Why is maths so confusing?
I have been asked this question so many times in the past month I thought I would blog about it. Maths itself isn’t what confuses us. The processes and methods that we are taught can be confusing, maybe because the method is new, relies on other knowledge being in place or just isn’t the right fit for our brain.
Maths is the same, the answer doesn’t change, but there are so many methods we can use to get there. Some work for us first time, others need more practice and some will baffle us until the end of time. This is what makes us all unique, it is also how I know we all have an inner mathematician bursting to get out!
What do you do when a student just doesn’t get it?
I get asked this a lot too. In truth it varies, the student will have a large say in that, I know my students well and how to get the best from them and ensure that their learning is moving forward consistently. Most importantly I believe in my student and my approach.
As you may know I’m a qualified teacher, I fell in love with the Singapore style maths and the mastery approach. What better way to teach children than to explain the process and why they are doing it. How the maths works! Students love that they are able to see the reason behind the action, they have a firm understanding of the operations, fractions, decimals and percentages. This ultimately means that they firmly understand how numbers works, this makes cumulative frequency chart, quadratic equations and so much more, make greater sense to them when they get there in their journey.
I am a huge believer in the Concrete, Pictorial, Abstract approach. This approach says that to truly understand a concept you must explore it in a concrete form first. This means that we use numicon, base ten blocks, toys, sweets, rocks, sticks, cuisenaire rods, beads, paper and more to explore the idea. The physical interaction allows a connection to be made to the learning in the brain. When this becomes secure we can progress to the pictorial stage, this is where we use bar modelling, part-part-whole, circles, arrays and more to represent the maths we are doing, these methods help us work out the maths and chart our thinking. Eventually learning can progress to the abstract stage, here the learning is mastered and managed purely in number form. This is often the time where application of a skill can be checked through problem solving or reasoning. During greater challenges, it is normal for children to rely on the pictorial or concrete stage. This is where they are comfortable expressing their thinking and are able to determine an answer.
This approach equips children with three stages of skills to approach their learning, making them feel better placed to approach the maths. This increase in confidence is usually all it takes to start to see that inner mathematician come out.
I believe it is crucial that students understand why they are doing what they are doing. If they don’t they will never be able to explain it to another person. This doesn’t seem like a relevant skill until GCSE’s roll around and questions ask students to explain their thinking. This is challenging if they have never been taught to explore and talk about maths in a mathematical way.
Maths talk improves understanding, demonstrates learning and is easily achieved. Of course it can be difficult when starting, but long term it reaps rewards. If you have a child who is anxious about maths, or you are anxious about maths and unsure how to help your children, consider joining our community. We are building a safe space to share our thoughts, experiences and ideas in. Click the link below to join today.