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Learn Maths, Explore your Options, and Get Creative!

From Ellen, published on 12/07/2017 We Love Prof - UK > Academia > Maths > Different Methods for Learning Maths

Learning maths isn’t always an easy business. You might remember watching your maths teacher at school showing you rigid techniques to solve a problem, and urgently trying to keep up.

That’s how most people have learned maths, but it’s not always the most fruitful method. In fact, it can often be the trickiest way of trying to learn maths and retain knowledge. By learning one maths topic in a repetitive way can often just feel like a chore.

As it turns out, there isn’t just one way to approach a maths problem. More and more studies are being carried out in recent years looking into the way people best absorb information and learn to solve mathematical problems.

That said, it is the case with the national education system in the UK that certain maths questions require a certain method of working to reach the correct answer, and in many exams and assessments marks are awarded for showing your working as well as solving the problem correctly.

But with most mental maths, and many more complicated maths problems, it is important to remember that the right answer can be reached in different ways. It is actually advocated more and more these days that students are encouraged to use multiple strategies when solving maths problems.

When teachers insist that there is only one best way to solve a problem, students end up missing out on important things such as creativity, innovation and open-mindedness – which are all crucial elements in making maths more fun and exciting.

Mix up your maths lessons! Think outside the box when teaching maths. Source: Visualhunt

There is so much value in letting students explore the different approaches to maths, and allowing them to compare and contrast methods of problem solving. When teachers start restricting how students learn, it also limits how much they learn.

In allowing students to compare methods, it helps them to think about how and why certain things work and others don’t when it comes to maths. At the end of the day, you want to inspire your students and get them enjoying maths – not frustrating them and shrink their confidence.

So we can see that most of the bad habits with maths, and where the challenges tend to lie, is in how maths is taught to students in schools. This is a UK-wide issue, and one that has been noticed by students, parents and even Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education). It’s generally found that students fall behind in maths too easily, and don’t receive the right help and support when this happens.

But what we want for maths students is an exposure to different strategies and methods of learning. By doing this, students won’t fall behind so easily or find it hard to catch up, and they will benefit from a more profound and flexible understanding of maths.

Below is a list of approaches to maths that are proven to be successful, and will make your approach to tutoring well-rounded and stimulating for your student. Whether it’s arithmetic, algebra, trigonometry, telling time, long division – this guide will help make any maths lessons fun!

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Make it Relevant

This is one of the most important things when learning maths, hence why we’ve put it top of our list!

When maths is taught in schools, one of the factors that usually lacks is making connections between maths and everyday life.

During your private tutoring sessions, there are loads of ways you can incorporate fun and games to make learning maths more appealing, and to make it easier to grasp. This is helped further by actually making it relevant, and putting into a context that students will recognise and appreciate.

Depending on the age of your student and their education level, there are all sorts of ways to start making connections to real life and daily activities. Dedicate your teaching strategies to putting maths into context, so that your students can understand why they are learning.

This can be done in all sorts of ways. You might be studying measurements and conversions, in which case a bit of cooking might be a fun way of showing your student how maths is used in everyday situations.

Equally, you might be looking at handling money, working out change and performing basic mental maths. For this, you might want to create a mock shop or café to play around with transactions to demonstrate how we use maths when we’re out and about.

By helping your student make connections and see where maths is used from day to day, it will gradually be taken on as long-term memory, and they will be able to absorb and retain information much more easily.

So when you’re approaching your next home tutoring lesson, think about how the maths can fit into day to day life, and how you can replicate this to make the lesson more graspable for your student.

Use Visual Aids

Visual aids are not only useful, but for so many students they are necessary for learning and properly understanding new concepts and overcoming challenges.

Students need to see what they are learning, not just hearing it. When we think about the classroom environment, it is generally not tailored specifically to the individual student, and it can often be a lecture-style lesson due to the sheer amount of students the teacher has to teach.

This is why people turn to private tutors. Students need one-on-one support and teaching, with the time, attention and relevant tools to make the topic easier to understand. As a tutor, you can separate your lessons from the classroom by making maths visual, not just audible, and by trialling different methods to see what works best with your student.

Visual aids can really be anything, varying from:

  • Pictures
  • Drawings
  • Graphs
  • Videos
  • Models

Using and making visuals can be so easy – they can even be as simple as drawing out a diagram! Anything that can help your student see what they are learning and understand a concept in a physical format can make all the difference in their perception of a maths problem.

It’s widely acknowledged that children learn best when teaching is paired up with a visual aid in some form. Make sure you vary them in your lessons and try out different things, so that you keep your students engaged and interested in what you are teaching.

Students learn best when they can visualise it! Try different visual aids and online tools. Source: Visualhunt

Utilise Tools and Resources  

When it comes to using teaching tools as part of your private tutoring sessions, there is so much out there to choose and find inspiration from.

Similar to using visuals and making it relevant, students need to learn from varied teaching methods and strategies. This means getting creative with what you use to teach, and how you teach.

Visual aids obviously come under the umbrella of tools and resources in general, but there is so much more that can be put to use in your lessons. Think about using or recommending different websites, games, apps, books, videos, etc. during your time with your student to really engage them with maths concepts.

It’s also a great idea to think of different things to set for homework or extra work, that your student can try in their own time. This could be as simple as setting out a few topics to revise on a maths website, or downloading a game to play with on their phone or tablet.

There are so many brilliant websites available these days, many of which work in correspondence with the national curriculum so that your student can learn exactly what they need to for school assessments.

There are some websites designated wholly to maths games for kids that introduce problems in a fun way, and make maths more manageable in a context that students can get easily on board with.

Especially with younger students, it is important to connect learning with play in order for them to best absorb knowledge, so have a look for some games, either online, or even better, old school board and card games!

Make maths fun by learning through play! Play around with different games to help overcome maths challenges! Source: Visualhunt

Assess Your Student

Assessment can be pretty daunting, but it’s the best way to see how your student is improving, and where they might be struggling a bit. Maths is all about progression, and knowledge needs to be built upon in layers.

If you test your student as they go along, they are less likely to fall behind or get lost with maths. Most of the challenge in learning maths stems from not having enough support as a student progresses, so regular assessment is key to staying on track.

Assessments can be as formal or informal as you like, from simple quizzes to a full-on practise exam papers. The smaller and more unintimidated the assessment, the more comfortable and confident your student will feel – after all, you want to see what your student knows, and this is best done when they are feeling relaxed.

This doesn’t have to be about performance and grades, in fact it’s best to just consider small assessments or tests as a benchmark for where your student is and how they can improve.

Assessment is also crucial for tutors, it will show you where you might need to put a bit more time and attention, or which teaching methods might not be most efficient for your student.

So think about these ideas for your next tutoring session, and play around with strategies to find the method that works best for your student!

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