How to inspire a love of maths, with Adam Spencer
Keen to encourage your child or someone in your life to stick with maths – or maybe even fall in love with it? We asked mathematician, media personality and former Triple J radio host Adam Spencer for his top tips.
Have you always loved maths, or did it take some time?
I was lucky in some ways. Maths always made sense to me and, more importantly, I always loved it. But here’s the thing: that meant I did heaps of maths as a student. My mates thought 'yeah but you’re just a maths genius!' And that wasn’t true. I just loved maths so I devoured it at school.
Do you remember what originally (or eventually) inspired a love of maths in you?
I loved being correct. I loved the competitive challenge of a hard question. I loved being able to do things that a few weeks ago I couldn’t. And I loved how much I saw this mattering in the real world. Dollars and cents, metres and centimetres, time, multiplication … it just seemed to be everywhere to me.
If you know maths is a weak spot, don’t hide from that and just hope that miraculously your child never asks for help with their maths. Muck in right from the start. Get your child to explain fractions to you, or percentages, or areas, and go on the journey with them.
Why is maths important or valuable to everyone?
It always has been. Of all the skills we have to understand, explain and predict the world around us, surely mathematics is the most powerful. Don't get me wrong, poetry is cool, sport rocks, but compared to physics?! And the world that our children will grow into, with Big Data, the Internet of Things, apps, coding, stats, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning … yes you will be able to get by without mathematical aptitude, but gee you will have so many other options if maths is part of your skill set.
Aren’t some people just inherently bad at maths? Why should I push my child to study a subject they’re struggling with?
Some are better at maths than others, but, like any activity, with practice you get better. With practice anyone can play the piano better, learn to juggle, run faster, speak another language. Without practice you simply can’t do those things. It’s exactly the same with mathematics.
If I struggle with maths myself, how can I help my child?
If you know maths is a weak spot, don’t hide from that and just hope that miraculously your child never asks for help with their maths. Muck in right from the start. Get your child to explain fractions to you, or percentages, or areas, and go on the journey with them. Especially with primary school mathematics.
Sticking with maths is one thing … but loving it? How do I turn my (or my child’s) mere tolerance of maths into a full-blown love affair?
It’s easy to love a subject when you’re crushing it at school – it’s hard to love anything you’re barely scraping by at. Get them working consistently on the subject. They will understand, improve and the love will come.