Monday, 31 May 2010

Exploring Children’s Attitudes towards Mathematics

The river winds on its course and today has taken an unexpected detour from Scalextric into maths.

I've just read a paper by Ben Ashby with the above title and for my MAST study I'm to reflect on what the key factors are that inhibit maths learning within my setting. I think the two main ones are confidence (particularly in girls) and self-belief.

I think Mr Ashby is spot on when he writes that girls 'frequently attributed success and failure to external factors, such as luck and the perceived difficulty of a question.' I'm often frustrated that talented bright girls don't take any credit for their own skills - it's almost as if it's not cool for them to do so - they have no role models who are good at maths - no-one to aspire to - so why should they be. If only every up and coming female celeb was as forthright about maths as Carol Vorderman...

I disagree, however, with the the author of the paper when he writes: 'The reason for this is currently unclear and warrants further research.' From reading the ALPS book, which draws from a range of well-known brain-based learning research, including Howard Gardner, it is clear that high achieving girls in particular have a problem with their concept of intelligence. They think they can't learn more past a certain point - that they have reached the limit of their intelligence. I spend much of my time with higher achieving girls teaching them the attitude of resilience rather than discrete knowledge or skills. Not that I've cracked it yet...

This is a big problem at our school. So many of our children have convinced themselves that they are no good at maths. Some parents tell them that they were no good at maths either. It's also not cool to be good at maths.

We have tried some things that have addressed the balance. Maths happens first now each day, so that children can do it when they are most alert. We also use sets in Key Stage 2 so that the range of ability is not so vast as it once was. This helps both the teachers, who have less differentiation to sort out, and the children who can see that everyone in the group suffers from the same amount of struggle.

We have also tried maths classes for parents, but so fare only a small number (10 or so) have taken it up - but I think changing parental attitudes is key.

I'll be back on Scalextric tomorrow.

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