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Marlborough House School

On the Subject of Maths... by Brian Judd

The Wealden Times asks Head of Mathematics, Brian Judd why so many children are put off Maths so young and what teachers can do to help.  

Why do you think so many children get put off Maths so young – and never recover from it?

Firstly, let me just say that I don’t think many pupils get put off Maths at a young age. In the early years as children learn how to count and recognize shapes, and later as they begin to master their times tables, they become increasingly more confident with mental arithmetic. However, in Years 5 and 6, the study of Mathematics expands enormously as algebra, geometry and data handling come into play, and with it, a pupil’s realisation that they can no longer rely on their arithmetic skills alone.  For some pupils this extra work with Maths will drop into place quickly, but for others, learning about HOW numbers work is much more of a challenge. If children are able to understand the difference between routines that work sometimes and routines that work ALL the time, they will begin to excel.  If not, they will find it difficult to get better.  If their parents also struggled with Maths at school and talk openly about their experience, this can exacerbate the problem and can lead to some children simply accepting that it is OK to be ‘bad’ at Maths.

Can you still change the ‘Im bad at Mathsidea once the child is older?

We firstly need to dispel the myth that Maths is a standalone subject on a rigid school timetable.  Teachers and parents need to consistently demonstrate to children that Maths is all around us, in everything we see and do, from baking a cake to researching the best deals on a new smartphone. Mathematics touches every part of our daily conversations and activities, whether we are aware of it or not, and this understanding is half the battle in getting a pupil to engage with the subject at school.

Every child who has ever played with Lego will have experimented with the different stud formations on bricks to design and build houses, cars and even space stations that were both aesthetically and geometrically sound.  In doing this, they were building a relationship with Mathematics well before reaching school age or meeting a Maths teacher. 

The ‘Maths’ of Monopoly is a particularly good way to get older children to expand their thinking.  As a Year 7 and 8 Maths teacher, I challenge pupils to consider the yield from different property sets.  By applying gaming strategies underpinned by sound mathematical logic, pupils learn that the owner of Mayfair may well enjoy the best yield from a single house at the start of the game; but near the end of the game it is the owner of, Pentonville Road, the Angel Islington and Euston Road that will enjoy a better return on their investment.  As pupils discover that the difference between winning or losing could come down to the sound application of mathematical logic, it can be motivation enough for them to sit up, listen and take part.

How can parents who also ‘hate Mathsimprove their own confidence in it? Is there any way they can learn with their child?

When it comes to helping children with Maths in their early years, parents are most of the equation. They can also use online technology with interactive modules that are designed to build core skills in a logical order.

At Marlborough House by the time pupils reach Year 7, they have enough ‘Maths’ to take on the challenge of our Young Entrepreneurial Scheme where running a successful ‘business’ to raise money for charity is the name of the game.  It’s a great way for children and their parents to find common conversational ground at home, and for both to realise that when it comes to Maths, the world of work and school are not that far apart.

Can you give an example of a Maths-hater you have turned around? And how did you do it?

It is important to make a ‘Maths-hater’ understand that you don’t need to be rocket scientist, you just have to be competent.  As a teacher, it is more important to assess a child’s progress and potential by looking at how they applied mathematical logic in their approach.  In this respect the journey is often more important than the destination.

Have you ever convinced a Maths-hater parent to give it another go?

Life is more of a challenge if you are ‘bad’ at Maths. You will find it difficult to catch a train on time, understand your pay packet or organise the annual PTA ball. Maths is all around us, all of the time and in everything we do.  Parents are already using Maths to successfully run their lives, homes and businesses, and to that end, they may already be ‘good’ at Maths. They just don’t know it yet.

Extracts from this interview appear in the Wealden Times Education Guide, September 2018