Jenny Laurie is an advanced skills teacher in mathematics and leader of The St Marylebone School Maths Hub – a national centre of excellence in maths education and training. She shares her thoughts on how parents can shed their apprehensions about maths, and help their children do the same.
“I simply don’t have that elusive maths gene”. This is what many of us parents are tempted to think when facing the challenge of helping our child with their maths homework.
Contrary to popular belief, the skills that you need to be numerate are not actually inherited – they are grown through practice. Evidence from the American psychologist Carole Dweck reveals that it is our mindset, rather than our ability or talent, that leads to success in maths.
Dweck’s basic idea is that there are two types of mindsets that people adopt when learning – fixed or growth. When we view our ability to do maths as ‘fixed’, it has a negative impact on our performance. So when we cannot solve a maths problem, we interpret it as confirmation that we have reached our mathematical limits, and assume there is nothing we can do about it. By contrast, when we adopt a growth mindset, we move from “I can’t do it” to “I can’t do it…yet”.
As a teacher, I meet many children who have been turned off maths at a young age simply by being told that they just “don’t have what it takes” to be good at the subject. We work hard in our school to change this mindset and, by following a few simple tips, you can combat this message at home – ensuring maths doesn’t become a subject filled with fear and loathing.
Point out the maths in the everyday
Take every opportunity to include your child in everyday activities involving maths and numbers. Get them to help with paying for shopping and counting the change. Get them to measure out ingredients for cooking; ask them to read timetables when you travel on public transport. This will not only get them to see the maths everywhere they go, but will also get them asking questions about how life is organised with numbers.
Be positive about maths!
I meet many parents who have had a bad experience with maths; some say things like “I hated maths at school” or “I was never any good at it”. This leads their children to take on many of those same feelings.
Students who have the most success in maths are those whose parents; despite their own experiences, are positive about maths. They are not scared about maths and are willing to learn alongside their child, showing them how important it is to their child’s future. You may feel that your skills are not up to scratch to be positive in helping with maths homework. Help is at hand though, through the National Numeracy Challenge (www.nationalnumeracy.org.uk) – set up in part to enhance parents’ skills and get them feeling more confident in supporting their child’s learning.
Praise effort rather than talent
This shows your child that, by working hard, they can always improve. You may be surprised to know that as a maths teacher I still get stuck with some bits of maths. Getting stuck with a problem is not a bad thing – it’s an opportunity for you to sit down with your child and figure out the solution to the problem together. Remember no one can know all the maths in the world; sometimes you just have to know where to go to get help. Search online for the solution – there are heaps of self help videos and websites ready to help you and your child fill in any maths gaps.
It may take time, but the sense of achievement you will both feel by learning together will take you into your next maths challenge full of confidence – with fear a thing of the past.