I went out for dinner with a friend this week. At the end of the meal we decided to split the bill in half. We asked for the bill and each put a debit card on the table. The waiter came over and we informed him we would like to put half of the bill on each card.
Unfortunately his response was not, “Of course, madam” or equivalent but instead, “I can’t do maths”.
Why is it socially acceptable to say this but not ok to say “I can’t read”?!
At year 11 parents’ evening a couple of weeks ago, I experienced that same phrase, “I can't do maths” from several of the parents and careers.
“I can't do maths. I don't have a GCSE/O Level in it and I've got by just fine.”
What can we do as teachers to help the population realise the point of maths? How can we expel this negativity and the mindset of being unable to “do maths”? What happened to the growth mindset? I would be far happier if I heard, “I can't do x… yet”.
So all this got me thinking. Why do I like maths? Why do I feel a can “do maths”? For me, it's always been the satisfaction of getting an answer right. This began in primary school for me. English was a bit woolly, I was never creative enough to really succeed at art and design, not athletic enough for PE. But I received several ticks in every maths lesson.
Even now, when I encounter a tricky problem in A Level (or the new GCSE!) I still feel that satisfaction when I get a tidy answer that I know to be correct.
It is up to us then to instil that sense of satisfaction in students. Maybe this will take steps towards helping students to believe they can “do maths” and to empower them to have a go at more maths outside the classroom. I will continue to scaffold worksheets so students can have a go before asking for help. AfL techniques can ensure we’re picking up on misconceptions early enough in a lesson to allow maximum time for success. What do you do? Because ultimately it's possibly these small steps that will make a difference.