What connotation does the word mathematics brings to your mind?
Many dread the word in any form – Math, Mathematics, Arithmetic, Numeracy and so on. For me the word mathematics brings memories of my Grade 9 High School Math teacher, Angela. She was a rigid, dogmatic lady who spoke with a heavy Russian accent. When she peered at you, over her reading glasses, one’s heart froze, and one’s hands and legs started shaking uncontrollably. This was when my own fear and negative attitude towards the learning of Mathematics began – a fear that I only managed to overcome when I got to university.
Well, thankfully those days are over and I am now a parent of three beautiful daughters, who themselves have had varied experiences of learning mathematics. Fortunately for them none of their teachers have ever invoked anywhere near the terror levels of teacher Angela, but I do, however, wonder if subconsciously, and through non-verbal cues, I have transferred to them some of my earlier fears and negative attitude towards the learning of mathematics.
What is Mathematics? Mathematics is the abstract science of space, number and quantity. It is a vehicle to cultivate the mind and to get us to think; therefore it is very important when teaching mathematics, to ensure that children have grasped the concept being taught. Well structured questions such as: ‘Explain it.’ ‘How did you get your answer?’ are a very important means to achieve this end. It is the process rather than the answer that is important. We need to get away from teaching procedural routines, and encourage our children to think about their thinking (Meta cognition) and get them to appreciate that, just like most things in life; there is usually more than one way to solve a problem.
Dr Yeap Ben Har, a World Renown Math expert from Singapore, visited South Africa recently and gave workshops on the unique approach Singapore take when teaching mathematics, elaborating on the model method they use when problem solving. He believes that to ensure that a child achieves, and develops a positive attitude towards Mathematics the most important contributing factor is adult support and reassurance. According to Dr Yeap Ben Har, when a child is fearful and anxious about learning Math it originates from the adult interacting with the child (teacher, parent, care giver), and not from the child himself.
Now that we know that the adult’s behaviour and attitude towards Maths is key, we need to ask ourselves as parents, what we can do to help our children master mathematics. When your child comes home from school with a mathematical problem he can’t solve, be patient, but don’t do it for him. Begin by asking him:
‘What did you learn about this at school?’
If the answer he gives doesn’t enlighten you, you could then refer to his textbook, workbook or exercise book. Give your child time to think and explore. Don’t rush him. Remember the quality of the practice is more important than the quantity, and never sacrifice your child’s attitude towards mathematics, for the sake of getting good results.
How can we, as parents contribute towards developing a love for Maths in our children? Make learning fun. For example, when shopping, you can give your child an imaginary budget of X amount, and ask him to work out what items he could purchase, without going over budget. By incorporating Mathematics into daily life our children will come to appreciate that it is an important life skill. Playing well known games with your children, such as Snakes and Ladders, Monopoly etc will also develop sound Mathematical concepts, while at the same time ensuring you spend quality time together. One can also download suitable mathematical games for your child onto their phones, tablets or computers.
We, as parents, also need to be role models for our children, and set an example of being lifelong learners. As Rene Descartes, a French philosopher and mathematician said: “It is not enough to have a good mind. The main thing is to use it well”.
(Thanks to Jane Horner for Proof Reading and Contribution)