Be a mathematical thinker

11th February 2005 at 00:00
It is not easy to do, but Shaftesbury primary in east London has succeeded not only in making maths real, but in celebrating the home cultures of many of its children's 41 countries - through knitting.

Integrating maths across the curriculum is tricky, says Tim Coulson, director of the National Numeracy Strategy. While primary schools have made great strides in combining English with other subjects, it is less obvious how maths links in.

"The NNS ought to provide a few examples," he says. "But what is almost more important is mathematical thinking. As a mathematical thinker you calculate effectively, but also you're trying to make sense of what these numbers mean."

In this week's TES special supplement What is Education For?, Keri Facer of Nesta Futurelab, the government-backed think-tank, talks about the way some streetwise kids, self-described "losers", had destroyed a computer and used the parts to build remote-controlled racing cars. Their school had known nothing about this high level of technical savvy, or the boys' outside interests.

More important than making learning "fun", she says, is asking how we can "acknowledge and draw on the expertise and interests of young people's out-of-school realities".

Mr Coulson is not a knitter himself, but he is a former bell-ringer, which also requires a real feel for patterns and numbers. "My guess is, if you're really into knitting patterns and design you have quite an intuitive understanding of how numbers fit together". Dart players also internalise mathematical thinking, he says.

Teaching maths - and other subjects - in a way that validates and connects with children's own lives and interests is essential at all levels.

Teacher magazine 35

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