Helping a Struggling Maths Student: What’s the point?

If you have been reading my blog for very long you will know I have one strong maths student, one average and one weak.  I stopped using all curriculum with the twins to attempt to rectify this.  I can now with a certain amount of confidence say that I have three potentially strong maths students.  Am I saying that because I am now maths teacher extraordinaire? No of course not.  Actually, I still consider myself a fairly weak maths teacher.  Fortunately I am not teaching anymore, so it is immaterial whether I am good or not.

Not using a curriculum to learn maths has been the single most sensible thing I have done in our little homeschool.  I’m not renowned for my sense.  Anyone who knows me well would testify to that, and yet….

You see, the girls and I are learning together.  I am no longer their teacher (phew!), more their maths buddy.  It is funny to me, because I don’t teach any other subject either.  History…we learn together.  Science….we learn together.  Same for geography.  Everything in fact, except for maths.  Maths, I believed, needed to be taught, to be drilled and to be repeated 30 times a day until the student was so saturated with the concepts that they couldn’t possibly forget them.  I am not saying I was wrong in this assumption, but I am saying that there are other, different means of learning maths.

I have been reading The Elephant in the classroom:

This was recommended to me by Lucinda (thanks Lucinda!)  In it the author compares the drill and repetition of maths in the classroom as the equivalent of a music student only learning how to write copious amounts of musical notation, yet never being allowed to play this music and experience its true beauty.  And so it is with maths.  We give our students much mathematical notation to repeat over and over again, but we never allow them to use it to experience its beauty.

My son, a strong maths student, naturally experiences the beauty of maths, as do I.   My girls need a bit more help.  And this is the point.  This summer they have been playing with mathematical notation on mathematical instruments and they are just beginning to see its potential.  They are starting to see that maths is primarily a study of patterns rather than numbers.  Patterns that are so important and mesmerising, they are seen all around us in nature, present in almost every facet of living.

For L10, who readily proclaims herself useless at maths, it has been prudent to introduce her to the idea that maths is not about numbers; that the numbers are just labels, there to aid us not flummox us. Next week I will be sharing the activities we did with place value.  Activities which have revolutionised the way the girls view numbers.

Living maths, for want of a better term, is just that.  It is maths that is alive, meaningful and best of all simple.  No I don’t have one strong maths student anymore, I have three.  They just don’t know it yet!

Lucinda left a comment that I thought might be worth adding to this post for anyone interested:

I’ve been doing Jo Boaler’s free Stanford course this summer. It runs until 27 September and has lots of short videos (mostly Jo speaking) you can just dip into. There’s lots about Carol Dweck’s mindset work too, which was new to me.
I know you have a zillion things going on, but I thought I’d share in case any of your other readers are interested. The course is here: