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Please help - bright girl with no confidence in Maths

Discussion in 'Mathematics' started by scalatinks1, Jun 15, 2015.

  1. scalatinks1

    scalatinks1 New commenter


    I'm posting as a mum rather than as a teacher; I teach Drama / English and have a bright daughter in Y6 who excels in these subjects, but who has always struggled to maintain average grades in Maths.

    She's been on a downward spiral in Maths for the last 2 years, and I'm really worried that she won't cope well with Maths (and anything requiring numeracy skills) in Secondary. I'm aware of the research re. bright girls' psychological predispositions to the subject i.e. that if they believe it's an innate gift, they're likely to give up once the going gets tough, but despite my best efforts to help her to work at things we're getting nowhere. She's been drifting between "Developing" and "Mastering" groups and I think this has resulted in some gaps in her knowledge, and also in teachers not really seeing that she's not coping. We're changing schools after the summer.

    Please can anyone recommend some useful resources which we can work through over the summer to try to get her on track before she starts Secondary? She's spent loads of time on the Sumdog and MyMaths sites but to no avail. Any advice gratefully received!
  2. mature_maths_trainee

    mature_maths_trainee New commenter

    When you say that she's been 'on a downward spiral', do you genuinely mean that? In terms of N.C. Levels, for example? She's gone from what level to what in that time? What Level is she expected to achieve in the SATS she's just sat? [There's a huge difference in diagnosis / prospects between a Year 6 Level 5 student who lacks confidence, and a Year 6 Level 3 student who lacks confidence].

    Or do you 'just' mean that her confidence, rather than her actual attainment has dwindled?

    Students who lack 'confidence' almost always do so because they realise their 'bluffing' their way through the core, fundamental skills (rather than being weak at the particular skill their learning at that time). If Sumdog etc. didn't make any difference, it's because the person guiding her hasn't truly identified her core weaknesses and hasn't directed her to the most appropriate activities. What *topics* does her teacher say need working on?

  3. scalatinks1

    scalatinks1 New commenter

    At the end of Y4 she was on a Level 3a in Maths; two years later at the end of Y6, she's on a 4c. Hardly a huge leap in learning!

    The school unfortunately doesn't use NC levels but IPC "Mastering / Developing" descriptors so it was only when she took her PIMS test recently that I was able to figure out an equivalent NC level. Obviously one test doesn't tell the whole story, but her difficulties with Maths homework and in class reflect the fact that she seems to be struggling. I'm waiting to see what her teachers say in the report before asking for a meeting to discuss the areas they think she needs to improve. The kids have been encouraged to choose which level they fancy working at for any particular week, and I don't think this has worked for her. There has been very little feedback re. specific strengths / weaknesses.

    We're moving to another international school next term and I'm hoping to consolidate her learning through practice over the summer. Any advice would be much appreciated; I'm considering getting a tutor in to help too.

  4. mature_maths_trainee

    mature_maths_trainee New commenter

    For that level, the first skills I'd check are that she understands and can quickly recall/compute:

    - reverse times tables facts associated with just the 2x, 3x, 4x, 5x and 10x tables - this will greatly help develop the concept of division (and later, fractions).

    - integers multiplied and divided by 10, 100 or 1000 - this will greatly enhance understanding of place-value.

    -decimal complements to 1 (i.e. quickly compute that, to make 1 from 0.7, you need to add 0.3). Again, this enhances understanding of place-value, and introduces decimals.

    -telling the time to the nearest 5 mins (in analogue as well as 24-hour, and conversions between them)

    - adding or subtracting numbers like 465.5 and 233.3 using the traditional column method.

    - adding or subtracting amounts of money (say) £43.20 - £26.70 (i.e. applying the above).

    - can quickly use a ruler to measure distances to within 1mm (in either mm or cm)

    - can quickly use a ruler to draw perfectly straight lines of (say) 5.8cm.

    - her times table facts up to 10 x 10.

    I would wager she's weak in at least of one these critical areas.

    The resources you use to practice these skills really don't matter much. Use online games, or worksheets, or cards, or any combination of these. Whatever your daughter 'prefers' and actually 'does'. You only need a tutor if she's unwilling to work 'on her own'.

    If she's weak in several or all of the areas above, it's likely to take much longer than a summer to become proficient in these skills alone.

    Good luck,

  5. mature_maths_trainee

    mature_maths_trainee New commenter

    Oh, and she may well have spent lots of time on Sumdog and/or MyMaths sites, but unless she is strongly directed to the topics listed above it doesn't surprise me at all she's made minimal progress. These are the core skills needed to fully establish yourself at ~Level 4 (and to prepare yourself for ~Level 5).
  6. scalatinks1

    scalatinks1 New commenter

    Thanks so much for pointing me in the right direction; I appreciate that working over the summer will only be the start of the process.

    It's helpful to be able to know which skills to ask her teachers about, as well as what to look for with my daughter.
  7. Vince_Ulam

    Vince_Ulam Star commenter

    Get her off the computer and sat down with pencil & paper and without media distractions for a steady regime of practice from worked examples. Make sure she gets plenty of good exercise, sensible nutrition and regular sleep to supplement this.
  8. Violalass

    Violalass New commenter

    Vince, any reason why you think pen and paper will necessarily work better than questions on a screen?
  9. Vince_Ulam

    Vince_Ulam Star commenter

    Manual calculation engages the brain. Nobody ever learnt how to ride a bicycle by playing a computer game.

  10. EdwardJordanHarrison

    EdwardJordanHarrison New commenter

  11. Vince_Ulam

    Vince_Ulam Star commenter

  12. mature_maths_trainee

    mature_maths_trainee New commenter

    Online games *are* sometimes better than pen & paper because they (routinely) give immediate feedback. Unsupervised students (using pen & paper) have been known to incorrectly complete large numbers of problems (because of a lack of feedback), and that is incredibly de-motivating and is likely to only further embed their mis-understandings.

    [This comment/section has been removed for breaching our Community Guidelines]

    Look, for example, at many of the ICT-based activities on NLVM, or Geogebra, or...Of course they can engage the brain, and often in a manner that's complementary (or a progression toward) standard symbolic representations.

  13. Violalass

    Violalass New commenter

    Just because manual calculation engages the brain doesn't mean other methods can't too. Got any evidence for your 'computer games won't work' claim?
  14. scalatinks1

    scalatinks1 New commenter

    A colleague of mine sent me this link which engages students / parents in thinking about their approach to learning, specifically in Maths - basically, showing scientific evidence that having a growth mindset can produce results : lagunita.stanford.edu/.../about

    Early days yet, but my daughter is very interested in this approach. It's tapping into her strong verbal skills as after each 1-2 minute video she has to write a short summary, and it's sparked a lot of discussion and how she feels in class. Most telling were her comments about being teased because she's top in every other lesson, but bottom of the Mastering maths group, and a day when she deliberately decided to put in no effort at school yet no-one noticed. The video hasn't taught any subject content yet, but it's made my daughter articulate the ideas that if she perseveres, she can improve (it's not simply an innate ability), and there are multiple ways to solve problems. Hearing this from University students and a renowned female Uni professor, accompanied by scientific research, seems to be making a difference.

    At least now she is willing to try getting back to mathematical basics, on screen and on paper!
  15. scalatinks1

    scalatinks1 New commenter

    I am aware of kids' general requirements thanks, Vince! Sometimes she does work things through on paper; trouble is that if she's going wrong, she can't spot it and is demoralised when she gets it back days later.
  16. Vince_Ulam

    Vince_Ulam Star commenter

    Screen-based guessing games do not engage working memory or mathematical faculties to any long-term flexible effect. The point of mathematics is to simplify ideas, not to obscure them by throwing buckets of buzzing, beeping, flashing and flickering pixels at the senses of children in the one subject more than any other which requires concentrated attention.

    It is bad mannered of you to paraphrase me in quotes but that is less insulting than the approach of the Trainee in the post preceding yours and so I am happy to take your question seriously.

    There is plenty of evidence against computer games as a mainstream mathematical teaching resource if only people would listen to their more experienced colleagues for informal evidence and bother to look for formal evidence. Daniel Willingham highlights such formal evidence periodically. Look here and also here.

    It must be said that those drawing pay as teachers who allow their students to sit unguided at screens are not teaching. They are child-minding. They are betraying their students and those colleagues who will later receive these students. Those allowing students to play games during maths lessons should study their motivations. I suggest that it is because they do not have the necessary subject knowledge &or the ability to teach. As with maths the only way to get better at teaching is to do more of it and not to assume falsely that computers can do the job for which teachers are paid.

  17. I hope the course helps your daughter but having looked at it I wonder whether it will. The claims that there are no "math people" and everyone can "do well in math" are a bit worrying to me. I expect many of the posters on here have studied maths to a higher level than Professor Boaler and they also have far more experience teaching maths. I can't speak for them but my experiences as a student of maths and as a teacher tell me that there really are "math people" and some students really can't ever hope to do very well in maths.

    I don't understand what's wrong with saying "I'm not very good at maths, I don't have much innate ability but I'm willing to work very hard and do the best I can".

    Surely that's more realistic, more honest and more helpful.
  18. Vince_Ulam

    Vince_Ulam Star commenter

    'Sometimes' is evidently not sufficient. If she and you want her to learn maths then she and you need to stop treating it as a guessing game in which the calculations spontaneously happen on the pages of her exercise book and are correct or not and instead approach it correctly, as a skill which can be developed. Practice, practice, practice.

    Exercise, diet and sleep are important supplements to the intensive mathematical study your opening post seems to intend. People underestimate the effects of general health on the ability to learn and if your daughter is going to be spending a good deal of the Summer at a desk working on maths - a radical departure from the school day and at your behest - then you may support her success by taking these things more seriously than 'general' parents might do under 'general' circumstances with 'general' children.

  19. Vince_Ulam

    Vince_Ulam Star commenter

    A waste of time. Seriously. No talking head, especially that of Jo Boaler, will do your daughter's maths for her. Talking about feelings is not doing maths. Get your daughter away from screens and sat down with pencil, paper and worked examples.

  20. Karvol

    Karvol Occasional commenter

    I have a number of questions for you, which could give some insight into what is going on.

    1. How often have you moved schools with your daughter? International school teachers tend to change jobs on a regular basis. While most schools have a similar curriculum for mathematics, the order in which that curriculum is taught is rarely the same. If you are regularly moving, then it is inevitable that your daughter has had her education disrupted and there are gaps that need covering up.

    2. What provisions has your school made to look at the gaps that she has? It seems to me that the use of "maths websites" is a way of shifting the responsibility for making up any gaps in knowledge to your daughter, when what she needs is intensive specialist tuition to identify any gaps and make sure that they are fixed. Either you get the gaps fixed now (and the chances are it is going to take a considerable amount of time and effort) or your daughter will continue playing catch-up for the rest of her school life. These problems do not go away. They get masked and accepted as "she is just not a mathematical person. Look her mother is an English teacher. How can you expect her to be good at maths?".

    At the level your daughter is at, she is not doing anything particularly complex in mathematics, so there is really not much of a reason for her to be struggling. Even poor teaching shouldn't really affect her that much, not if she has just an average inclination for mathematics. So the problems probably lie elsewhere.

    3. Expecting her teacher to be able to recognise the problems would be good, but if it hasn't happened by now, it will not at the school that you are at. Quite a lot of mathematics teaching in international schools is poor. The teachers are not very experienced or well qualified and getting jobs is easy. Those teachers who are experienced and good tend to be with the higher examination classes. Is there a teacher in the school who has a reputation for being effective and is willing to tutor your daughter, even if it is only to ascertain the gaps in her knowledge?

    You mention that you are changing schools. This is not going to help your daughter in the short term, and you need to be aware of it and be proactive in getting support for her. My advice would be to ditch the websites which place the onus on discovering the gaps in her knowledge on your daughter (a nonsensical idea at best - she is not a trained professional. How can she know what she needs?) and get a tutor in to help. Make sure it is someone who knows what he or she is doing and has a very good reputation. Don't try and go down the route of finding some high school student to help her. In my experience they are next to useless for students who genuinely need help and are nothing more than glorified homework monitors.

    This needs to be planned properly and - possibly - quite long term, if you are serious about getting her help.

    Good luck.

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