10 is NOT a magic number…and other revelations from a Monday Morning Maths session

Blog: Charli Scouller, Head of Communications

10 is NOT a magic number…and other revelations from a Monday Morning Maths session

Posted: 7/12/15

My name is Charli Scouller and I have never really been a mathsy person.

…cue statements such as:

“Er, but you work for a maths organisation!”

“There is no such thing as a mathsy person!”

“Anyone can be great at maths with the right support and a growth-mindset!”

Let me caveat this. I am OK at maths. I can do mental arithmetic, manage budgets and personal finances. I can work out a percentage and I know Pythagoras has something to do with triangles.

However, I’m generally more interested in words, stories, voices and aesthetics rather than numbers, formulas, and logic (not wholly surprising as Head of Communications).

So how did I find myself working with some of the keenest maths minds in the business?* And why might someone like me choose to spend my working life (and several dinner parties) describing our work, persuading others about our approach and engaging the mathematics community at large?

It’s not just about maths, it’s about our philosophy

We have such a strong ethos at Mathematics Mastery and truly believe in the power of the growth-mindset. I do think maths can sometimes be tricky, but I also believe success is within every child’s reach. More often than not, what limits children – and adults – is the belief that if something doesn’t come to them ‘naturally’, or first time, or really quickly…then it’s a default route to failure.

We have high expectations for every child…but we have the goods to back this up. We have an approach to teaching and learning which takes children on a journey involving the concrete (use of real objects), the pictorial (representations and pictures) and THEN the abstract (numbers and symbols).

These stages work together – holistically – to demonstrate ideas in different ways, deepen understanding, and cement knowledge so children truly grasp what they’ve learnt.

This is important because, SPOILER ALERT, we don’t all learn in the same way. Research has shown some people respond better to images over words (there is a reason why road traffic signs often have both) and we believe images AND objects AND words AND symbols enhance the learning experience.

Now much of this philosophy could be applied to all subjects and indeed all aspects of life. But what makes it so crucial to mathematics education is the sea-change it’s creating. Maths anxiety – something I definitely had at school – is a real obstacle and seems to stem partly from the way maths was taught through the decades. (Think drill-sergeant tests, speeding through topics and a humiliating dressing-down if the correct answer fails to materialise).

We need to be representative of real life

If everyone who worked for Mathematics Mastery was a maths-addict; doing calculus over their Weetabix and casually discussing Archimedes by the water-cooler, we might start to develop a rather niche view of the world.

Don’t get me wrong – my maths-addict colleagues encourage me to think differently, challenge my misconceptions and broaden my own mathematical horizons on a daily basis. But on the flip side, I am there to ensure they use simple language. I ask questions they may not ask themselves because we forget our personal knowledge isn’t ubiquitous. I also ensure our work is being presented to the outside world in a way that fully celebrates and communicates what we’re all about.

We practise what we preach

As regular followers of our blogs will know, we do a Monday Morning Maths session each week – a key part of our Continuing Professional Development. Do I always follow what’s going on? No. Am I usually the slowest in the team? Yes. Does this fill me with dread, nerves and shame? Absolutely and unreservedly, no.

If we expect teachers (many of them non-specialists themselves) and students alike to push boundaries in mathematics education, we have to be prepared to start from within our own team.

Last week we discussed place value (more on this subject coming soon) and I was taught it doesn’t always have to be based on the number 10 (a magic number as far as I was concerned). I was not exaggerating when I declared my belief system had been shaken. I was being exposed to creativity within numbers and mathematical concepts I’d never witnessed before. Was I confused? Yes, very. But I was also intrigued.

This intrigue (rather than thinking, meh – I just don’t get it) wouldn’t come about if our team didn’t believe everyone is capable of ‘getting it’. They take time to represent the concept in new ways and are patient when my brain fails to compute (it is 9.30am on a Monday, after all!)

So, for all the parents struggling to help with maths homework, or teachers who find it tricky to engage their students, rest assured there’s always a way to get even a so-called ‘non-mathsy’ person on board.

I was lucky growing up. Whilst maths wasn’t my favourite class, I respected the subject and knew I had to try hard to get a decent GCSE grade. I credit my family and teachers with always showing me the value of a good education and the possibilities it opens up. Not every student has that, which is why we’re going right back to the beginning to transform how mathematics is taught from the outset – with high expectations, enjoyment and deep understanding at the heart of it.

 

*Not an official statistic