4.2 Knowing mathematics
How much mathematics do you think you know? You may feel that you know quite a lot, or that you are ‘out of practice’ and have forgotten much of it; or perhaps you were never very secure in your mathematical knowledge and feel that you did not achieve complete understanding. Primary teachers are expected to have a confident knowledge of mathematics. You are not expected to reach such a level for this course, but you do need to know a fair amount. All the mathematics that children go on to do in secondary school has its foundations in work done in the early years. You need to know some facts about numbers, number operations (e.g. addition, subtraction), some measures and simple two- and three-dimensional shapes. You also need to know various mathematical rules, conventions, methods, strategies, procedures and techniques.
Activity 13: Ways of doing calculations
Work through all the text and tasks in ‘Calculating’ from Primary Mathematics by Heather Cooke.
Click on the link below to open ‘Calculating’ from Primary Mathematics by Heather Cooke.
Then make some brief notes on the following:
one mental strategy that you were previously unaware of or had not used before;
one feature of a calculator that you were previously unaware of or had not used before;
something else that you had not previously considered;
any words or terms you were unsure of.
Working through the tasks in the mathematics subject book may have made you aware of the many things you know well about calculating. You may also have been alerted to other things of which you had only a passing knowledge or which you did not know at all.
People's attitudes to mathematics affect how well they learn and have confidence in using it. If you are anxious or are recollecting ‘bad feelings’ from school days, you may identify with Fiona, a student on an Open University mathematics course. She writes:
My background in mathematics, prior to starting the course, has been rather a dismal failure. Up until fairly recently, I had always considered myself as being very weak mathematically. I felt that I had a poor grasp of the rules and reasons for doing things in a certain order.
I have, within the last couple of years, realised that my confidence in mathematics was totally undermined when I was at school. My maths teacher informed my parents and myself that he had given up trying to teach me maths. I gained a CSE Grade 4 in my exams which I have felt ashamed of ever since, as the rest of my results were A or B passes at O level.
This performance at school has puzzled me on a number of occasions ever since. I have, for instance, received an apology from the bank when we were overcharged interest on our account. This was after I had insisted on the matter being taken further as the desk clerk had informed me, condescendingly, that the procedure by which interest was worked out was quite complicated. Also, in my work as a Learning Support Assistant, I have found that I can communicate mathematical ideas to children.
Before starting the course, the term ‘mathematics’ meant the study of numbers and usually involves doing something very complicated which has little relevance to real-life situations.
I have been most pleasantly surprised during my study of Unit 1 as it has more or less transformed my feelings about mathematics. It has helped me to develop much more of a feeling for relevance about mathematics, i.e. that mathematics is not about creating numbers and inventing rules, but about studying relationships.
Activity 14: Critical incidents
Re-read Fiona's comments (above) and identify any incident(s) that she noted as important in making her feel that she could be successful at mathematics. Can you identify any similar ‘critical incidents’ in your own life? Write a brief outline of these.
The apology from the bank seemed to have been an important incident for Fiona, although she also talked briefly about her success in communicating mathematical ideas to children. Perhaps you have had similar success with children and can give a particular example. Perhaps you can think of an incident where you have successfully carried out a piece of mathematics relating to your everyday life, as Fiona did in checking her bank charges.
You may find it helpful to make a note of any such incidents (involving language and science as well as mathematics) as they occur to you.