Fear of Maths – Early Detection is Key

donal and sophie giant swing
When overcoming a fear of maths early detection is key. Identifying misunderstood concepts as early as possible is absolutely crucial in ensuring a successful and enjoyable learning experience. The sooner such concepts are detected the better chance students have of making a complete and speedy mathematical ‘recovery’. Rote learning was usually the answer for the vast majority of students and this is how we dealt with the issue. Within the context of Project Maths this strategy will simply fail.
Project Maths is the great leveller, where now a fundamental understanding of the key concepts will lead to exam success and indeed to further success in third level. The era of rote learning is over, and this can only be a good thing for all levels. Learning through discovery where mathematical fluency and confidence is the goal, it does indeed lead to a less stressful educational environment.
When concepts are learned through discovery and facilitated learning, they rarely are misunderstood or indeed ever forgotten. Our difficult relationship with rote learning over the last few generations has left a legacy of fear and loathing of maths and we now need to repair the damage and move on. Project Maths is a step in the right direction and we will all ultimately benefit from it.

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Considering the negativity towards Project Maths generally, I am minded of  Mr Byrne (Irish Times) who cited in an article that the exclusion of Integration and a much reduced Calculus syllabus in the Project Maths syllabus was part of the problem with the new reforms.
According to the article in the Irish Times by Sean Byrne August 22nd [http://www.irishtimes.com/news/education/exam-standards-leave-many-students-ill-equipped-to-thrive-at-third-level-1.1501382] Project Maths is leading to a dumbing down of standards and leading to ill equipped students entering third level.
Mr Byrne failed to appreciate the ethos of project maths and the benefits that will accrue from it. It stands to reason that when key concepts are well understood, coming across Integration in First Year university for the first time will not pose any real problems to students as they will have had the necessary building blocks to understand and appreciate Calculus in all its complexities.
In the recent pre Project Maths years, lecturers would complain that students had rote learnt everything and didn’t have any real fundamental understanding of many of the key concepts in mathematics. IBEC have voiced their concerns many times, and in fact, the OECD were of the same opinion which led to Project Maths being developed in the first place.
Project Maths is a great opportunity for students to conquer mathematics and widen their career choices dramatically. As a former university lecturer, I would have most definitely preferred students who had a really solid knowledge of a limited number of key mathematical concepts while not having covered calculus in depth for example, than a student who had rote learned his or her way to an honour in maths and which did include a comprehensive calculus course.
Group Shot Jumping and large MB
I would encourage all students to embrace project maths and discover how a fundamental understanding of key concepts can open up doors in many other subjects, as maths is really all about learning how the world works and how we relate to it. Any gaps that exist can be identified and the related concepts rediscovered opening up the way to a meaningful, productive and life lasting relationship with mathematics and consequently with the world.  Remember the Greek word Mathēma means ‘to learn’ and this is indeed what maths is all about.
Aengus O’Connor

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