The case for enrichment

by Livia Mitson (May 2020)

Trying to teach maths in the lockdown seems to be mostly about using external websites such as mymaths, mathswatch, hegarty maths and others.  On the whole, students seem to like them – they used them before closure for homework and for revision, and it’s a cherished strand of continuity in a time of upheaval.

These websites offer a soothing reminder of the life before lockdown; you are doing your maths homework (even though it is now classwork) in exactly the way that you did before life changed so much.

We’ve always had students in the classroom who suffer from maths anxiety – they believe that they can’t do maths (often a belief based on years of experiences of getting the wrong answer) and so they choke and freeze up.  They become tongue-tied when called on in class – because they know that even if the teacher is a kindly soul who won’t say directly that they are wrong, their answer will be re-phrased or twisted into the “correct” one – and who wants to make a contribution when they are convinced it will either be patronised or simply categorised as incorrect?

Now everyone is more worried and more anxious than before; and many more students are going to feel that they are overwhelmed; that they are falling behind; that if they can’t organise themselves and get all their school work done that they are failures.

In these circumstances, it is more important than ever that students have an opportunity to experience all school subjects as ones where they are successful, so that they can maintain their self-belief as successful learners.

We know as teachers that when students believe that they are not successful learners, that’s when the maths (or French, or art, or PE, or whatever) anxiety kicks in – and this can so easily create a vicious circle as the anxiety itself leads to not taking part in class conversations, leads to freezing up when trying to think creatively, and leads to students not doing as well in the subject.

So what we here at Cambridge Maths Hub are doing, is we are trying to curate (and also create) a bank of resources that allow students to explore mathematics, to be creative in mathematics, to experience success in mathematics, to engage with mathematics in a way that doesn’t reinforce anxieties, and ultimately, to experience mathematics as a varied and interesting subject that is capable of great beauty.

You will find the resources in the Online Learning section of the site.