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Celebrate the numerical

May 15, 2019

Bobby Seagull is a numbers person. He explains why we should all be numbers people in this blog post to celebrate National Numeracy Day…

Happy National Numeracy Day from me, Mr Seagull! As a school maths teacher, I’m incredibly excited for this national day of joyous celebration for all things numerical.

Can you work out what is £9 increased by 5%? According to research by National Numeracy, nearly 50% of working-age adults in England would struggle to get this correct (even with a calculator). This suggests poor numeracy remains endemic in the UK with nearly 1 in 2 adults having the numeracy skills we would expect of 11 year old primary school children.

As a child, it was my interest in collecting football stickers that ignited by passion for numbers. Aged 9, friends used to assert whether one footballer was better than another, typically based on anecdote. I used data from the sticker book (details about players such as games played, goals scored, penalties etc) and deployed a spreadsheet to analyse them.

I was able to interrogate my spreadsheet to help inform my opinions with a statistical basis. Some of my friends found this more convincing than pure speculation about players! I’ve been hooked on numbers ever since.

Some people might appear to pick up mathematical concepts quickly, but you don’t need to be a genius to be a numbers person. I don’t believe in the myth of the maths brain, that you can or can’t do maths.

Instead, I believe that we are all numbers people! Being a numbers person is about having the confidence and competence to use numbers and think mathematically in everyday life.

We have to change our collective attitudes to maths. It is sad that it’s a badge of honour to say that you can’t do maths, whilst it would be unacceptable to say that you can’t read.  We should speak more positively about maths to others, especially school children. With our children, we should show maths helping in everyday life situations such as getting them to calculate discounts when shopping.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of presenting at the Explore Learning’s National Young Mathematicians’ Awards at Cambridge University. The energy and enthusiasm for maths by these confident, fearless young learners gives me hope that we can improve as a nation.

As well as trying to enthuse the students I teach in my classroom, I spend a lot of my time trying to be a positive ambassador for numbers outside of the classroom as well. For those who are up by 6.50am, you will often hear my maths puzzles on BBC Radio Four’s Today programme – the perfect way to get your morning started!

I also have puzzles in my podcast series Maths Appeal, co-presented with fellow maths teacher Susan Okereke where we show how maths can be a fun subject. With my book The Life-Changing Magic of Numbers, I use my life experiences to show maths is everywhere, and in my recent BBC Two series “Monkman & Seagull’s Genius Guide to Britain”, there were instances where we portrayed maths in a positive and fun light. We even used basic GCSE trigonometry to estimate the height of Britain’s tallest freestanding structure (not the Shard at 310m, but Yorkshire’s Emley Moor Tower at 330m!)

Whether trying to compare interest rates of saving accounts, not get duped by payday loans company or even trying to estimate the probability of my beloved West Ham winning their next match, a better attitude to maths is a step in the right direction of being more confident with numbers.

You can start the celebrations for National Numeracy Day by taking “Essentials of Numeracy” Challenge to see how confident you are with numbers:

Join Bobby and be a number person! Come along to a free trial to find out how your family can discover the magic of maths.

Free trial


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