# The mortal decline of maths ends with a magical revival

Maths is a wonderful subject, bursting with beauty – and we need to shout about it to stop its decline in popularity, writes one teacher
7th April 2017, 12:00am

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The mortal decline of maths ends with a magical revival

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/mortal-decline-maths-ends-magical-revival

You’re unlikely to find the words “I couldn’t read at school” proudly announced on someone’s Twitter bio. In my experience, such a blatant disregard for literacy would be considered shameful.

Yet upon confession that I teach maths, I’m regularly confronted with scandalous responses, delivered with gusto: “Oh, I was terrible at maths at school” or “No wonder our wee Pythagoras isn’t doing well - his mother and I are hopeless with maths.”

This anti-maths mentality is already rife, so last month’s article on concerns about a gulf in difficulty between maths and other subjects was worrying (“‘Demoralising’ maths exam reform harming the subject”, 17 March).

Maths is a wonderful subject, bursting with beauty, excitement and opportunities. It nurtures problem-solving, resilience and connects skills in other subjects.

Maths nurtures problem-solving, resilience and connects skills in other subjects

From a young age, kids have a fascination with numbers, shapes and patterns. A local nursery invites me to come in now and again to share my passion for maths. There’s no calculus or algebra unleashed on the fouryear-olds who sit cross-legged and open-mouthed throughout - just simple number “magic”, card trickery and games involving patterns.

They’re mesmerised by the curious Möbius strip. As they all clamber inside my huge band of stretchy elastic, I ask them to manipulate it into a circle. With that mastered, I ask them to form a shape with three corners. “How many different four-sided shapes can we manage, guys?” I probe. When I crank things up and ask about five- or eight-sided shapes, there’s always one eager hand up, dying to tell me that an octopus has eight tentacles and an octagon eight sides.

I’m unashamed in my quest to spread appreciation for the subject I love. It’s vital that maths teachers on the front line battling the attack from the subject’s critics continue to passionately shout about the value of maths.

It’s vital that maths teachers on the front line continue to shout passionately about the value of maths

The maths obituaries are premature. I’ve seen the evidence - its decline is far from terminal. Seventy excited students attended our school’s annual maths camp last month; more than 400 committed maths teachers assembled (on a Saturday!) for the Scottish Mathematical Council Conference; the annual buzz around Pi Day in our school is tangible; and one look at the vibrant community of maths teachers on Twitter - sharing humour, creativity, enthusiasm and joy from the classroom - dispels the myth of a lost cause.

Everyone can appreciate maths. Still not convinced? Type your favourite three-digit number into the calculator on your phone. Now do it again (you’ve got a six-digit number now). Divide this by 13. Divide your answer by 11. Finally, divide your latest number by 7. Ta da!

Chris Smith is a maths teacher in Scotland who writes a free weekly maths newsletter. He tweets @aap03102