Why don’t I like Maths ?

This is a question that has long troubled me. I disliked Maths intensely at school. I just didn’t get the point of it. Why did I have to imagine what x or y values were ? Problem-solving always just gave me a head-ache – and to be totally honest, it still does today. Thank heavens for computers to take the hassle out of calculating average marks !

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So, I don’t like Maths, and I could probably live with this quite happily, except for the fact that I live in a society that seems to revere Maths and one who is useless at the M game, (i.e. me) is considered a bit useless overall !

I read this on a Facebook post this evening :

“Mathematicians are discovering that to help children fully understand and truly enjoy math, drastic changes to the way standard schooling approaches the subject must be made. This is not because math is the most important part of the curriculum, but because it is one that can cause large amounts of anxiety and stress, even into adulthood.”

– and I felt I could really relate to that. I can’t say that maths causes me much stress or anxiety on a day to day basis – far from it. Do not worry – I am generally speaking a happy and well-grounded person, I think. My stress comes from the pressure put on our youngsters to be good at maths, as if your life will be a complete failure if you don’t get to grips with the M game.

When I was a young teacher in France, over fifteen years ago, this was made crystal-clear to me by a Physics teacher during a “Conseil de Classe” for a Scientific class. One of the students in particular, Guilluame, was really good at English, motivated and talented. He really came to life in class and produced some great work. Sadly, he was far from the same in Maths and Physics. During the Conseil, we had to give each student a grade (A-E) based on, well, I’m not too what it was based on, actually. Judging on my views of Guillaume, I wanted to opt for a B at least, if not an A. I was shot down in verbal flames by the snotty Maths teacher who said to me and I quote “Nous n’allons pas tenir compte de l’avis d’un professeur d’anglais en section scientifique” … translation “We’re not going to listen to the English teacher’s opinion in a Science-based class.”

At the time, I was too shy, inexperienced, naive and maybe too polite to hit back. Never fear, I have regretted it ever since and I would certainly react now, if it were to arise again. I am glad to say, however, that I think things have evolved and people are now starting to appreciate the impact of English in all areas of study, and especially perhaps, science. Maybe today, I would have been able to get that A for Guillaume ? In any case, the grading system has gone too, thank goodness.

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But none of this helped to reconcile me with Maths. I am certain that if things had been presented to me in a more playful way, I might have “got it” more. One of my dear maths colleagues and friends (this is sincere and not sarcastic) has a really fun way to approach things and I followed completely his lesson based on the price of a baguette last year. If I had had the chance of lessons like that , I would perhaps not be the maths dummy that I feel I am today, but I strongly believe this, also found on facebook tonight :

“We want to have hands-on, grounded, metaphoric play. At the free play level, you are learning in a very fundamental way—you really own your concept, mentally, physically, emotionally, culturally.” This approach “gives you deep roots, so the canopy of the high abstraction does not wither. What is learned without play is qualitatively different. It helps with test taking and mundane exercises, but it does nothing for logical thinking and problem solving. These things are separate, and you can’t get here from there.”

The source is actually a page for the Montessori method – maybe I would have liked that method of learning for myself ? I certainly try to apply it in my own classroom. Seeing my 16 and 17 year olds getting out the dice and counters to play a board game to practice the past tense is pure pleasure. I will be trying that game out with adults next week and I am certain they will get as much fun out of it.

I think the real reason I didn’t like Maths was because I found lessons boring and irrelevant to me. I always preferred languages because, as a terrible chatterbox, I always had lots to say and wanted to learn how to say it all. I don’t think I have done too badly, as one who has not done Maths since the age of 15. I can still manage to survive in the world. Calculators and computers are wonderful things – as are sons, husbands and Maths friends. But I am convinced that the power of play might have worked for me – and who knows, maybe one day I will set myself the challenge of trying to sit through some maths lessons ? It would be a challenge and a half, that would !!

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