By Jonathan Vine – GIS Primary Maths Teacher
It is a question I get asked a lot – How can I support my children at home with their mathematics? Mathematics is such a broad subject and there are so many different ways to approach the teaching and learning. In the most general terms, my best advice would be to find out the methods your children are already being taught in school and support that. Give your children practise when they want it but not at the expense of their love of the subject.
So, how do you best support your child in learning mathematics? There are many tutors and schemes on the market which will get your children to become efficient calculators. As a teacher of Year 1, I have had children in my class who could accurately multiply two 2-digit numbers together, years before that would have been expected in school. The problem was they did not understand it.
I was the product of this style of teaching. I was given a formula, I learned how to use it, then I applied it. I got ticks on my work so everyone thought I was doing well. I had no idea what I was doing and why and I was left not knowing how mathematics related to anything I did in real life.
You may think this approach will yield results, but as mathematics becomes more complicated and abstract at the secondary level, it soon becomes clear which children have a sound understanding of the foundations of mathematics and which ones do not.
Mathematics is more than just performing calculations. It is about spotting patterns, applying mathematical models to situations, understanding and solving problems. In order to become proficient at this, children need to practice. If you give your children pages of additions, they will be able to complete an addition. If you give your children mathematical problems where addition is one of the elements required to solve it, then they will have a broader understanding of what is meant by addition and why it is important.
The effective use of resources is also important in consolidating mathematical understanding. When learning new concepts in mathematics, children need to have ‘experience’ of the concept. What does addiction LOOK like? What does division FEEL like? In order to foster this, the use of physical resources is tremendously important when first learning a mathematical concept. We cannot expect children to solve abstract problems if they have no image of what is meant by the mathematical terms. Giving children a range of physical resources to help the children’s understanding is the key to developing them into confident mathematicians.
To summarise, the main point is, ask what they are doing in school. At Garden International School, we hold parents workshops to keep parents up to date with what we are doing, and we are working on a website to teach parents some of the methods we use. It is no use teaching your children long division if they are being taught a different method in school.
At home, you can support their mathematics by finding fun contexts where mathematics is needed. For examples, baking a cake, paying in shops using the exact change and games such as snakes-and-ladders. These will have more of an impact than pages of calculations. There are many websites with links to different problem-solving activities; you can use these to support your children.
Above all, include mathematics in a realistic and fun way. If your children see mathematics as a chore, they won’t want to do it. If they see it as a ticket to discover, uncover patterns and understand the world, then you won’t be able to get them to stop!