Bonding with maths

17th September 2004 at 01:00
The article in last week's edition about rote learning and its effect on numeracy reminds me that I was fortunate enough to be taught arithmetic at Aberdeen Grammar School in what was then called the lower school but which no longer exists, by a much loved teacher, Miss Gracie.

Although she never made a point of it, she was the only teacher in the school, and possibly the only teacher in Scotland, who never got her classes to recite multiplication tables (this was in the 1930s). Her method of getting us all to know number bonds was a build-up system: 6 x 2 was just 6 + 6 which we knew already, 6 x 3 was just 12 +6 ; 6 x 4 was either 18 + 6, or 12 x 2, and so on.

We were never told to learn the answers, but practised finding them until we came to remember most of them. Those we couldn't remember, we had to work out. If we were doubtful about an answer, we could check it in our heads.

The implicit lesson I learnt from this was that mathematics was an unlimited field, there to be explored, not a set of teacher-given procedures to be memorised. This was a principle I followed throughout a teaching career and now, in retirement, more than ever importantly in helping those with specific learning difficulties.

These often include problems with long term memory. "7x8: I think it's 56 - or is it 65 or perhaps 63?" If people realise multiplying by 8 must give an even number, their quandary is resolved.

A 13-year old said to me: "I can do maths questions, but it's all gobbledygook. My favourite subject is design technology."

What has rote learning done for his numeracy?

Stewart Fowlie

Granton Road


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