Mathagony aunt

4th June 2004 at 01:00
I am a PGCE student and starting my final teaching practice this week. I have to teach estimation to a Year 2 class. The class teacher has given me some worksheets. I am not a maths person and feel uninspired. I worry that if I am not inspired then my pupils won't be either.

Being a "maths person" doesn't necessarily inspire children. What you have to do is to think about the activities rather like a book or a film. If the beginning is difficult to access, the book or film invariably does not get read or watched. The bit in between has to hold our attention to make us want to discover the end.

Begin the lesson with the word "estimate" on the board. Hold up a bunch of grapes. Some will try to count them, others will guess. Write some of the responses on the board, try five different answers, then ask the class to vote for the one they think is correct.

Talk about how they might guess. Pick out any strategies used and list them. Explain that using a strategy is what is meant by "estimate". Count the grapes giving one to each member of the class.

Before the lesson, cut out lots of cardboard circles, about 8cm in diameter. If possible, back them in a variety of colours and laminate them for durability. Arrange the pupils in a circle and astudent who is exceptionally talented. He is studying all the maths A-level modules on his own and will be representing Cyprus in the maths Olympiad. His question is:

"How useful would a maths degree be for my future?"

I passed on your question to Professor Celia Hoyles of the University of London and Peter Cooper of the London Mathematical Society (LMS), who both agree that maths is highly regarded as a subject, as it doesn't just indicate mathematical knowledge but is associated with other skills essential for success in many sectors of the economy. A maths degree is therefore very useful.

Professor Hoyles said: "Having a maths degree opens so many doors. Some areas, such as academia, high-tech industries, physics, science and finance draw particularly on mathematical expertise, but many institutions employ mathematicians because of their skills in analytical problem solving."

Maths is intellectually stimulating and rewarding. The LMS is creating a maths careers website at, so I would tell your student to watch its progress. The site lists a number of useful links that he might like to explore.

The Institute of Mathematics and its Application (IMA) points to a piece of research from which shows that mathematical sciences graduates have far lower levels of unemployment than other graduates: 0.5 per cent compared to 2.2 per cent for modern languages against an average of 3.4 per cent. Maths graduates earn the highest salaries (up to the age of 34) at pound;30,401, compared with pound;27,466 for engineering (in second place), and pound;24,234 on average. All good reasons to do a maths degree. Other sites of interest:

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