There is no other school subject that gets as bad a rap as Mathematics. It even has a mental health disorder associated with it – ‘Maths anxiety’. There are a range of reasons why Maths is so polarising, some will say it’s too hard while others complain that it is boring. Many Maths-haters say that it is ‘irrelevant’ and can’t see the real-world applications, though Maths permeates many aspects of daily life, and we work with numbers all the time.
One of the most enduring myths about Maths is that you have to have a certain kind of ‘brain’ to enjoy it and do it well. Maths, it is often said, is not for everyone. Parents who struggled with Maths at school, may well believe in some of these ideas, and have low expectations or stress about their child’s performance in the subject. As parents, it is also possible to hand down our own Maths anxiety, making it harder for our children to develop confidence in something their parent thinks is difficult.
A challenge in Maths education is that progress in the subject is made along particular learning pathways, with each concept building on the one before. If a child does not master a concept, they will have a learning gap that will trip them up time and again, making them feel as if they just can’t do Maths. Teaching in a traditional, big classroom with strict timelines to deliver the curriculum to everyone at the same time, makes it hard for a teacher to identify each child with a Maths learning gap here or there, never mind help remedy it.
“This is where the online space becomes really exciting for Maths education,” says Mark Anderson, the Principal and Co-founder of Koa Academy, a high-engagement online school. “Accessing a range of Maths education tools and platforms means that there are multiple ways that concepts can be taught and learnt. If a child can’t understand a Maths concept explained one way, then they can be directed to a different resource that presents the concept in a way that is more understandable to them. They proceed on a mastery-based, individualized trajectory that ensures that they don’t move on with a poor understanding of a concept. If they need more practice, there’s space and time for them to get more practice. Koa’s small 8-person ‘Pods’ also means that a teacher can easily keep track of every child’s progress in Maths, so they know when a child needs a different approach, a master class or a one-on-one lesson with the Koa Maths education specialist. No one gets left behind, and everyone can do Maths!”
Anderson and Koa Academy’s Head of Academics, Jason Hutchison are on a mission to change both parents and kids’ hearts and minds when it comes to Mathematics. In a recent KoaCast, an education podcast aimed at parents, the two were joined by Steve Sherman, Chief Imagination Officer of STEAM-based NGO Living Maths and actuarial analyst, Tumi Lekoa for a lively conversation about how to inculcate a greater appreciation of Maths.
Sherman says, “The issue lies in our narratives about Maths where we highlight struggle, mistakes, and even anxiety. Maths is about grappling with solving problems and that is good and exciting. There needs to be safe spaces for kids to chew on a problem, to try things out, make mistakes and learn from them. If they have those safe spaces, then they have opportunities to struggle to get an answer and enjoy the journey of using Maths to solve a problem, which is incredibly satisfying.”
For Lekoa, a love of Maths was passed down to her by her father who is an engineer. “I loved Maths from an early age and was always good at it. My father would show me how Maths was applied in everyday life and how it can be used to answer questions about the world. I love the certainty of Maths, it’s objectivity and its relevance to our lives. In a world full of so much ambiguity, you can always rely on Maths.”
This KoaCast episode highlights the fact that there are many ways to approach Maths. Kids can learn to get excited about Maths, and parents do not need to feel helpless in their desire for their children to succeed in the subject. It also highlights some exciting shifts in education, particularly in the online space, with confidence being built through a mastery-based approach to the subject.
You can listen to the recorded Koa Cast with guests Steve Sherman and Tumi Lekoa here.