Tag Archives: Mathematics

It’s time to… Discover Maths!

By Trudi Fitzhenry and Karen Murphy, authors of the award-winning Time to… Featherstone Early Years series

Creating a positive maths mindset in young children is part of the reason for writing this book.  As early educators we model many of the attitudes and beliefs that young children absorb.  In our experience of supporting early years staff in a range of settings,  many of the adults we work with have a deep reluctance to engage with maths based on their own unhappy experiences of the subject in the past.  If we can offer ideas for making maths fun and remove some of the potential misconceptions held by maths-anxious adults then our youngest learners will benefit!

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Having the confidence to play with maths concepts in an open way, without the fear of being ‘wrong’, is crucial.  A fun way of introducing a maths problem is to allow the children to become the experts and you, as the adult, let their enquiries lead the learning.  So if you are looking at the number 5, you might ask ‘What do you know about the number 5?  Can anyone show me what 5 looks like?’  The children may place 5 objects together or may write the digit 5.  They may draw 5 spots on a whiteboard or show you 5 fingers.  All of the responses are welcomed and valued.  Encourage further sharing of ideas by asking ‘What else can we do to show 5?  Does anyone have another idea?’  Collect all of the children’s ideas and examples and create a book of 5, including songs and rhymes and simple calculations should these begin to appear.

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Taking maths learning outside is a powerful way of engaging children both in the natural world around them and in the natural patterns that exist.  Looking at flowers that grow around your setting allows children to compare petal shapes and quantities.  They can ask their friends which colours they prefer and create a simple tally or chart.  Collecting twigs, cones or leaves to use in a repeating pattern or as tools for counting or measuring engages the children in a worthwhile pursuit.  Looking for the tallest sunflower or widest branch, or seeing who can make the longest daisy chain adds a sense of competition that young children love!

Our message is simple.  If the children see us as adults engaging in exciting maths activities and hear us asking questions and following a simple line of enquiry, they will learn that curiosity is a good thing.  If we share our misconceptions and how we have figured out a solution to a problem, they will learn that this is okay, too.  With this kind of encouragement we can grow a new generation of maths-confident children and lose the all too common fear of maths that many adults share.


Number skills in the primary curriculum. Andrew Brodie

Andrew Brodie author photoThe new National Curriculum, together with the tests that are planned to accompany it from next year, places a much greater emphasis on pure number skills than has been seen for many years. The tests for Key Stages 1 and 2 will both include a test paper on the subject of ‘arithmetic’, a term that is not used in the National Curriculum itself and that hasn’t been much in evidence since the nineteen sixties. I keep having to remind myself that it is concerned purely with non-contextual number calculations.

For the last fifty years we have been urged to help children to learn number facts and number skills within the context of realistic mathematical problems – problems that can be related to the pupils’ everyday lives; problems that mean something to the children; problems that can be solved because there’s a desire to solve them.

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Image credit: John Crane Ltd

There is no doubt that contextually based learning is an educational utopia. But concerns have been growing – what if the problems we set don’t encourage the children to learn all the number facts they may ever need? What if the problems are actually too difficult for the pupils simply because the number facts they have practised are not easily retrievable from the depths of their minds?

Surely then, an ideal recipe for mathematical success has to be the solid acquisition of number skills coupled with the application of these skills in context-based, interesting and challenging problems. Is that what the new curriculum is designed to achieve? Will it achieve it?

Image credit: Hypnosis Power

I have been fortunate enough to be able to produce a wide range of educational books over the past twenty years, including many on problem solving. But the opportunities and demands of the new curriculum and the tests that derive from it have encouraged me to return to looking at pure number skills, an area that is of great interest to me.

When not writing, I spend a considerable amount of term working with students aged between four and twenty-two. Many of the pupils with whom I work are of above average intelligence yet still experience some difficulties with mathematics.

The difficulties encountered by some of the secondary school pupils and university students can be traced back to an inadequate grasp of fundamental skills, which could have been gained at the primary level. It is interesting to observe that these students lack confidence in their own abilities and are likely to make comments such as ‘I hate fractions’ or ‘I can’t do algebra’. When discussed closely, however, the reason why the student can’t find, say, the value of x when 3x = 24 is simply because he/she can’t remember how to divide 24 by 3 and can’t find a strategy for doing so!

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In my view, the vast majority of children need to learn a wealth of number facts with some contextual clues to start them off. They need to recognize that 3 + 2 = 5 is a representation of a reality, such as three pencils together with two more make a total of five pencils, or that 3 x 2 = 6 could be a representation of three sets of two pencils making a total of six. But once shown the reality there is no reason why they shouldn’t learn all the facts that follow the same pattern. Once learnt these can be applied to a countless number of realistic problems and, ultimately, the fairly abstract concepts represented by algebra. If not learnt, however, the whole of maths is likely to become a mystery.

Let's Do Times Tables coverAndrew Brodie was a head teacher for twelve years after many successful years in the classroom. He began writing his best-selling educational workbooks in 1992 and since then has established himself as an author that parents and teachers have come to trust. Follow him on Twitter @AbrodieWriter

The most recent titles in his Andrew Brodie Basics series are Let’s Do Times Tables, covering ages 5-11. They are designed to improve children’s confidence with 100s of questions and reward stickers and also match the requirements of the National Curriculum.