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How to teach maths to pupils who don't like maths

07/01/2020 Anthony

It’s not uncommon for pupils to dislike maths. We regularly hear the phrase “I’ve never really been good at maths”. So how do we change this mentality?

First, we must understand that this is more problematic than students simply not liking maths - some feel anxious when trying to learn the subject. From here we must build their confidence and encourage them to get involved in maths lessons. How do we do this? We need to inspire our pupils to embrace maths, and as we do, we’ll have the much easier job of teaching the subject to students who want to learn it.

Understand why your students are reluctant to learn

The Maths Anxiety Trust has recognised that students who say they “don’t like maths” actually experience some very negative feelings towards the subject, such as helplessness and mental disorganisation. A study they conducted found that 25% of students have Maths Anxiety, and a further 15% have experienced it.

So, as teachers, it is our duty to help students overcome this fear of maths. When students are overwhelmed with the feeling of not understanding a subject their mind will go blank. Rather than struggling to make sense of it they make the bold statement – “I hate maths” - because this is easier than facing how anxious the confusion makes them. These students will resist your enthusiastic attempts to teach which can make it very difficult to get them involved in your maths lessons.

Build their confidence

Break their defeatism

The first thing you must do is help your pupils break their defeatism. Begin by disrupting the notion that maths is “too hard”. Of course, even strong maths students can be daunted when they are overwhelmed with new information, so new concepts should be gradually introduced, and you should only move onto more complex problems once they have grasped the concept. Otherwise, this will lead to gaps in their knowledge and further confusion as the problems get harder.

Combat the gaps in their background knowledge

It’s likely that your pupils already have a few existing gaps in their knowledge, so if you can identify what those are it can prevent them becoming frustrated further into the syllabus. Imagine their learning being scaffolded one skill at a time; this careful construction ensures that they understand each step carefully, it becomes the building block for more complex problems and will result in a deeper level of understanding.

Show your pupils they can get better at maths

This growth mindset of gradually introducing harder problems will help your pupils realise that they can get better at maths. This is essential if you want to break down the mental block that many students put up towards maths.

Get your students to embrace maths

Introduce games

To really get your pupils to embrace maths you need to think about how you can get them to participate in lessons. A great strategy is to begin every lesson with an inclusive game that will boost their involvement. This can be as simple as a quick-fire mental maths round where you go around asking each student a question and they if they get it wrong, they take a seat. The benefit of this game is that if you know each student’s capability fairly well you can alter the difficulty of the question to suit their ability; this will help give a boost to students who aren’t confident in maths.

Are you interested in finding other maths games to engage your pupils? Explore more games for primary students and secondary students.

Use technology

Pupils both in primary and secondary schools were raised in the digital age. While there is an ongoing debate about whether the younger generation spends too much time looking at a screen, we should not ignore the fact that technology can sometimes be more stimulating than reading from a textbook. Online platforms, like Mathletics, offer activities that can be particularly helpful for students who need auditory and visual stimuli to assist their learning.

There are plenty of free maths learning resources too. Students can choose to revise modules which they are struggling with and many of these online tools have interactive assessments that let them track their progress. Encourage your pupils to spend time exploring these resources or even use them to assign homework tasks.

Explore teaching opportunities with Teaching Personnel

How would you like to be a part of the change that teaches our pupils to love maths? Take a look at our latest maths teacher jobs or register with us to keep up to date with new job opportunities. Teaching Personnel has over 80 branches around the UK, making our recruitment consultants best placed to help you find your next school. Interested in reading more blogs and advice? Find the latest maths news here.

Recent Comments
Great article. I would like to see a more technological driven approach in teaching maths and I agree we must tackle the perception of the subject being overly difficult.
Kevin Riley, 19 January 2020
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