“Primary schools in England need to do more to help pupils struggling with maths, says Ofsted. But have new teaching methods left parents out in the cold and unable to help?”
A handful of new methods, with new terminology, can put parents off helping their children with maths homework. But this doesn’t need to remain the case.
My advice to parents who want to get more involved in their child’s maths education is to make enquiries at your child’s school to see how they can support you.
If you are not confident at maths yourself, now may be the time to build your understanding; it is never too late!
As a maths tutor, I would always encourage parents who want me to explain how to support their children in their homework. It only takes a couple of minutes to explain how the grid method works, for example. Or better yet, ask your child to explain the method to you.
Good Luck over the coming weeks!
Here are a few exam pointers that will help you to make the most of each exam:
Before the exam:
- Get a good night’s sleep before the exam
- Have a nourishing breakfast in the morning (and lunch, if your exam is in the afternoon)
- Make sure you have the right tools for your exam. Do you need your calculator? Tracing paper? Compasses?
- Arrive in plenty of time so that you can enter the exam hall feeling calm and composed.
During the exam:
- Read ALL the instructions on the front page.
- Work through the questions methodically, allowing time to check over your answers before the exam finishes.
- Read each question carefully
- Show ALL your working, step by step
- Draw graphs and diagrams IN PENCIL
- Write your answer in the space provided, using the correct:
- format (were you asked to give the equation of a line in the form ax+by+c=0, or y=mx+c?)
- units (should your calculator be in degrees or radians mode? did you convert all measurements to cm or m?)
- accuracy (significant figures, decimal places)
- check your answer where possible (e.g. if you solved for x, check the LHS and RHS of your equation!)
- Remain relaxed during the exam – if a question makes you feel anxious, skip it and come back to it later
If you start to panic: STOP. Put down your pen, rest your hands and look straight ahead. Take a couple of deep, calming breaths. Remind yourself that you can get through this better if you just relax.
- Check through your answers at the end – many silly mistakes can be fixed at this time
After the exam:
- Relax. DON’T dwell on what you might have done right or wrong.
- Take a moment to be proud of yourself for trying your best.
- Move on to revision for your next exam.
Please also read this BBC Article about general exam technique for some pointers.
I think it is true of any subject that children enjoy it more if they feel successful at it. Conversely, if they feel less capable, their enjoyment will decrease. As adults, we are the same, but we forget just how much new information children are expected to assimilate each day, and how many opportunities they have to ‘fail’.
Maths is a unique subject in that it is seen as fundamentally important as English, yet children do not have the same constant access to good examples of maths practice in their lives. Primary teachers are often confident with English but much less so with maths, and their uncertainty comes across. Secondary maths teachers are then expected to counter the consequences of this imbalance but by the time the children arrive at secondary school, there is a lot of work to be done, and a lot of damage to be undone.
Over the years, in an attempt to improve education, we have focussed on reporting and recording results, and comparing schools, rather than investing in better classroom teaching. There have been some very positive steps – having a National Curriculum guarantees at least that everyone has access to the same basic set of knowledge. However, this national curriculum also means that teachers have higher expectations on them, to get every child to a certain standard of performance.
This national pressure on schools puts undue pressure on teachers and creates an anxious classroom from the top down. This approach to education is not reflective – there is no room to respond if children do not feel confident in a topic. Teachers are instead encouraged to go full steam ahead onto the next topic in a race to start working through past exam papers, and any children who have not grasped what was being taught are left to silently accept their confusion.
There is not enough time in a lesson to teach 30 children, manage their behaviour, keep the whole class on task AND give individual attention to each child.
I feel very lucky, as a tutor, to see the other side of this problem.
Often my students arrive at a lesson with concerns about their schoolwork, for example: “we were working on trigonometry in class today, but I didn’t understand how to rearrange the formula”, or “I can’t understand how to factorise quadratic formulae”, or a whole range of similar problems. When they sit down, I can see symptoms of anxiety in their expression, how tense their body is, even to the extent sometimes that their hands are trembling. It is lovely to be able to pick up the topic together, work through a simple problem and build up the complexity level at that child’s pace. We joke, use bright coloured pens, ask each other questions and work together until confidence returns. My favourite part of that lesson is when the student has an “Oh!” moment, when they have grasped what it was they didn’t understand, and it now seems so straightforward to them.
Sometimes it takes two or three lessons to achieve this level of success on a particular topic, but that is okay. The key is for the child to realise that not understanding something does NOT mean that they are stupid, but that they need to spend more time looking at it in different ways, until it DOES make sense. Once they grasp this key fact about learning, I know that they will be able to handle anything that school, and indeed life, throws at them.
“Maths anxiety” is yet another label and we need to be wary of a culture that needs to label everything. It is simply the feeling of fear of failure. It is, nonetheless, a real and extremely detrimental emotion. The key is to provide supportive, collaborative learning, where children feel that the teacher is on their side, working with them, and not judging them.
See the original article from The Guardian here
A recent study links success at school with the amount of effort children put into homework, as well as how much they enjoy school.
This doesn’t surprise me. Sometimes I think there are unrealistic expectations of what a child can achieve solely in the classroom environment. As adults, we know that (within reason) the more effort we put into something, the better we get at it – this is easy to see in sports such as football, when learning a musical instrument, or learning any new skill.
At school, students are learning several different subjects each day, and in each of these subjects, there is a significant amount of information being added onto what has been learned in previous weeks, months and years.
This much information is hard to digest, and it is too easy for understanding to fade before it has had a chance to really sink in.
Stepping away from the classroom environment and putting in some time each evening to have another look at what was learned at school gives each child another chance to absorb the new information.
Trying to apply the new knowledge through homework assignments is the best way to gain reassurance that there were no misunderstandings, or gaps in understanding, before attempting to build on it in the lessons that follow.
See the original article in The Guardian. http://gu.com/p/36g7a
Having a pencil case stocked with the right tools is a great starting point.
At school, it ensures that valuable learning time, when the teacher is explaining a new method for example, is not wasted whispering to friends, asking to borrow a pen, or a pencil, or a ruler. At home, it ensures that homework is quicker to complete, with fewer delays rooting round the house for bits and pieces.
Essential items that every student should have in their pencil case include:
- 2 pencils (preferably use retractable pencils to avoid the hassle of sharpening)
- 2 pens (one black, one blue – buy rollerballs if possible)
- 1 eraser (Maped are very good quality)
- 1 pencil sharpener (unless the pencils are automatic)
- 1 30cm ruler (shatterproof)
- 1 GCSE level calculator (preferably the Casio FX85GTPlus, or similar)
- 1 protractor (preferably 360 degrees)
- A pair of compasses with suitable pencil
Having the right tools increases confidence, and self-esteem. It reaffirms in each child, the notion that learning, and studying, are important. By starting to take responsibility for bringing the right tools to school, students begin to take responsibility for their own learning.
If your child is in secondary school, working towards a Maths GCSE’s (or A level) and does not have this calculator, then I strongly suggest you buy it.
Yes, it is a £10 investment (cheaper if you shop around), but it is worth every penny.
I will attempt to list out some of the reasons why you should spend the money:
- The maths teacher at school will be familiar with this calculator – or something very very similar. This means that every new maths topic taught in class will probably include instructions on how to do it using THIS calculator. If your child has a different calculator, they will be busy trying to interpret the teacher’s instructions and become unnecessarily flustered.
- This calculator is easy to use for predictably right answers. I wish this wasn’t the case – I hate it when one product dominates the market – but there is a good reason why this calculator is the most popular. I have had three students turn up with different calculators in the past six months alone (I won’t mention the brands) and in every case, I have been able to demonstrate how the Casio calculator makes it easier to get the right answer, and to fix problems when they make a mistake.
- Most school shops will sell this calculator – this means that you should be able to pick it up quite easily and for a reasonable price. It is also the most common GCSE Maths calculator that is available from local supermarkets, and stationery shops.
- Technology matters – we are not in an era of slide rules. Our children are part of an ever-more technical world, and when they enter the working world, confidence with technological tools will be important. I do not subscribe to the notion that only Mental Maths is good – being good at using technology to solve problems is important – I personally feel that calculator skills are more important than being able to use a pair of compasses, or a protractor. It will certainly be more relevant long-term to the majority of students, than these engineering tools.
If your child spends his/her high school years learning maths with this calculator, then by the time they come to sit their exams, they will be able to maximise their performance, through confident knowledge of how to use the many features.
I have experienced countless “Wow!” moments, where a student cannot believe how much easier it is to do something on this calculator than they had previously thought. This contributes to confidence with maths, and improved performance in exams. Much as I am cynical of our national over-emphasis on exam performance, as parents and teachers, we are all striving to give our children the best future we can – and good exam results are part of that!