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Making Maths Enjoyable

If you’ve ever tried to help your child with their maths homework, only to panic that you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll understand just how daunting working with numbers can be. And according to Brenda Ferrie, Dyscalculia Programme Leader with the British Dyslexia Association, you’re not alone.

Maths anxiety is a huge problem in this country for both adults and children, she maintains, often due to a bad experience at school. On top of that, she says, an estimated one in four kids have some kind of learning difficulty affecting their ability to do maths while approximately six per cent have dyscalculia – significant problems in working with numbers.

Maths Learning Needs to be Visual

A large contributing factor, Brenda suggests, is the way maths is taught in UK schools. “The curriculum is condensed, meaning there’s no time for children who struggle to absorb the information at their own pace. In addition, the syllabus doesn’t reflect the fact that maths is part of life – lots of sixteen-year-olds think the only point of it is to get a GCSE.”

One way to combat this – and to make maths more enjoyable – is to make it more visual using things like counters, blocks and computer programmes. This, she says, shows students the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of what they’re doing rather than just repeating a process. This holds true for older pupils as well as primary kids. As an example, she points out that it can be useful for a child to learn times tables by rote but unless they understand that 5 x 7 is five lots of seven, they haven’t fully grasped the concept.

“Enjoyment always comes down to self-efficacy,” Brenda points out. “You don’t enjoy what you’re rubbish at. I would say to parents – don’t be afraid of maths and don’t say, ‘I was no good at maths’ or you’ll pass it onto your children. Show them that they need maths all the time for cooking, measuring and buying things. Talk about maths but make sure you do it in a positive way.”

Encouraging Students who Find Maths Easy

SEN tutor Maxine has more than fifteen years’ experience as a classroom teacher. She agrees with Brenda that the enjoyment of maths (for people of all ages and abilities) lies in getting the answer right. “I find a lot of people and students with or without any additional needs like the ‘black or white’ aspect of maths. A person can’t be both right and wrong – it is clear cut with no grey areas,” she says. “I have taught many students with ASD and whilst they might find school a challenge, they love maths because of this aspect.”

If a student shows high ability or interest in the subject – as can be the case for some people with autism – parents can boost this by helping a child to understand written questions to maths problems, she advises. “At GCSE level especially, there is an expectation that kids understand ‘real world’ question types. For example, ‘How much does a parent save by buying a family ticket at a theme park in comparison to buying individual tickets?’. As another example, I recently saw a question where two meter readings were given and the student was asked to calculate the cost of the electricity used. It can be useful to explain these concepts to a young person.”

A Tutor Can Nurture Individual Ability

Although families might imagine they could help a gifted child by challenging them with exercises aimed at older children, the higher levels of language required might be confusing, Maxine cautions.

“A good tutor however, would be able to spot immediately if a child was excelling and support them so they are learning the right topics at the right levels,” she adds. “Working one-to-one allows the child to move at the right pace. If the tutor has excellent subject knowledge, they will be able to teach a concept and then diversify into many areas, making links between various topics.

“An example of this would be calculating the perimeter of a shape – this can be just a simple addition task but could be diversified into algebra and forming and solving equations. This would take around three weeks in a classroom but would be much quicker one-to-one.”

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