Category Archives: Teaching Maths

Maths being Difficult is Not the Full Story

Last weekend, I had the privilege to attend a wonderful conference in Dublin City University called Mathematics Education in Ireland. At the conference, lots of people were complaining about how the media encourages people to see mathematics as difficult. They thought it would be better if people with influence spoke and wrote more positively about maths.

One of the claims made at the conference was that even preschool children are picking up the idea that maths is difficult. Well, I agree that maths is difficult for many people. The problem is that that statement is incomplete. Continue reading

Teaching Number Facts and Tables

Every child leaving primary school needs to know their number facts at least up to 10 + 10, 20 – 10, 10 x 10, and 100 ÷ 10. This is often done by asking children to learn off tables such as
7 + 0 = 7
7 + 1 = 8
7 + 2 = 9
7 + 3 = 10
7 + 4 = 11 and so on.

Learning off number facts in such tables works well for some children, but not for all. Stanislas Dehaene, author of The Number sense: How the Mind Creates Mathematics compares excerpts from addition and multiplication tables to the following groups of sentences to show how similar some of the tables can sound and how difficult they can be to learn off.

“Charlie David lives on George Avenue
Charlie George lives on Albert Zoe Avenue
George Ernie lives on Albert Bruno Avenue”
“Charlie David works on Albert Bruno Avenue
Charlie George works on Bruno Albert Avenue
George Ernie works on Charlie Ernie Avenue.” Continue reading

Properties of 3-D Shapes

When your children work on 3-D shapes from a mathematics textbook, do you sometimes wonder about the properties of some of the shapes? Does a cone have a vertex? How many faces has a sphere? How many edges has a cylinder? If you ask a mathematician the answer to such questions, the mathematician may direct you to the definition of a vertex, a face or an edge. Or the mathematician may ask you the purpose for wanting to classify the shapes in this way.

In order to resolve this in a way that works in a primary school classroom, I have compiled a list of definitions and a grid on which to record information about a series of 3-D shapes. I want to share it with you in the hope that it will be of help in your classroom. Here are the definitions. Here is the empty grid; try completing this first. Here is the completed grid.

Please comment below if you have any other suggestions about resolving such questions in your mathematics lessons.

False Friends in Teaching and Learning Mathematics

Teachers realise that children whose first language is not English can find it difficult to understand new mathematical terms. However, mathematical terms in English can be tricky even for children who are native English speakers. Continue reading

Time to “Rediscover” MSW Logo, the Child-Friendly Programming Language?

Over the Christmas period, four children I know in senior primary school classes received presents of laptop computers. More and more children now have access to powerful computers. Although many of them want to use the laptops to surf the internet and to play games, other educational uses of computers are available to them.  For example, it seems like a good opportunity for children in senior primary school classes to learn about Seymour Papert and his colleagues’ wonderful computer programming language, Logo. Although few schools teach it anymore, children can learn a lot from trying it out. And once they get started, some children will be able to teach themselves (and others) the next steps with only occasional teacher or parent intervention needed. Continue reading

How Parents can Help their Child Learn Maths

I occasionally get requests from schools inviting me to address parents about how to support their children’s learning in mathematics. Unfortunately, for practical purposes, I usually have to decline such invitations but here are ten things I would say to parents who are interested in helping their child learn more maths. Continue reading

Differentiating instruction in mathematics class (3)

In the last two posts I made suggestions for differentiating instruction in maths class. In this final post for now on the topic of differentiation, I present a third approach. Unlike the other two, which were whole-class suggestions for differentiating instruction, this one requires particular knowledge of individual students and obstacles and strengths to learning that they possess. Continue reading

Differentiating instruction in mathematics class (2)

In the last blog entry I described some concrete strategies for differentiating instruction in mathematics class. That entry described how a teacher can differentiate instruction when teaching the whole class, by placing responsibility on the whole class to work collaboratively to share mathematical ideas and strategies.

A second way to promote differentiation in the maths classroom is through the use of suitable maths problems. Continue reading

Differentiating instruction in mathematics class (1)

When student teachers start teaching mathematics, they find out quickly that children learn differently and at different rates. Consequently, after a period or two of school placement, student teachers appreciate the need to differentiate their instruction for the diverse learners in their classes. But knowing that differentiation in instruction is necessary is different to being able to teach in a way that acknowledges the different rates and ways in which learners learn. “We need to see concrete examples of differentiation” they say.

There are many ways of differentiating and in the next few blog entries I am going to describe some that I use. Continue reading

Connection between Leaving Cert Maths Results and Future Maths Teaching

Imagine a country where most post-primary students perform well in mathematics and get good results in their maths exams. Assuming that the exams are of a good quality, the graduates of such a system will generally be clear, logical thinkers and creative problem solvers. Continue reading