SPOT acronym

Are you passing on your negative maths attitude?

When did you last hear someone happily announce that they struggle with reading, confident in the knowledge that you would probably nod in understanding? Most people would respond that they had rarely heard anyone make such a statement, if at all.

Yet according to the 

, approximately 5.1 million adults in

England have literacy levels at or below those expected of an 11-year-old. 

Contrast this with the number of times people have told you that they are hopeless at maths. Over the years, on sharing that I teach maths, the cheerful responses have included:

  • 'I'm rubbish at maths'

  • 'How awful - maths is really hard'

  • 'I hated maths in school - I had no clue about what was going on'

  • 'Oh dear - that's such a boring subject'

  • 'I used to feel physically sick in maths exams'

  • 'I can't believe I have a friend who is a maths teacher'

  • 'Why don’t you get a proper job – like hairdressing?' (from a student)

On a recent shopping trip, the teenage assistant declared that he just didn't get maths at all, despite having acquired a grade B at GCSE. This information was readily shared as he moved to the till to work out the price of an item that was discounted by 25 percent. 

The common factor linking all these views together, apart from their perceptions of maths, was their lack of concern at the situation and how ready they were to divulge their thoughts. When it comes to maths, it would appear that dislike for the subject and feelings of inadequacy amongst adults is both common and acceptable. 

Given this, it is hardly surprising that students can have preconceived ideas about maths from a young age, which can negatively affect how they approach the subject as they progress through school. Pupils may not make much effort because they expect it to be difficult even before they begin, while others may get anxious which doesn't always manifest itself as being 

withdrawn or nervous but rather as behaviour issues. Also, a recent 

 highlighted a link between positive attitudes towards maths and achievement in the subject. 

Of course, many issues can be alleviated when pupils are taught by an enthusiastic teacher in a classroom where mistakes are considered to be opportunities for learning. However, parents and carers can also help to foster a love of maths at home, even when there is a lack of confidence.  

Firstly, avoid sharing any negative views of maths at home - since children can readily pick up on these - and try to cultivate an attitude of maths being fun. Look for opportunities to play games together. The card game that is commonly known as 21 (where players need to collect and discard cards so that their hand is as close to 21 as possible) can be played using different totals. In fact, you could discuss what would be sensible totals, given the number of cards in a hand and the maximum possible value of a card. Rather than just looking for totals, the cards could be combined with any operations, so if a final hand consists of 5, 3, 2 and 9, and players are aiming for 21, they could use 2 x 3 x 5 - 9.

Puzzles are a great way for children to see maths as enjoyable while helping to develop problem solving skills. A quick search of the internet will reveal sites that provide free maths puzzles, and for challenges, NRICH is an excellent resource. Not only are there are a vast range of problems spanning all ages, but there are also solutions provided which have been written by students.    

Looking for opportunities for children to be involved in typical activities at home is a great way to see maths being applied. What time should they be going to bed and getting up to ensure sufficient sleep and preparation time in the morning? If you are planning a day trip, let them work out a timetable for the day. Involve them in cooking activities and working out the best deals when buying groceries. Older children can work out the best deal for their mobile phone and draw up a budget if they have an income. They can then use this to work out how long will it take for them to save up for something that they want. Rearranging the furniture in their bedroom can involve scale drawings and if their room is being painted, how much paint is needed?

Remember that you don't need to have all the answers, you just need to be willing to participate and embrace a positive attitude which can help to foster a similar mindset in your children. With time, you may even start telling people that you love maths!