Yesterday morning I heard a segment on the radio about "Australian students fall behind Kazakhstan in maths and science rankings" [refer: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/wakeup-call-australian-students-fall-behind-kazakhstan-in-maths-and-science-rankings-20161129-gszvt1.html] and this prompted me to write this article.
I know we can do much better than this; it just takes some awareness and support from the family. Our children are very smart and we are a lucky country with abundant resources, and there is no reason why our maths and science ranking should fall behind developing counties.
I came from an Asian education system but I also learned from my children's schooling system in Australia, and how "alive" the learning philosophy is over here. The children are encouraged to participate without fear of reprimanded by the teachers and peers; they are free to think, explore and challenge the concepts. I think that is very liberating.
The only thing that I would like to add to this learning pattern is when learning about maths, it is about applying and practising daily, i.e. through homework (school age) and through daily applications.
So how to make maths come alive in our day to day activities?
Thinking back, most of my schoolmates were very good in maths, and I believe they would agree with this observation. When growing up, some of my friends had to help their parents in their shops or stalls, so to them, "counting" is their second nature by applying arithmetic skills daily when dealing with customers and suppliers.
As for my family, even though we don't have a shop, we still apply "maths" skills practically daily through cooking and home chores – and that is true for everyone. I am going to use my own experience of the market / grocery shopping as an example.
When I was in Penang, I would normally accompany my grandmother to the local market, and here is how maths skills are practiced:
- I was in charge of the bus fare, making sure I got the correct change for us for the trip to and from the market.
- I was sometimes in charge of paying the vendors or making sure I got the correct change back after paying (mental calculation of subtractions and additions).
- Working out how much raw ingredients we needed for particular dishes, i.e. half a kati (measurement unit before the metric system) sugar, flour, seafood, meat etc. How many vegetables we need to get for 1 or more days. (estimations)
- Listening to the bargaining between my grandmother and the store vendors, to learn how much was the mutual agreeable amount, i.e. (the concept of more > and less < )
- Tracking the bus time schedule, to make sure we did not miss our bus home (Learning about time)
- and so much more.
That is why I am very passionate about involving the children in your daily activities; let them be in charge of something such as writing up the shopping list, include them on your shopping rounds. Let them find products in the shops with a quantity stated such as 2 liters of milk or 4 granny smith apples, or no more than half a kilo (or 500g)…
Do you see how you can use your shopping experience to introduce maths to your children?
For a young child, the more you practise this, the terminology will eventually become second nature to them. And for a school aged child, it is applying what they have learned at school to everyday stuff – the concept will starting to make sense, and they will be learning without realising they are learning.
One final word – to a child, PLAYing is learning, so the whole exercise should not be structured, because home is meant to be safe, fun and filled with love!
Have a wonderful day ahead!