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Changing the way we think about Maths

  • 2021
  • Primary
  • Teachers
Kelly Dunn, Grade 4 Teacher & Math Teacher Coordinator

The heart of Mathematics is to deeply understand concepts and how they are related to each other in order to solve problems. Not only does maths help with everyday tasks such as working with money and time, but it also builds problem solving, critical thinking and logical reasoning skills. According to The International Commission on Mathematical Instruction1, 

“Mathematics is a fundamental part of human thought and logic, and integral to attempts at understanding the world and ourselves. Mathematical knowledge plays a crucial role in understanding the contents of other school subjects such as science, social studies, and even music and art.”

To foster mathematical thinking is to encourage logical thinking and reasoning so activities such as solving puzzles, cryptography or code breaking are fun ways to develop your maths brain. More than performing speedy calculations and the memorisation of mathematical procedures, the learning of maths can be made fun and there are many ways that parents can do so to support their child’s maths development at home. 

At THS, our big maths focus is on sense-making, reasoning and problem-solving, supporting our students in exploring and understanding numbers and patterns. Hopefully some of the strategies below will provide some ideas for how you, as parents, can support your child with this over the winter break. 

1: Talk about maths 
You don’t need to go in-depth into statistical analysis or complex equations, but try and bring maths into daily conversations at home. This is especially important for younger children as they explore how maths is relevant in their world. It can be as simple as counting stairs, estimating how many grapes can fit into the bowl, or emphasising measurements when cooking together. You may consider some of these questions:

- How many is that?
- How could we share that equally between us? 
- What’s the chance of that happening? 
- What shape is that? 
- How high is that?
- How many ____ would it take to fill this room? 
- What do you notice? What do you wonder? (You may be interested in a short video from Annie Fetter here explaining the importance of asking these questions.)

2: Play games
For younger children, playing simple board games using dice will help develop counting and number recognition. For older children, number strategy games such as Uno or Mancala, spatial awareness, logic and reasoning games such as Battleships, Chess or puzzles, and arithmetic and money handling games such as Monopoly, are great for developing Maths skills in a fun way! 

One fun game we play in school is Which One Doesn’t Belong? You choose four things, numbers or shapes within the same category and your child has to choose the one that doesn’t fit with the rest, and then justify their choice. There doesn’t need to be a “correct” answer, as long as they explain their reason. You can find lots of examples here.

3: Be curious and positive
Curiosity and sense-making are the pillars of learning and play. Keep it light and low-stakes if you want maths conversations to flow. If you’re inclined to say “it’s okay if you’re bad at Maths, I was too”, then please stop yourself. Jo Boaler, and other researchers, suggest that being a “maths person” is just a myth, and the way we frame maths to our children can impact not only how they view maths, but their confidence and self-belief when faced with challenging maths problems. You could try some of the supportive statements below:

- It doesn’t matter if we get it wrong. Let’s just play around and have a go. 
- I don’t know what to do either. Let’s figure it out together!
- Interesting idea. Why do you think that’s true?
- I’m not sure how to do this, can you teach me? 

If you’d like some maths subject specific ideas for simple activities at home, you can look at NWEA’s (the organisation that hosts our MAP assessments) blog post here

1: ICMI The role of mathematics in the overall curriculum 

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