chore? Parents? Teachers?
It can be very frustrating for a student to be sat across from a parent with them saying, “I was never very good at maths” or “I’m not a maths person”. This can be damaging as it normalises the idea of being bad at maths for the child and validates any thoughts that being good at maths is a natural ability. There is a responsibility on all of us to ensure that every child believes the truth, which is that anyone can study maths successfully. Any student can succeed at anything if they are willing to put in the effort.
2. Is maths any more difficult to learn than biology or history?
The relational and cumulative understanding required to study mathematics to a high level means that it is a challenging subject, but that is what makes it worth studying. If mathematics was easy, then it would not be held in such high regard and the skills that are essential for being a good mathematician would not be so sought after by universities and employers.
There is a responsibility on all of us to ensure that every child believes the truth, which is that anyone can study maths successfully.
3. Are schools in the UAE making an effort to teach it in a more absorbable way?
I think there has been a shift in many schools away from the classic “chalk and talk”. The way I was taught maths was probably representative of many experiences, being shown how to do a certain mathematical skill followed by lots of practice of that same skill. Since becoming a teacher, my experience is that it is the teacher’s responsibility to instill a love of learning in their students. Maths is a subject to be enjoyed and explored, not observed and regurgitated.
4. What is your approach?
By showing students my own passion for mathematics, my aim has always been to get pupils to enjoy learning and doing maths for the sake of maths. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a mathematical problem that initially looks difficult and then having the determination and resilience to successfully reach a solution.
My job as a teacher is to ensure that all pupils have the belief and tools to explore mathematics and try new concepts and ideas. Often this means dispelling the notion that the final answer is the most important aspect of mathematics. It is the journey towards the solution where most of the learning takes place.
5. Maths a male preference: myth or fact?
I think there is some way to go at the top of certain mathematically based fields, such as engineering. On the other hand, I am extremely proud of the fact that around half of our post-16 mathematicians and further mathematicians at Kings are girls. Some of the brightest young minds I have worked with have been girls. There is absolutely no reason for any gender disparity when it comes to mathematics.
ADVICE FOR PARENTS
1) Avoid negativity around maths. Phrases such as “I hated maths”, “I was no good at maths” etc. can be extremely damaging.
2) Find maths in the daily things you do, explain what maths you use at work, ask them to estimate the total for a grocery shop, calculate the fuel efficiency of your car when you visit the petrol station etc. Maths is really in everything, you just have to be open to looking for it.
3) Ensure children are ready for maths lesson. I have seen girls with glittery pencil cases and fluffy pencil toppers. Instead, we need a scientific calculator, protractor and a pair of compasses.
4) Be encouraging about maths, be involved in their education, the teacher should be questioned if a pupil is struggling but sometimes so should the pupil be. Are they prioritising shopping/Instagram/computer games over their studies?
5) Help them with homework and be positive if it is challenging (but don’t do it for them). Avoid phrases like “this is too hard for you” or “hasn’t your teacher taught you this?” You might think this and bring it up with the teacher later.
Advice for parents
Avoid negativity around maths. Phrases such as “I hated maths”, “I was no good at maths” etc. can be extremely damaging.
Find maths in the daily things you do. Ask children to estimate total for a grocery bill, calculate fuel efficiency of car, etc. Maths is really in everything, be open to looking for it.
Be encouraging about maths: The teacher should be questioned if a pupil is struggling, but so should the pupil be.
Help them with homework if it is challenging (but don’t do it for them). Avoid phrases like “this is too hard for you” or “hasn’t your teacher taught you this?” Bring it up with the teacher later.
Advice for students
Do not be afraid to make mistakes. If you are getting something wrong, it means you are learning.
After a mistake, analyse the method you tried and find a way to improve it or try something else; this is what being a mathematician is all about.
Ask for help. Don’t suffer in silence. We [teachers]are there to help you, let us know if you are unsure, if you want us to repeat something, if we are going too quickly, etc.
Try some extra maths outside of classroom. Maths is a beautiful subject. Websites such as https://nrich.maths.org/ give everyone the opportunity to explore and play with maths in a variety of ways.