Sunday, 8 January 2017

Relating maths to your students needs. What do you tell your students?

A new term starts and as a teacher, it is a great time for reflection on our own performance as well as a chance to prepare your students for assessments, mock exams and other tests they may have to complete. Within functional skills maths, tests will be looming for our students, allowing them the opportunity to retake if they are unable to achieve as well as clear progression for the students who are wanting to advance to the next level of their mathematics education.

The most common question in the maths classroom that I get from students is this?

How does this help me in real life?

Now, there are a variety of ways to answer this question, depending on the group of students you have in the room they can take whatever answer you give them very literally so I would be prepared for this question especially within Functional Skills and GCSE Maths in further education.

I have a few suggestions to offer you within this setting and will suggest how effective they were when I have tried these within my own classroom.

1) You have to learn it for the exam

This is probably the least effective response to give in this situation, why? The students you teach may not be wanting to either complete the exam or even complete the exam yet. A lot of the students you teach within further education maths may have had a negative experience to mathematic assessments and exams. I regularly get students who feel physically upset when confronted with a mathematics assessment so this approach is often ones students do not warm too. In extreme circumstances, this can lead to students becoming defensive and not buying into what you are trying to teach them in the first place. I would personally avoid this where possible.

2) I don't know, but you may need it in the future

Again, this is a bit vague and will deter a lot of your students. It is okay to say where students may not need a skill as long as you follow it up by mentioning the effectiveness of the method for problem solving, skills or for other uses. More than often, students will question why they have to complete certain skills when technology does it for them. A prime example being the need to convert units of measurement when they can just look up the information. I like to suggest that being able to use the skill generally will mean they don't have to rely on technology if it was ever incorrect. How often have you gone to get holiday money and the rate is different to what is considered the "exchange rate" at the time?

3) Give a related example to their current vocational area

This is not always possible, and where it is possible it can work for a lot of the students you teach. This is a bit tricky however as you may not have an example to mind so I would use this approach with caution, consider how you can relate it to other things such as shopping, mortgages, renting, daily living skills if you are struggling to think of another example.

The truth is, sometimes you won't have an answer for your students and this may not be very helpful to you at all. I would like to share an example I had the other day and what I said in return.

Student: Why do I need to do Maths, I can still get a job without it?

Me: I completely agree with you, I have never said you can't get a job but this will certainly help you

Student: How?

Me: Well, if you want to get promoted, you may face competition. That other person may be more appropriate for a senior position because they have a maths qualification, which suggests that they have a better understanding of mathematic concepts and problem solving, which lets face it, an employer would look for in a supervisor or manager right?

Student: I guess so, I just don't want to do it

Me: Well let me know how I can make it more interesting for you so you don't feel that way...


This conversation could have taken a very different turn if I started to combat the student, as a further education maths teacher, you will encounter this quite often. I would encourage you to engage with your students and relate it to how they feel. Make your students feel valued in your environment and in turn, they may start to value your lessons and you as their teacher. Comment on any ideas that have worked for you in your maths classrooms. What works for you in your environment and how do you work towards your students best interests?

Enjoy your week, and happy new year!

- Matt