I think it’s fair to say that maths gets quite a lot of stick; for many, school maths lessons were lessons where you catch up on a bit of sleep or spend some time looking out of the window while the teacher was droning on about algebra and trigonometry. How could anyone derive any kind of pleasure from this form of legalised torture? It’s a good question and to be honest with you I don’t know the answer as to how people do enjoy it – but some people do.

The fact is – and I’m sorry to have to say this but I’m sure you’ll agree – that a lot (not all) of the maths that you may have learned while at school and preparing for your GCSE maths exam (or O Level maths exam) or even your SATS exams was boring. Fractions are boring; percentages are boring; ratios are boring – I don’t even try to hide the fact that these topics are boring. I know that as a maths tutor I’m supposed to be all enthusiastic about this stuff and trying to inspire you – but, frankly, this stuff is completely uninspiring. This is why I don’t tutor primary maths – I don’t feel able to make fractions fun and interesting and quite honestly it makes me cringe to think about trying to teach ‘funky fractions’ so I leave it to those who want to do it and let them get on with it however they see fit.

BUT….I am enthusiastic about maths and I do try to inspire my students when it comes to maths but not through fractions or percentages or ratios. You see, these boring topics are necessary to know about if you want to get to the interesting maths. Just like when you learn a musical instrument you have to learn all of the boring scales and chords and all that lot, and if you don’t know the boring stuff then you’ll never get to the interesting stuff – well the same applies with maths. And also, just like when you learn a musical instrument there most people will drop off before they get to the interesting stuff but there are some who, for whatever reason, persevere – then again, the same applies with maths. For those that drop out early on, maths will always remain dull and boring and it will always be bewildering to them why anyone would enjoy it – but for those who persevere then they get their reward eventually.

The reality is that it can, and does, take years to get to the really interesting stuff in maths. When you’re in the primary stages of learning maths at school then you might be told that all of this stuff that you’re learning about leads on to this or that; and that might sound interesting but, sadly, it’s a long way off. You’ll have to invest many years of learning before you get to it – some do but most don’t.

So what do I find interesting about maths? Well certainly not fractions, times-tables, reverse percentages (I still don’t know what the difference is between a percentage and a reverse percentage!) ratios or converting top-heavy fractions to mixed numbers – are you still awake? What I find interesting is learning about Algebraic Topology, Group Theory, Mathematical Logic, Number Theory…I could go on; I enjoy reading works by some of the greatest mathematicians (and philosophers) who have ever lived such as Bertrand Russell, Euclid, Georg Cantor, Hermann Weyl – it’s like seeing inside their minds; I like the fact that there are still a lot of unsolved problems in mathematics and the philosophy of mathematics; I like that there is always something to challenge myself with and that I might have to spend days, weeks or months learning to understand something but then being able to see the beauty of the subject first-hand.

Maths is a fascinating subject – whether you believe me or not is up to you – but I feel in my element when I’m reading about some of the mathematical theories that have been developed. Mathematicians aren’t creative? Pull the other one! If mathematician’s weren’t creative there wouldn’t be anything like Non-Euclidean geometry; Georg Cantor would never have been able to develop his theories on Transfinite Numbers if he was creatively barren. If you want to see these things for yourself then you have to have the drive at the outset to get through the boring stuff – believe me if you get through it then you will see for yourself why maths is so interesting! But I also say (and I don’t mean to sound sneering or that I’m trying to belittle people when I say this) that maths is not for everyone – it may be that if you find maths boring then maybe your interests and talents lie elsewhere and you absolutely should be investing your time elsewhere.

Comments closed.