Maths has always been a thorny subject. My eldest is approaching his Maths GCSE in May and is motivated by the knowledge that once this exam is over he will never, ever have to study Maths again. He is apologetic about this, even asking if I am disappointed. but I am not at all worried. In talking it through with him I was able to explain that this is the case for most students: Maths GCSE marks the end of formal Maths study and, unless they take a Maths qualification post-16, most people never go near a Maths problem again.
My middle son is a much more natural mathematician, maths just seems to make more sense to him, numbers are more concrete and the ideas flow. He has worked hard this year and, even though we moved house and life was quite disrupted, had finished his Maths for the year by mid-March. He was hugely excited by the prospect of starting his GCSE studies and so he began last week. We have, however, run straight into the quagmire of misery, confusion and over-burden and I have been confused as to why. Every time I sit with him and work through his exercises he seems quite happy with the concepts but as soon as he is left to his own devices he is lost again. He is not resistant and is trying hard, testament to his eagerness to study at this level. My frustration levels are rising and his morale is falling.
On chatting to my partner about it, we began to see that he is learning so much more than Maths and, as with any multi-skill learning experience, it is too much for him to be putting it all together immediately. My son and I sat together and I wrote a list of all the skills I can see that he is using and developing:
1) Laying his work out neatly. Up until now he has had workbooks and not been responsible for the clarity of the page.
2) Organising his time. Once the initial subject has been explained, he is responsible for finding time in the day to complete the exercises.
3) Aiming towards a big and distant goal. Workbooks were tangible in size and once every page was complete they were done but GCSE has no such physical "size".
4) Concentrating for longer periods of time. There is no doubt that it is a greater workload and he will have to sit at the table and work for longer.
5) Copying a question from a textbook, especially difficult with brackets and indices. Here, I am seeing the value of all the copywriting we have done together and reminded of attempting copywriting in a different language. Without the sense of words and letter sets that already have a place in the memory, copying is hard and even harder when it is dense text on a page.
So, today, I will copy some of questions into his book for him which will automatically set out the page for him and reduce the copy-writing burden. I will write a time-table for the day with short blocks of maths and we will start with a pep talk about his goals which are admirable and tough. He has much to be proud of - starting maths GCSE at just 12 is no mean feat - and that is the most important message he needs to hear today.