Endless Immensity – A Creative Approach to Teaching Calculation
Why do some people fear maths? I’ve witnessed the heart-breaking moment a pupil is brought to tears in front of the class when asked a maths question, heard parent after parent say ‘Oh I was never any good at maths either’, hung my head as children throw numbers out in a stream of guesses, a last-ditch, desperate, shotgun approach to somehow capture the right answer.
There is a quotation from Antoine du Saint-Exupery, who wrote The Little Prince:
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together, have them gather wood and set them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
Who has not stood at the seashore and been awed by the vastness. Some people are terrified of it, and we all need to give the sea a healthy respect. But at the same time, humanity has learned to navigate its huge expanses, visit new lands and meet new people.
What is maths if not an endless immensity? Quite literally. There is the infinity of the counting numbers just to start with, before we have even mentioned fractions and decimals. No wonder some people stand in awe and afraid. Those that navigate the great seas know the secret: it may be endless, but it is all built on pattern. Once you know that there are patterns, that these patterns are often beautiful and simple, then you have a way in.
I wrote A Creative Approach to Teaching Calculation, published by Bloomsbury, to give primary teachers as many practical examples of how to help pupils see the patterns and develop the mental software to help them navigate the ocean of maths. There are quick activities to fill 5 minutes, regular classroom routines, patterns, investigations and puzzles. These are all designed to help pupils develop a physical and visual intuition about how numbers and calculations behave, and to take away the fear.