Mathematics – you either love it or you hate it. There seems to be very little middle ground in this area of thinking. The lovers can find something fascinating in any challenge involving the world of numbers, statistics, shapes and measuring. The haters switch off as soon as you announce ” Please get out your maths books” and go into a quivering near foetal position at the mere mention of the word ‘algebra’.

So where have we gone wrong? Is it just that Maths is too hard for some people? Or have we failed to make it relevant so the doubters just switch off? If we did a better job at showing how important Maths is to real life – that it doesn’t just exist within the confines of a lifeless text book divided into 12 chapters and 120 Exercises of mind numbing practice drills – would we, along with an injection of teachers who truly love and understand Maths, finally produce a generation of mathophiles (if thats even a word)?

What are you doing to make Maths real in the classroom ( and beyond where it should be)?

- Are you taking advantage of the simple beauty of Lego blocks to teach arrays, number patterns, counting and visualization?
- Do you rely on all those exercises in the textbook or do you show how Trigonometry and functions can be used to build ramps, staircases, find out slopes;Test and adjust the water flow of a slope on a roof or a pipe; discover The effect of a ramp’s slope on the distance of a jump; work out whether throwing a ball on a steeper angle increases the distance it travels; test the physics of Angry Birds and other similar games?
- Are you using ratio to alter recipes to cook for more or less people or for changing the taste of a sauce?
- Do you just learn about the properties of different shapes or do you explore how different shapes fit into a space more efficiently and how this can impact design?
- Are you buying all of your class/school supplies or getting students to organise surveys to find out parent/their preferences, do research on costing of supplies, table or graph results, compare costs of home purchases versus school purchases, investigate savings and what money could be used for instead?
- Do you organise school events or have you thought about students working together to organise the costing of events like graduation parties, excursions, transport options, fundraising events?
- Does your school block or encourage free fantasy sport online competitions which develop money management skills?
- Do you go on excursions to local shopping centres to buy resources and look for the best prices and possible discounts?
- Do you use worksheets about statistics and percentages or do you keep statistics about school sports events as real data to monitor performances?
- Do you use Maths text books for examples or do you collect infographics from newspapers, news programs and websites so children have relevant, recent data to analyse?
- Do you just serve up pages of algebra exercises to complete or do you demonstrate how algebra can be used as an efficient way to solve real problems, create formulas for simplifying work practices or show the usefulness of algebraic formulas in spreadsheets?
- Are you still making graphs about favorite colors in the junior grades or are you teaching them that graphs can represent information from questions that make a difference to their lives ( that doesn’t have to be as deep as it sounds)?
- Are you teaching students how to manage budgets, are you showing them how interest rates impact on their spending? Do they understand credit card debt?
- Are you involving them in every mathematical possibility in a school day from helping out in the canteen, collecting and counting fundraising money, being timekeepers, sorting out notes in the office, conducting daily surveys of relevance, cataloging books, tallying fines or costs of replacing lost books in the library, helping the PE teacher measure results in athletics carnivals or repaint the lines on sports and games fields out in the playground?
- Are your students building resources that involve accurate measurements like puppet theaters, book boxes and doll houses for the junior grades? Do you just draw plans to scale or let the children build scale models of real objects they measured?
- Do you let your students take control of the layout of your room so that they can apply location strategies learnt in class?
- When considering guest speakers to come to your classroom, do you just think authors and campaigners or do you think about builders, engineers, businessmen or others that can share Maths in the real world?
- Do you see that organising collaborative discussions with classrooms around the world provides an opportunity for teaching time concepts?

The list can go on forever. I would love to hear from you about what you are doing in your classrooms to make Maths real, relevant and exciting. One idea would be sufficient or more if you want. I’ll add your ideas to my list ( and give you credit of course). Maths is too important to be feared. We have to show our students its worth. Join the conversation.

You’ve got me hooked. I really need to bring the real world into the class OR the class out into the real world to explore Math. Thank you for your inspiring ideas.

Hi Mark

What an amazing list and what a fabulously reflective process it must have been to write it. At my school we are trying to have maths lessons where a problem is the focus and the skills are taught as a means to solve the problem. It can be hard sometimes not to get hung up about the amount of content we need to cover but this approach is certainly more engaging. Have you looked at the maths300 website? We will be subscribing to it next year.

Thanks for comment, Henrietta. I used Maths300 quite a bit years ago at my last school and loved the depth that you could find in its investigations. That is the key in my opinion to covering the high demands of 5/6 content – depth. I tutored my daughters friend in year 9 Maths last year and managed to condense 3 text book chapters on linear functions and algebra and quadratic equations into 6-8 key ideas that we covered in depth and with real examples to put it into a purposeful context. Our school at the moment is working hard to consolidate key ideas in Maths rather than separate skills. Some of these key ideas can cover several separate skills in one but its a challenge to change mind sets when confronted with the size of the Maths curriculum. Like your school’s method of problem focus and skills needed to solve problem, I’ve always had success when students have had a relevant,multilayered task they can all engage in together that allows in depth involvement at all levels and requires a number of skills to be taught and used. Maths can be both simple and complex. Finding that balance in order to “cover everything” is our big challenge.