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'I hate Maths' – 8 ideas that might help change your teenager’s mindset!

Updated: Dec 6, 2019

This is a sentiment you possibly hear most weeks when homework is being tackled!

And now it’s trial and mock exams season which makes the depth of this emotional reaction hard to ignore.

On top of this, statistics for 2019 tell us just over 30% of students did not get a grade 4 or above in GCSE Maths first time, so we know it can be a difficult subject. It can be hard for parents to know what to do to help.

There is a list as long as your arm of reasons why students don’t enjoy maths without even touching on learning difficulties such as dyscalculia. These can include:

a. Young people tend to believe that they will sort out a maths problem later but inevitably that doesn’t happen. This can mean that they become in constant catch up mode. Why would anyone want to be the student who’s always saying to the teacher ‘I don’t get it’?

b. Maths is a crucially important subject but it's in competition with potentially more interesting, more expressive forms of learning in other subjects.

c. A student’s first maths teacher may have been discouraging which resulted in a self-fulfilling prophecy of ‘not being good’ at maths.

According to Leon Brown, Web Developer and Edcuation Content Developer, 'Good maths teachers realise how each part of maths is connected – and therefore fully explain the concepts, their reasoning and how they relate to the real world. As a result, students learn how each part is connected – resulting in less new learning, with more advanced grade 8 level concepts merely being a case of learning how lower grade concepts are linked to each other. This style of learning is not possible when taking the “short ball” approach, which lacks providing a full understanding of the what, where, why and when of maths concepts'.

I would tend to agree with this - In my view two big things are missing. Connection of ideas and connection to the real world as opposed to the disconnect that can happen when dealing with a set of isolated maths procedures.

So, what might help:

1. Encourage your teenager to be positive about asking their teacher (preferably at the end of the lesson or at a time when it can be one-to-one) one maths question a week about something they are struggling with. Hopefully this will be an effective way of embedding/memorising the answer.

2. See if there is a 6th former who might be willing to give some support to your child – this could count towards their Duke of Edinburgh Award or could be an impressive activity to put on their CV or personal statement.

3. Check out alternative maths learning such as on You tube, in my view it is very good. You can also print out specific maths topics for practice on this website.

4. Find the examination board website and print off the question papers and mark scheme for practice, practice, practice and to understand the answers they are looking for.

But crucially and preferably well before trial exams:

5. Do you know anyone in industry who might be able to help bring the subject to life by sharing their own experience of its relevance in the real world. If not talk to your school's career adviser and see what they can find on your behalf.

6. Again, talk to the careers adviser to investigate whether there are any local employers that offer maths-based projects for young people. Getting teenagers fired up for maths by understanding how maths can be applied to solving problems in business helps them become more engaged with the subject and can have a positive impact on commitment to revision and final results.

7. Story telling can often help - check out this article on how the Allies guessed the number of german tanks being produced by using serial numbers -

8. Or check out You tube for using maths in every day life. Here's an interesting example:

I hope these ideas help. It is reassuring that on speaking recently to a 27 year old educationalist, who leads in maths, she reminded me that with just pure persistence many things are possible. She got a grade B after 3 attempts to pass her Maths GCSE!

References: article 'When Education Lacks Premier League Mindset' published Jan 2017

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