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  • Writer's pictureAlex Box

What's your maths story?

We all have a maths story.... Here's a little of mine to get us started. It's a bit of a mathematical rollercoaster but with a kind of happy ending (or middle, given that I plan to live a little longer).

I grew up with no strong opinions but do remember that doing maths was, in general, my least favourite activity. I remember a routine of lining up at the door in twos where the task was to be the first to answer a times table fact to get out for recess - if you lost you went to the back of the lines, OUCH!!!! Apart from one integrated project in year 6 when we were challenged to create a marble that allowed the marble to travel for exactly 60 seconds. That was fun and my marble run was bright purple.

At high school it become harder and more painful. My experience was largely a solitary pursuit of answering prescribed text book questions. The nature of homework was the same except that you were at home and not in the classroom. And there always seemed to be maths homework.

By Year 10, I loathed the subject. And remember being in class seething a the fact that I had to be there. One day though, the teahcer made a daggy joke. And it was one that I appreciated. It made me laugh, and I suddenly had a new found respect for the guy! It was enough to spark a little intrinsic motivation for the subject and I started to go to maths help hour. I started doing okay on tests and ended up graduating high school with a grade that left me with an impression that, hey, I'm not bad at maths.

My parents encouraged me to consider pursuing and science / education degree. Given the shortage of maths teachers, they saw it as a good option for securing a job. I remember the utter horror of being in a university maths class and having NO IDEA what was going on. Years later, as a result of recent and current , I know that my story was one of rote learning formulas successfully in order to get test scores that communicated I was adept. All of that without an ounce of conceptual understanding for those formulas. What a waste of time and energy.

Several years later I found myself in a primary school environment and loving it. I'd found the place I wanted to be in my working life. Part of a generalist teaching role is, of course, to teacher maths. I did the best I could with what I knew and any professional learning I had access to.

But it wasn't until 2017 when I was in a school as a visiting teacher, that I observe a maths class (Year 3) in action using methods I had never seen or experienced myself. The atmosphere was very different. It was calm, therapeutic even as I remember it.. There were collaborative conversations and hands on materials and CREATIVITY. I saw children coming up with their own approaches for solving a maths problem. And it looked.... fun.

I was desperate to learn more about this pedagogy and was directed to, the book Mathematical Mindset, a book about Number Talks and a book about Cognitive Guided Instruction.

Within a week I'd devoured Mathematical Mindsets and my own relatipnsihp with mathematics had started to heal. Who KNEW that maths is open, creative and collaborative? Who knew that EVERYONE is indeed mathematical? Yet the idea that some people are maths people and others aren't.... is an idea shaped by the systematic approach of 'teaching maths' many of us suffered through.

I've been playing in the maths education research and development space ever since.

These days, I think of myself as someone who is formerly maths-anxious, now maths-exciteable. I've had opportunities to create me own ways of making calculations in my head (that don't require a calculator or pencil / paper because they are underpinned by reasoning) and now I predict change and do my banking with a smile on my face.

This little story of transformation gives me hope that anyone of any age can find their mathematical power. They need an opportunity to discover it, to see and experience mathematics differently first. Then they can 'play it forward' and include others in mathematical fun. It's a vision I have and I wonder how, at scale, a shared love of maths in the community might improve the lives of individuals, and shape a healthier, happier and more powerful society.

I'd love to know :

--> How is my story different / similar to yours?

--> What opinions or other ideas do you have in this space?

--> Anything else you feel like sharing.

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