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Just try a little patience and good maths skills will add up

Confidence and maths -- not two words that you usually expect to see together. After all, the common perception is that you're either right or you're wrong when it comes to maths.

But after 18 years of teaching, I have learned that confidence is the key to solving a problem in maths and ultimately getting better at the subject.

Every day of my teaching career I see it, students who would offer a verbal answer to a problem perfectly clearly, but freeze completely when the time comes to put the answer down on paper. And that's just down to confidence.

As we come to the end of Maths Week, it is important that children or young teens can't just decide that they aren't any good at maths and give up on even trying. It's all about building confidence and about not being afraid to make mistakes -- that's where the learning comes in.



mistakes

Maths is a bit like golf -- little and often is the key if you want to improve. If I play golf continuously for 10 hours once every six months my game will never improve. If I play golf every day for 10 minutes over a six month period my game would improve dramatically as it would become like a reflex.

When I was a student, I always found that I learned more from my mistakes than my successes. It's all about persistence and that pays off in the end, teaching you things that you may never have happened on before.

As a student, when confronted with a maths problem, I wouldn't give up until I found the solution. In order to do so, I'd probably have had to consult several chapters in many different books in order to find the answer to my problem.

But once I had discovered how to solve the problem, I'd have accidentally discovered the solution to 40 other problems I didn't even know existed beforehand.

For students especially, it is vital that we persevere with our attempts, as there is a tremendous level of satisfaction when a question has been successfully completed.

I recently heard of a smartphone app which required a simple maths puzzle to be solved before a certain function on the phone could be used. It's a novel idea. Imagine only being able to turn off your alarm in the morning if you correctly insert the solutions of a quadratic equation into your phone.

Every student would become experts in solving quadratic equations after about two days. Added to this, the wakeup time would be shaved down to about 10 seconds.

The core ethos of the new Project Maths syllabus is to show students a more practical side to mathematics and to encourage them to test the rules of maths and verify that they actually work.



patience

This practical approach to learning is aimed at encouraging students to develop an interest in maths and see how it applies in real life situations.

Historically, the syllabus would have focused largely on theories and students found it difficult to see the point. Students should never despair. Maths is like any language and not everything can be absorbed in a single day. Patience is required. But patience will be rewarded in so many ways when problems are overcome.

A positive mental attitude goes a long way and you will definitely get out of it what you put into it. From an exams perspective, the marking schemes are very student-friendly and are most not designed to cause heartache.

If a student is capable of completing the basic areas of the course well, they will perform admirably in their exams and hopefully develop an interest in maths for the future.

Success should be measured in many small increments as these little slices will combine to form a body of knowledge which will build confidence as time goes by. Give it time and maths will offer its rewards.

John Winters is a teacher at Ashfield College, Templogue and he has over 18 years teaching experience in maths and science