Is it OK to be bad at maths?

December 19, 2016

Parents: We need your help to get the UK’s children excited about learning maths – and striving to be good at it!

Young mathematicians

In the recent PISA rankings that compare the results in maths, reading and science of 15 year olds from across the globe, the UK came 27th in maths.

Charlotte Gater, Head of Curriculum here at Explore, believes that although education policy will have some effect, our attitude towards maths can have a major impact. She explains why in this blog post…

“I meet so many well-meaning parents, who are desperate to get maths support for their children, who start the conversation with “well I’m no good at maths, so neither are they.”

It makes me sad to think that it’s socially acceptable for us to just say we’re not good at maths. People aren’t saying “I’m not good at it yet, so please help me to get better”. It’s just “I’m not good at it” full stop. Possibly followed by a nervous laugh, but ultimately they are resigned to the fact that they can’t do it and that’s ok.

People go to extreme lengths to hide the fact that they can’t read or write but it’s just accepted that it’s fairly normal to not be good at maths. I’d like to see this change!

I know that parents are trying to help their child, but by announcing that they can’t do it there’s a risk that normalising a lack of maths skills could allow the next generation to grow up with a nonchalant attitude towards this important subject.

As I explained in a previous blog post, we use maths every day without even realising it! If you think you can’t do maths, how do you know if you’re getting a bargain when you’re shopping and there is a percentage discount, or that you’re not getting ripped off by a credit card’s interest rates or paying too much for your mortgage?

Don’t get me wrong, I know there are people with dyscalculia who have genuine difficulty with maths and I don’t expect everyone, including myself, to understand Stephen Hawking’s level of maths – although we can always keep aiming for this! I just want the UK to get better at maths and to not just think you can or can’t do it.

I think it’s great for parents to let children know that everyone finds things hard and that adults can’t ‘just do’ everything. Please do show your children that you struggle sometimes and work hard to learn things too.

Just please avoid saying “I can’t do maths”. Why not try and learn something together? Accept that things are sometimes hard, but face your fears alongside your child and get stuck in!

Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset theory shows that everyone can improve their skills, in anything, if they think in the right way. You won’t always be the best, but by believing in your ability, being determined and with lots of practice (and mistakes!) you’ll improve.

So why not make an early New Year’s resolutions to improve your maths skills? Here are a few tips to get you started!

  • The National Numeracy Challenge will help highlight areas you need support with and suggest activities to improve these.
  • The Khan Academy offers over 2000 free videos tutorials on loads of different maths topics
  • Find some fun apps you and your family can play. 10Monkeys Multiplication is great if you want to learn your times tables.
  • Prefer working with others? Up for a challenge? Most local colleges will have part-time and evening maths courses you can enrol onto.
  • Does your child get maths tutoring? Ask their tutor how they can help you! At Explore Learning we offer Parent Information Sessions to help parents learn about methods that are being used at school. Your child’s tutor may be able to do the same.

I truly believe that if we all get involved, together we can inspire the next generation to improve their maths skills!”

At Explore Learning, our goal is to create fearless learners who are ready to tackle any challenge! Find out how we’ve helped over 175,000 children to do just that.

This blog post was also featured on Huffington Post.

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