Practice - the surefire route to maths success
'I’m not a natural mathematician but few people are...you have to practice,' remarks Professor Brian Cox in a recent Financial Times interview.
Brian’s comment should give hope to any child or parent who believes the myth that we are all born either inherently good or bad at maths and that’s that.
Or, for that matter any child who may have lost their confidence a little as a result of the recent SAT tests.
(You can still read the full interview with Prof Cox.)
For maths is a skill, much like music, sports and arts which requires practice. True, some may require more practice at certain maths skills than others for it to become truly intuitive and 'easy'. (And this is where modern schooling is perhaps failing some children).
But, the good news is that much can be done to help learners improve their maths skills and they should never be allowed to feel that they are resigned to being 'no good' at maths.
The solution is actually quite simple - all it needs are the raw ingredients of targeted practice, a little motivation, an open mind and a sprinkling of parental support and encouragement.
How practice helps
Maths practice develops 'Number Sense', an ability to be fluent in mental maths without thinking much about it. When learners develop number sense, they can apply arithmetic quickly and reliably, and estimate answers almost as second nature. They simply have an intuitive sense for the way numbers work.
Like a sportsman develops muscle memory through repeated practice (a young David Beckham spending endless hours perfecting his free kick, Andy Murray practicing shot after shot) achieving 'number sense' means learners can do things without working hard - freeing their brain up to solve more complex problems creatively.
Can practice really change outcomes?
As it happens, it can. It can be transformational.
I’ve blogged previously about the inspiring story of Professor Ian Stewart (Professor of Mathematics at University of Warwick, science and science-fiction writer).
Professor Stewart credits his mother’s intervention at 8 years old with targeted maths practice during a spell of absence from school in turning him from, '...doing badly at maths...I’d been put down into one of the lower groups and I was getting bored.' To, '...they put me in the top group and I regained interest in the subject.'
Listen to the full interview on BBC iplayer.
And did you happen to read the inspirational story of maths teacher, Colin Hegarty? Colin was shortlisted for the Global Teacher prize. Asked for his top tips for smashing maths, it should come as no surprise to that two of his top five tips concern practice - 'do some maths everyday' he recommends. And his number one tip is to 'believe in yourself.'
Read Colin’s full interview here.
And in an article titled, 'Reckon you were born without a brain for maths? Highly unlikely.' Marcus du Sautoy (Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford) compares maths to 'building a logical pyramid - one shaky layer and everything built on top is likely to come crashing down. But often a subject that seemed impossible at first suddenly starts clicking into place when you come back to it for a second time...
'Doing mathematics is a bit like playing sport or learning a musical instrument. You can't do it well immediately - it requires practice. Think of having a mathematical muscle in your mind that with practice gradually gets stronger.'
He also adds, 'Believing you can do it is half the battle.'
How can parents help?
- Use Komodo three to five times a week. Komodo delivers the targeted practice your child needs. It’s designed to build confidence and make learning maths a pleasure, not a chore.
- Talk positively about maths and numbers (even if you aren’t 100% convinced yourself). Children very often pick up on parents’ insecurities, which will make the job of building confidence and self-belief much tougher.
- Change 'can’t do' to 'can’t do yet.' It’s fine for children to make mistakes along the way in maths, it’s part of the learning journey. If your child seems to have hit a brick wall, sitting down and working through a problem together can spur them on. Your encouragement (not pressure) will go a long way.
- Extra 'softer' maths activities and play, such as cooking, board games and number games in the car are also worthwhile activities and consolidate the work put in with Komodo.
About Komodo - Komodo is a fun and effective way to boost primary maths skills. Designed for 5 to 11 year olds to use in the home, Komodo uses a little and often approach to learning maths (15 minutes, three to five times per week) that fits into the busy routine. Komodo helps users develop fluency and confidence in maths - without keeping them at the screen for long.