Uganda: How We Can Get Children to Do Maths

By Jonathan Maserejje

At one of our most recent annual teacher training events held in Kireka, I had a moment to emphasise the various strategies schools could use to improve the quality and quantity of teaching maths and English.

During the workshop, a couple of education practitioners lamented on the difficult task of promoting mathematics among many students in their respective schools. I advised that schools need a holistic approach towards the improvement of English and maths, based on the understanding that no single subject does not incorporate either or both subjects, not to mention all employment circles in our country.

The holistic approach means designing an inter-curricular programme that requires all individual subjects' link to English/literacy and maths to be incorporated throughout teacher planned schemes of work. Teachers will creatively work with other colleagues to ensure that they pick relevant maths activities to their specified subjects.

As an example, a secondary school history lesson, say the lesson is called 'Hitler, a miracle worker?' The main objective of the lesson is to educate pupils on the policies that the Nazi party used to gain power and maintain and finance the Nazi war machine.

During the first part of the lesson, pupils can be provided with election, unemployment and cash in circulation figures between 1933 and 1945. Using these figures, students are asked to perform percentage calculations that demonstrate the huge increase in votes for the Nazi party, employment and inflation.

Following this part of the lesson, the reasons for these large shifts are discussed. Why did votes for the Nazi party and total voter turnout increase by so much? How were so many jobs created? Were these employment figures reliable? Why were so many bank notes being printed? What effect did this have on the economy?

In geography, the easier topics to start with include migration, economic development, population, effects of natural disasters, etc. In some subjects such as art or English, it's easy for children to take ownership of their work - "this is my piece of art" or "this is my piece of writing from my essay".

This may be hard in maths, if not impossible. But ownership of maths is important and one of the ways of creating this ownership and pride is through motivation. Teachers and parents need to get used to using real-life examples.

The technique called 'episodic learning' is one engaging strategy that not only moves young learners, but also enthuses them through emotion. Episodic learning works through creating a moment in a child's mind upon which to build learning. Research shows that these types of learning moments can help to develop stronger and longer-lasting memories, which help cultivate learning.

Another way of developing ownership is to take children on a "maths walk", opening their eyes up to the world around them. It's like a treasure hunt. This could be through co-curricular field study or local outdoor learning activities. A typical walk consists of a sequence of designated sites along a planned route where students stop to explore maths in the environment.

Anyone can create a walk that targets a range of mathematical understanding. Some questions that can be used to help switch on your mathematical eyes include: 'Find four objects which have a line of symmetry... ..', 'Find a repeating pattern... ', 'Find an object that is approximately five feet long... '

Outside school: while travelling, it is not uncommon to see youngsters counting cars of a certain age, colour or type that they pass by. Children can learn about probability with such activities, as they may be more likely to spot silver cars than yellow.

Card, board and dice games develop number skills, logic and strategy. Games help develop mathematical understanding and are fun for the whole family. Cooking together also teaches children about weights and measures.

If a recipe is for two and you want to make it for five, you need to think about ratios. Cooking also involves all sorts of non-standard units of measure such as teaspoons, tablespoons, millilitres, pints and cups. Having conversations as you cook enhances children's understanding of these units.

To eliminate the fear of maths and promote the subject among children, adults need to give children confidence and a willingness to try.

The author is a Ugandan teacher based in the United Kingdom and a senior consultant at Elimisha Education.

Source: All Africa

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