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Don’t be Afraid of Maths!

Danielle Dhu overcomes her fear of maths and learns that failure is just another learning opportunity.

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My name is Danielle Dhu and I’m a year 4 teacher at Ocean Road Primary School in Dawesville. Early this year I began my journey with Shyam in the Alcoa Champions of Maths program.

Throughout my life I have found mathematics to be a challenge and have always told myself that I’m not good at it and that I dislike the subject. When planning for teaching mathematics I struggle to set tasks that allow my students the opportunity to find a deeper connection to further their own understanding and apply it to real life situations. I feel like this happens because of my reluctance to develop my own understanding of maths problems and strategies based on my own experiences of failure in mathematics.

As a primary school student, I would complete my work and get average grades for maths. However, there is not one moment that I can recall where I fully understood the deeper connections to the mathematics I was learning. I could add numbers and knew my times tables, however if asked to problem solve, I lacked the critical thinking required to apply these to the scenarios that I was faced with.

When I heard about the Champions of Maths program and read the blogs of other teachers who had completed the program, I felt relief. I was not the only one who felt this way about mathematics, and I could stop my fear and develop not only my student’s problem-solving skills but also my own.

The first workshop with Shyam was overwhelming for me as I felt like I was the most inexperienced person in the room and that I was not ‘smart’ enough because of my own mathematical skills. Unfortunately, I had this fixed mindset about myself and this came across when I presented my first lesson with my students to Shyam.

Lesson 1

This lesson was a ‘getting to know you’ style lesson. We did not have to give the students a problem as such, we just had to run a normal mathematics lesson. This would give Shyam a chance to meet our class and see how we teach. I was delivering a lesson on place value and began by completing an explicit instruction where the students worked with me to develop an anchor chart showing the different forms of representing a number. I then sent my students back to their desks where we played a game of ‘What number am I?’. For this game I read out a number to the students and told them which number was in each place value.  They then had to write this number in standard form, expanded form and word form. Unfortunately, I had set the task too high for my students and they did struggle which caused my confidence to take a nose-dive further into the pit.

After reviewing the lesson with Shyam, his finding was like mine, in that I had given the students a concept for which they had not yet developed the underlying concepts. Upon my own reflection, I feel that I spent too much time worrying about making my lesson ‘look interesting’. I slipped up and didn’t apply the one thing I had drilled into me throughout university and that was ‘what is my student’s prior knowledge’. This was a massive turning point for me because the feedback given to me from Shyam was not as negative as I thought it was going to be. Yes, the lesson was not the best, but the improvements and resources that Shyam gave me was amazing. I went back to my class the next day and tried some of the things Shyam had given me and I felt confident of what I was delivering to my students. A week later we were able to play the ‘What number am I?’ game again and I had a much higher success rate for my students.

At the next workshop I felt a lot more positive and things seemed clearer to me. Importantly, I learned it was ok to fail! In only a short time I had already learned to let go of my insecurities and have a go, which I believe is the foundation of problem solving and the message we instil in our students every day.

More lessons

My next two lessons went really well. I made sure I worked on the problems myself thoroughly before I delivered them to my students. Each week the excitement in my class was amazing when I mentioned that we were doing our Champions of Maths problem-solving.

The biggest highlight I have from the first half of the program was in my third lesson. The problem was this:

‘I did an addition question correctly on the computer, but my printer ran out of ink. Now the question looks like this: 1__ 4 + 3__ = __ __ 0. What might be the numbers that did not print? Give as many possibilities as you can.’

As a class we read the problem and reviewed our class norms before I gave students the opportunity to discuss with their groups what approach they were going to take when they moved off to their whiteboards.

As I moved around the classroom, I noticed that most students had started and many of them were randomly trialling different numbers in the equation. I reached one group which had two students in it. These two students were low ability when it came to mathematics, however they were the one group who had begun systematically solving the problem without realising that was what they were doing.

Teacher: “Girls, I can see you have started the problem well and have four solutions”

Teacher: “Can you see any patterns that have come up as you have written them?”

Student 1: “Well in the first number we have a zero in between the 1 and the 4 and then in the next equation we change that number to a 1”

Teacher: “Yes I can see that; what number would you try next?”

Student 2: “We would try the number 2 and then keep going”

Teacher: “Excellent, can you see any other patterns in the equation?”

Both students thinking…

Student 2: “Yes in the answer it is going up by 10 each time”

This for me was a very proud moment. These two students had completed the whole problem together and achieved the learning goal of working systematically. They could see the connections and share their ideas with their peers.

We are only halfway through the program and I feel that I have come so far! I cannot wait to continue the development in myself and my students. Bring on Semester 2!


Find out more about the Alcoa Maths Enrichment Program or read the next article.

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If you are interested in joining the Alcoa Maths Enrichment Program please fill out the enquiry form below and a Scitech representative will be in touch with you.



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