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Maths blackboard

Maths in the real world

Kate Jones, Programme Manager at Think Global on why the new funding for Maths announced by the Government should equip teachers with tools and ideas to bring maths to life in the classroom.

To much jeering and groaning, the Chancellor Phillip Hammond called for, “more maths for everyone” at this week’s Autumn budget. He was – presumably – trying to make a joke when he followed up the announcement with “don’t let anyone say I don’t know how to show the nation a good time”.

It’s easy to quip, to pigeonhole maths as boring or pointless, taught by professionals who make more connections with numbers than they do with people. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. We need maths, and we need mathematicians – not only to work in our industries, and run our economy, but to create the technological solutions we need to solve some of the biggest challenges humanity faces, from climate change to globalisation and conflict.

While the extra funding and incentivisation to boost the number of maths teachers, and the quality of maths teaching, is very welcome, the assumption that we need incentives because the subject, and the job, is boring or nerdy – well, that’s not so welcome. Not only is maths exciting, challenging and wide-ranging as a subject, mathematicians can also earn more money later down the line than most other graduates.

My child loves maths. It’s the only thing she doesn’t argue about – probably because there’s only one right answer. When I see her friend sitting at the next table looking dejectedly at a page of times tables, I feel disheartened that the advice from the Head teacher is that “they just need to get on and learn them”. That’s only of value if you already get a kick out of manipulating numbers: how about all those children who haven’t yet found an enthusiasm for maths, who don’t yet understand that maths is at the heart of board games, LEGO, or how their fantasy football team did last weekend?

Giving children the impression that maths is boring, pointless and without application to the real world around them doesn’t help them or their teachers.Instead, I hope that the new funding announced by the Government will equip new and existing teachers with even more of the tools and ideas they need to bring maths to life in the classroom.

From examining population statistics to tracing the supply chain of a banana then using it in a recipe, to working out whether our first-past-the-post electoral system is the fairest way of running our democracy – there are so many opportunities to bring the real world into maths, making it relevant to those children who find it a challenge, and exciting for those who can see how maths is all around them.

Think Global has worked with the Royal Statistical Society to develop online courses for primary and secondary teachers, called Real World Maths. The courses focus on how to bring the world into the maths classroom, and critically examine a range of learning resources and lesson plans, giving teachers a chance to share ideas and discuss what they’re doing with colleagues. Unlike the chancellor, we won’t make out that maths is boring.

We are exciting to be running our Real World Maths courses in February/March 2018.Find out more about the course for primary teachers and secondary teachers.

Find out more about our Maths and Geography Global Learning Toolkit.

Blog by Kate Jones, Programme Manager at Think Global.

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