Working harder in maths makes you smarter

“Working harder makes you smarter!” and “Make a mistake and feel great” would make my pupils pull very strange faces. Initially, pupils don’t like my lessons, I refuse to spoon feed and I make them think.

Thinking is hard, recalling information even more so, making connections and links and then doing all of this whilst being a teenager is even more difficult (and I know I have a 12 and a 14 year old son at home!) But, if that is what your expectations are then over time you are able to build resilience at home and create more fluent mathematicians.

I have always thought that working hard was the key to mathematical success but I had begun to think that there was a gene that made you good or bad at maths. I listened often to parents telling me they could never do maths and so it was understandable that their child couldn’t do maths either, people spoke about grouping pupils on ability…then I completed a course and it made me remember that “working harder is what makes you smarter” In the vast majority of cases the more you do maths the more it makes “sense”

Being “good” at maths is something you work at and work for. In July a year 8 pupil said to me ” you know miss I thought you was wrong…but the harder you work the easier Maths is” This was one of the best statements I could hear. Then a few days later a year 7 pupil told me “my mum and grandma are worried, I cheered as I left the house this morning – “Maths first lesson!””

Then I think of my year 11 class who have just left, the group of students you battle with to get the grade they aspire to and on their last lesson they all looked very solemn and then you can only imagine my delight when they asked “What will we do to make us think if we don’t have to do maths anymore?” This is what makes teaching so worth while and why encouraging children to embrace and not fear the maths is important.

Being stuck is good – hence my “make a mistake and feel great” quote. If you can answer the questions easily there is no challenge and if there’s no challenge then you’re not learning. I guess this is what happens so often, pupils lose interest in maths because they’re not being challenged or stretched (this recent article shows the research and then a few years down the line they suddenly realise they have a GCSE to pass. Panic begins and in some cases it can be too late but if you work hard then it’s never too late.

So how does this work in the home – well I’ve already mentioned how parents will accept maths failure because they think they too were maths failures. But are they? They buy food, they go to work, they pay bills so what makes them think they can’t do maths? I would guess there was probably someone faster than them at school, there were topics that moved on to quickly before they’d mastered the basics, there were topics that didn’t quite make sense and of course, “maths has changed since they were at school” Those fears and phobias need to be forgotten, think about the conversations you have with your children and encourage them to enjoy maths. Reasoning and discussing maths together will allow you all to learn. But one of the most important things is to never say “I can’t do maths”

As a parent I am a big believer in talking about life and maths with my children and so often they talk to me about maths. Whilst on holiday we had many conversations about the changing can size (pictured below) Which one holds the most? Which one uses the least material? Which one uses least space in the fridge? Of course without getting out a ruler, paper, pen and calculator we couldn’t accurately answer these questions. But, it created conversations whilst we ate.


Of course they both hold 330ml, so please don’t worry about value for money in this case. But, it’s always worth checking.

How do you engage children in Maths? Well I guess the key is to make them think, let them talk, let them question and give them questions that will allow this to happen. This means that at home you might ask them to help you cook, but don’t give them all the information at once. Tell them each person needs 50g of pasta, they don’t need to know how much you all need as a family, they should work it out! Within reason talk to them about bills, encourage them to manage their own money. Give them access to maths and don’t fear it yourself. Never tell them they’re clever or better at maths than you just enjoy the maths and the conversations it can open up. My youngest son loves reading the property pages and imagining having those sums of money, he has now progressed to yachts. I will admit to loving numbers so much so as I child that I read the telephone directory!

You have to be brave with your conversations because they might ask you a question you can’t immediately answer. But maths isn’t a race and while you think you can both reason through the maths and arrive at a solution between you. Sit together and “google”, watch a maths video and try to make sense of what you’re watching together. This will allow your child to explain their thinking to you and this helps them learn and builds their confidence, the dialogue of maths is really important. But with all of this you need to ensure you give them enough confidence and guidance to access the questions in the first place. Along with this real belief that success is theirs providing they work for it.



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