Some time at the end of primary school or at the beginning of secondary school, children start dealing with arithmetic expressions that involve two or more operations. At that point they are told to memorise BIDMAS rules for the order of operations, which is supposed to help them to make sense of increasingly complex calculations […]

Children learn mathematics at school simply because they have to: some bits and pieces resembling mathematics as a knowledge area have been picked up and turned into a compulsory school subject. An obvious reason for doing this is that maths deals with numbers, and numbers are everywhere we look, so being able to understand and […]

Although the mnemonic SOHCAHTOA is not mentioned in the curriculum, nor is it referred to in exam mark schemes, it is hard to find a Maths GCSE textbook or revision guide without SOHCAHTOA. It seems that almost every teacher happily uses it. The abbreviation is intended to help students to memorise the meaning of sine, […]

A report says that children nowadays cannot tell the time on an analogue clock. This observation on its own is neither bad nor good news, but it prompts some reflection. Ten years ago, the problem with reading the clock did not seem to exist: children could see analogue clocks everywhere, not just in school lessons, and […]

An 11-year-old student of mine has excellent mental calculation skills. It has never been a problem for him to multiply 34 by 16 or subtract 3479 from 5025 quickly and efficiently, if a task requires him to do that. A few months ago his school started preparing the children for the new primary mathematics test. […]

Rereading “The Psychology of Learning Mathematics” by Richard Skemp, I once again feel astonished by how much writing from half a century ago is relevant to the current situation in mathematics teaching. He talks about “insults to the intelligence”, describing harmful practices of demanding students to memorise rules without proper understanding, and these practices are […]

A 13-year-old boy was having difficulties with mathematics, his mum told me. The boy himself did not seem worried though, and explained that Maths was just not something of interest to him. I asked him a few questions, starting from what would be the most recent things learned at school. When he failed to give […]

After a short break, the Department against Education launched a new attack on children. This time the attack takes the form of a new compulsory national test for children in Year 4, the times tables test. The obsession with memorising times tables has always puzzled me. Weekly times tables speed tests, the practice of chanting […]

Here is a 7-year-old doing her homework on iPad. She logs into Mathletics that invites her to do 33 + 1 laid out as for column addition. The girl taps the index on 3 to enter 34, but the clever Mathletics demands to enter the answer “properly” – right to left, unit digit first!

It was exactly 100 days before the GCSE maths exam when I first met one of my students. According to her school, she was predicted to get a D and was currently working at a D/E grade. Having a reasonable knowledge of the syllabus, she could tackle most questions without much difficulty. However, although being […]