By Jonathan Vine – GIS Maths Teacher
It is almost universally accepted that maths is important. It takes pride of place in most countries curricula and is needed for a lot of the most sought after courses at top universities. It is also almost universally thought that maths is difficult.
First of all, everyone can do it. We all buy food from the shops, we all share things with others and we all solve problems in our day to day lives. Just because the maths isn’t implicit doesn’t mean we don’t do it.
It is easy to see where maths is important when it comes to calculation. Counting and adding are commonplace as well as division and multiplication. If you buy 4 apples at RM2 each, then they will be RM8 altogether. You use division every time you share something such as food or money.
This is all very well and good, but we also use maths in ways we probably don’t even realise. People will have different experiences with how efficient they become at calculation, but with computers and calculators freely available, those skills can be supported. It is the skill of problem-solving which plays the most important part in our lives as adults.
Problem-solving is something we do every day. The contexts can be as wide ranging as creating a fitness training programme, to working out a budget for the month – there will be many variables to take into account and you will take a set path to solve the problem and achieve your goal. The skills you use to solve these problems are the skills taught through mathematics. Problem-solving requires you to utilise the maths you already know and apply it to new situations. You may even make new discoveries when working through the problem. You use skills such as systematic thinking, to work through a task logically and in a set order. You also use reasoning to use concepts that you are familiar with but in unfamiliar situations. People often moan about Algebra saying it is not relevant in our everyday lives. I would beg to differ. Algebra is so much more than being about letters. At a basic level, it is about finding a missing number; you need to use the maths you have learned in order to find the missing number. It is this idea of finding a missing variable, which is used almost every day. For example, how much money will I have left over after buying a haircut, how many party bags will I need for my child’s party, how much time will I have at the shops if it takes 20 minutes to get there and I have a dinner reservation at 5 pm?
These skills are so important to all of us in our lives, and as such should underpin everything we learn in school. At GIS we try to link the maths we learn to real life problems. This way, the maths isn’t learned in isolation and children are required to transfer their learning to other areas of the curriculum, just like we have to in adult life. We give the children a lot of opportunities for problem-solving which requires them to work systematically and use the maths they know to find meaningful solutions. Again, these are skills they will need in everyday life.
To summarise, a strong understanding of the role of calculations in mathematics is important to help us with the practical aspects of our lives. A strong knowledge of problem-solving and strategies for approaching problems is something that is vital to almost every aspect of our lives as adults and as such the importance of problem-solving cannot be understated.