Promoting a Positive Attitude for Maths Week

Maths Week 2020 is here and as part of our celebrations, we caught up with Midlands Science board member and highly experienced post-primary teacher in Mathematics, Patricia Nunan, to hear her views on promoting maths as a subject and the importance of Maths Week…..

Maths Week is all about celebrating maths as a subject and promoting positive attitudes towards maths and of course, furthering the understanding of our world through maths. Maths Week will be very different this year due to Covid19 and schools will be doing their best to ensure the pupils get to have fun with maths whilst in school but what are some of the activities you think parents could be doing to increase their child’s understanding of maths in the household?

I think encouraging children to be involved in household activities like baking or measuring allows children to see the real world applications of Maths. For example, driving to school last week my 9 year old asked about Maths and driving and we discussed distance and speed but also when parking in terms of spatial awareness. Encouraging them at all times to see that Maths is a really useful practical subject as opposed to something which is abstract and difficult. Also, I think parents should resist from sharing their negative experiences or feelings about Maths and try to promote positive attitudes. Many parents will share their anxieties and difficulties with it and that creates anxiety with the child from the beginning. Furthermore, stereotypical play activities can alienate girls from engaging with blocks or building or puzzles which promote logic and spatial awareness. 

In recent times, we hear people talking more about maths anxiety. What exactly is this and what are schools and teachers doing to try to help pupils to overcome it?

Mind over matter. Often children have a negative perception of Maths by the time they get to school. Schools and teachers are encouraging children to see Maths as a more “fun” subject, something which can be really useful and enjoyable.  Initiatives like Maths Week certainly do a lot in this regard and in the promotion of Maths. Post Primary schools, often facilitated by the Guidance teacher, organise visitors and speakers who have graduated from Maths related courses or who use Maths in their jobs on a regular basis. On a more practical level, teachers spend time encouraging students to problem solve and develop critical thinking skills which they can apply across all subjects and as a life skill in general. 

What do you think it is that causes this initial fear of maths?

It seems to be more socially acceptable to be “bad at Maths”, cool even in some ways. People do not claim to be “bad at English” quite so quickly. I do believe a lot has been done in recent years to promote Maths both in society and in schools. However, there is always room for further improvement. Perhaps making the link between sports and Maths would bring further encouragement as it has been proven that Spatial awareness amongst girls is typically weaker than amongst boys, an important skill on any sports pitch. 

Why are events like national Maths Week so important? Do you think they help to change peoples’ perceptions of maths and make it more enjoyable?

Maths Week is absolutely crucial in my opinion as it places Maths awareness and skills at the top of the agenda, allowing students and parents to make the connections between real life and Maths. The Maths Eyes campaign which ran a number of years ago was a really fantastic initiative in my opinion as it pushed us all to look at the world around us and see the Maths in our everyday lives. 

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Patricia is a qualified post primary teacher in Mathematics and French. She graduated with a Higher Diploma in Education from UCD and a Higher Diploma in Educational Management and Administration from NUI Maynooth. She then completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Educational Leadership in NUI Maynooth and a Masters in Educational Management from WIT. Patricia has worked, as an advisor, with the Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST) for the last two years in the areas of Leaving Certificate Applied, Numeracy, MFL and DEIS planning. She also led the design of the teacher CPD for the revised module descriptor in Mathematical Applications.  She is a board member of Midland Science which promotes STEM subjects across the midland counties and is a passionate advocate for active participation of girls in STEM subjects, in particular.

Patricia worked as a School Placement Tutor with Trinity College Dublin for a number of years and also facilitated workshops for the National Induction Programme (NIPT).