Long before I became at author, I was a maths teacher and, since I left the classroom, I’ve helped quite a few people with maths on a one-to-one basis. Over the years, I’ve heard the phrase “I can’t do maths” many times, but the people who said it were always wrong. Their problem wasn’t that they couldn’t do maths – it was that they had not been taught it well enough.
That wasn’t necessarily the fault of their teachers. I know from experience how hard it is to give individual attention to each student in a large group. You have to decide to move on to the next topic when most of the class understand what they are doing – you can’t hold them all back because one person has failed to grasp a new topic or has fallen behind because they’ve ill.
That doesn’t matter in many subjects. You can still learn about the Second World War, even if you’ve failed to learn about the first one. Not having read Private Peaceful doesn’t stop you studying Of Mice and Men and, even in science, you can learn about plant reproduction even if you haven’t mastered human nutrition.
Maths doesn’t work like that. The individual topics build on each other like bricks in a tower so, if one of the lower bricks is missing, the higher ones wobble or fall down completely. Then another difference between maths and other subjects kicks in: it’s possible to get it completely and utterly wrong. There is nothing as effective as a page full of crosses to make a student declare “I can’t do maths”. Continue reading