Sunday, 20 November 2016

The Why of Maths?

"Why do we have to do this?"
"Why can't we do something fun?"
"It doesn't matter, I can still get a job without maths"
"I can't be bothered"

Amongst other excuses that your students will have told you about their future in completing their maths qualifications in further education. Today, I am going to talk about the why of maths, how to make it more tangible to students and how to change the maths schema.

For the most part, maths is symbolic of a students failure. Having to attend more maths lessons feels like they are stupid, worthless, can't do it or they are going to have to change their dreams and career options. This is not the case for our students, however I will talk about this in another blog entry.

Picture the scene, you've studied Maths for 11 years and then get told that you don't meet a required standard. For some of our students, a "D" grade is a very good achievement from where they were several years ago, however our system tells them to improve. The natural reaction is distress, they don't know how to progress further on from this and are unsure what this means for their futures. Blame sets in, they blame their teachers, they blame the subject, they blame the other students for being so distracting within lessons and potentially their parents for not helping them with their homework in year 9. What I am going to encourage you to do is change the dialogue within your classroom to help your students and make them see that this goal is achievable using some simple language and easy to understand concepts.

The majority of your students are going to be 16+, a big priority for these students is their independence. When they enter an FE environment, we encourage them to think, behave and work as adults. Part of the development of these learners is for them to pass their driving test. Let's get our students to think about this, to start, ask your students:
"What would you do if you failed your driving test first time?"
The natural response here would not be to give up, but to just try it again next time, to give it another go, to achieve because it's what they are motivated to do. Why should this change because it's Maths? The truth is, it shouldn't, you just have to help your students see that for themselves.

Maths itself is a set of skills learnt over time, it takes time, practice, lessons and eventually a test at the end. Sound's quite similar to preparing for a driving test right? Encourage your students to consider maths as a set of skills instead of a new subject that they will need to practice. Change the language in your classroom to reflect this; encourage your students to consider the "skills" they are learning rather than going through the motions of mathematic principles. Maths tests are about being competent in skills regarding maths, akin to a driving test, we wouldn't let everyone pass otherwise we would have a whole heap of issues.

Why do your students have to do Maths? Because Maths provides them with a skill-set needed to tackle problems in the workplace as well as in their own lives. A solid foundation in Maths will open doors for our students and provide them with more opportunities within work and life, we may know this, but maybe they don't yet. It might be the same effect that being able to drive and not driving would be to their career prospects. Consider your students motivations and relate to something tangible to allow your students to reflect on their own attitudes to maths.