You either love it or your hate it! That’s the way the Marmite* advert goes anyway but when it comes to Maths and children’s appreciation of this subject, is there a way to appreciate Maths even if you particularly don’t like it. It seems that many children these days either love the subject and take to it like a duck to water or they absolutely loathe it and build up a lifelong resistance to anything numerical. If you have a child who absolutely hates Maths is there any way around it to help them appreciate the benefit that Maths might have in the modern world.
Many simply do not see Maths as fun and many more do not see what relevance school classroom Maths has in the wider world but Maths helps us all to recognise patterns and understand the world around us. It gives us a toolkit to assist with logical reasoning, problem solving (not just numerical) and an ability to think in abstract ways revealing hidden connections and promoting critical thinking. It can help us make sense of physical events and even create balance, logical order of events, ideas and objects as well as help forge different perspectives on the world through order and classification.
Maths then gives us a plethora of opportunity but so often in the classroom it is divorced from other subject areas and in particular those of an art orientation which to the non-scientific amongst us can sometimes hold an attraction that may well disguise any connection to the world of maths incorporating numbers, sequences, patterns, symmetry to name but a few mathematical remits. Being faced with a page of arithmetic, algebra and algorithms, a child may receive the impression that they are facing a foreign world or culture that they cannot relate to.
But maths is exactly that! A relationship between patterns and the real world helping us forge an understanding of the present whilst helping us predict the future and discover new and wonderful things. The problem is for many it just doesn’t appear quite so wonderful! Or does it?
Recently we visited an exhibition in the town of Sleaford in Lincolnshire at the National Centre for Craft and design called “Beauty is the First Test”. Named from an extract in his essay “A Mathematician’s Apology”, G H Hardy (a British Mathematician in the 1940’s) states that “The mathematicians’ patterns, like the painter’s or the poet’s, must be beautiful, the ideas, like the colours or the words, must fit together in a harmonious way. Beauty is the first test, there is no permanent place in the world for ugly mathematics” (cited in NCCD, NB Feb 2013 – May 2013).
The exhibition explores mathematical concepts through different art and craft medium inspiring even the most non-mathematical of us to appreciate the simple and also the complex patterns from hyperbolic curves to Euclidean geometry, from symmetry to the physical embodiments of mathematical drawings but strangely without any hard maths lessons, just a simple appreciation of the beautiful displays. The joy, however, is that as each is appreciated, mathematics and art become a mutually inclusive force whereby the “enjoyment of one, enhances the other”.
Craft then can precipitate an appreciation of maths much in the same way that music and other activities can that may not traditionally be linked with maths in the classroom. How great is it then, if by such exposure, we can open up this extraordinary world to our children simply by tapping these arenas and from them bring the next generation to love the world that is alien to so many of us otherwise.
(*) Marmite, for those who are unfamiliar with this product, is a yeast extract spread in the UK.
The exhibition is on at the NCCD, Sleaford from 27 April 2013 to 30 June 2013. Photos in this post taken by Reset Parenting at the exhibition. Full details from NCCD.