Maths that makes’em go ‘Wow!’

Posted in Inspiration & Ideas

Starting with ‘Wow’ Maths!

Yesterday I was privileged to speak at a London conference alongside a childhood hero of mine; the maths enthusiast Johnny Ball. 

As a child I’d watch Johnny on the TV bringing maths to life, inspiring me to feel curious and fascinated by the ways in which maths interacted with and was the foundation of everything I did everyday. He’d demonstrate the many relationships; how nature uses maths as the building blocks of life and how the architects in history used new and exciting mathematical discoveries to create awe-inspiring monuments like the Great Pyramid at Giza.

He was the ‘Brian Cox’ (the TV Science man) of maths in his day. 

I wonder who’s filling that gap these days? Despite Johnny’s program on TV, sadly the maths I experienced in school couldn’t have been further from the world he was describing. No one started with the Great Pyramid when teaching me geometry or introduced me to the Fibonacci sequence through science. I grew up thinking that maths was in a squared book and full of ‘right or wrong answers’. I was taught to copy what the teacher said and never question. And I was certainly never asked to consider ‘Why?’ or “how?’ and become deeply engaged in mathematical discussions.

I had my epiphany in my 30’s as a young teacher as a result of some great training which opened my eyes as to what maths really was and where it belonged in the world. That moment led me to where I am now as a full time, independent maths consultant privileged to work with teachers nationwide (and even speak alongside my childhood hero – who would have thought eh?)

So the message is this: make it real. Look for the maths of the world and bring it to your children. Start with the way maths is used and has been used for millennia to construct man’s greatest creations, find the maths that mother nature uses to design the perfection of all living things and wonder about the questions that led to man to decide upon 12 hours in a day and 365 days in a year (within our culture but not everyone’s).

A brilliant place to start is Johnny’s books ‘Think of a Number’ and ‘Mathemagicians‘. These two beautifully illustrated DK books are bursting with the most amazing starting points and make it easy to look for meaningful and deeply fascinating cross-curriculum connections. (Incidentally, Johnny shared with us that the most copies are now being sold in China to support the Shanghai and Singapore Curricula we are hearing so much about!)
How do you want your children to feel about maths? Would pupils who regard it as awe-inspiring, fascinating and full of questions and discoveries be easier to teach I wonder?

Karen Wilding is a highly experienced independent Primary Maths Consultant who works with schools across the UK and internationally developing high-quality maths teaching and learning embedded in engaging and meaningful contexts which inspire both children and their teachers. For more details on the wide range of support and inspirational session on offer visit www.karenwildingeducation.co.uk

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    Thank you so much Karen. I enjoyed the training this morning tremendously and tried out the ideas straight after lunch with my class leading to 20 mins of enthusiastic discussion! Brilliant!

    The children said they really enjoyed it and wanted to do more so I am definitely going to be changing my teaching!’

  • Thank you for showing us HOW to change. So many courses just tell us what isn't working but not how to go about addressing this. Your approaches make so much sense! Thank you.

  • Just to say thank you again for 3 really brilliant talks at SGIS. We're a small school near Basel and we’d be interested in anything you’re doing nearby (Zurich way) so please let us know!