From Maths hater to Maths lover

Dave, a friend of The Green Board Game Co, recalls his journey from Maths hater to Maths lover and shares some thoughts on how to get your child on the same road…

So your child hates Maths. I can understand that, I really can. That was me; a skinny, playful boy who just wanted to get outdoors or get stuck into a great book.

What was the point of Pythagoras’ Theorem? Who really cares about natural numbers and integers? And don’t even get me started on that Maths teacher favourite: “Can you explain how you reached that answer?”
Frustrating. Impenetrable. Pointless.

Those were the three words that my 9-year old self would have used to sum up Maths. In fact, in my mind the only ‘point’ of Maths class was to find new uses for my fountain pen. I’ll let your imagination run wild on that one…

Reversing the equation
Wind the clock forward 25 years and here I am – a (slightly less skinny) young man busy poring over budgets, analysing quantitative survey data, devouring website statistics, and calculating odds based on previous trends.
And absolutely loving it.

So what happened to turn this self-confessed Maths ‘hater’ (who languished in the bottom Maths group throughout Secondary School) into a self-styled Maths ‘lover’ (who’s happy to admit he gets quite excited by percentages)?

Along the yellow brick road to my Emerald City of Maths there have been a number of essential signposts; big things that helped me gain a new perspective on those previously unfathomable numbers. If your child is anything like I used to be, they might find them helpful too.

The constant companion of statistics
Want to know what made me first realise that Maths could be friend, not foe? Baseball. Strange as it might sound, growing up in America as a boy with a natural interest in sports meant that before long the numbers behind the game began to capture me.

Watching the rise and fall of batting percentages, tracking win/loss percentages, working out the Average Earned Run ratio (OK, I’ll stop now) – it was all part of the fabric of the sport I loved. When my focus turned to football (of the round and kickable variety), my accidental friend followed me too. Now it was about points needed to qualify for Europe, goal difference, goals per game ratio… you get the general idea.

Because of my love for sport, I learned to love statistics – the constant companion of pretty much any competitive activity.

Show me the money!
I remember standing at the sweet shop – sweets counted and in the bag, coins in hand… and not having enough of one to pay for the other. It was gut-wrenching, embarrassing even. I had made a miscalculation – a school-boy error, if you will – and my sweet tooth would end up paying for it.

It was the beginning of a dawning realisation that there was a point to Maths: budgeting. Since that early coinage faux pas, I’ve learned to master the money I have in my hand in order not to be caught out – whether pocket money, student loan, early marriage budget, or workplace sales forecasts.

I’m pretty sharp on the numbers now, because I know that they matter – for my stomach, and other important areas of life.

Making numbers beautiful
On my bookshelf at home is a book called Information is Beautiful. It’s a collection of some of the most beautiful, clever and interesting pictorial depictions of data. Sometimes unimaginatively called ‘Infographics’, these pieces at their best can be a magical blend of cold, hard data with warm, soft art forms (click here to see some examples).

They serve as a reminder that the world of Maths, when touched by the world of Art, can in fact be beautiful. What at first seems so literal, linear, and limited can actually be lovely. It’s a revelation that has allowed a number of people I know – those who see the world in picture form – find a doorway into another world.

That’s a quick glimpse of the journey I’ve been on with this strange companion called Maths. Let’s be clear, I’m not about to take up an Applied Mathematics professorship at Cambridge, but I can genuinely say my perspective on this subject has been turned around 180 degrees.

So, if outbursts like “I hate Maths!” are common in your home, my hope is that your child might follow a similar trajectory to mine – from Maths hater to Maths lover.