the U.K., and other parts of the world. So
I figure I made the right choice.
TOS: In your years of teaching math,
what have you seen to be the top reason
why students were struggling with math?
And, why do you think math has become
such a sore spot over the past generation?
Patrick: I think the biggest problem is
simply poor teaching. For example, you
might get a teacher who never shuts up;
they just keep on talking. I remember
when I was at school, we had a physics
teacher who was like that; he’d love to
talk, and to be fair, his stories were always very interesting. But in the end, our
grades were much worse than the other
class because we didn’t have much time
in class to do our work; we were too busy
listening to him talk. And then you have
other teachers who are simply poor communicators. I find the following to be
true in just about all cases: the students
who receive high quality teaching with
the time and space to take it in, then consolidate this by immediately practicing
what they’ve just been taught—these are
the kids who are successful in math.
They’ve got to have a patient teacher
as well; someone who is happy to explain
things over again until the student understands. If kids don’t have these fundamentals, then the chances of them succeeding in math decreases dramatically.
To answer your second question, in
relation to math, I believe the past gen-
eration has suffered significantly because
the “educational experts” have promoted
the wrong idea about discovery learn-
ing. I could write a book on this alone,
but to have such a misguided belief that
kids need to ‘discover’ something to truly
understand it, is such a big mistake and
has been very damaging to this past gen-
TOS: In Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, by Jean
Lee Batham, Nathaniel Bowditch states,
“That’s the beauty of mathematics. It’s
exact.” That’s great for left brain thinkers,
but what about right brain thinkers? In
your opinion, does multi-sensory learning make learning math more effective?
Patrick: Without a doubt, multi-sensory learning any subject is more effective. Any time you can engage students
on multiple levels, where you encourage
students to use some or all of their senses, the level they understand, how
much they can retain, all of this increases significantly. This is one area where
the experts have got it right.
TOS: We hear so many different
viewpoints on teaching math. Does
memorization still play a large role
in the process? How do you prefer to
Five Most Crucial Mistakes Teachers Make
Mistake #1: The long drawn-out explanation
Don’t fall into the common trap of thinking the longer the explanation, the better
it is. In fact, the reverse is true. You need to keep explanations short and to the
point: 3-4 minutes for younger kids, 5-8 minutes for older kids. Then get them to
immediately practice what they just learned.
Mistake #2: Complicated explanations and showing too many
Not only should you be keeping it short, you’ve also got to keep your explanations
simple. Your readers will already be aware that often there are multiple ways of
approaching a math problem, all of which are “valid.” However, math is much
easier to teach when you know which methods kids understand best, and know
which methods you must avoid. Whatever you do, don’t complicate things.
Mistake #3: Believing the hype about ‘Discovery Learning’
There’s a lot of nonsense out there about how kids need to go down the ‘discovery
path’ before they can truly learn. And unfortunately, almost an entire generation
of kids going through school in the past 10 to 15 years are victims of this theory.
Discovery learning does have its place. But it needs to be after the kids are rock-solid in their basics and foundations.
Mistake #4: Thinking rote learning times-tables is bad, bad, bad
Strange as this may seem to any intelligent person, there is a very strong feeling amongst many educators who believe that all rote learning is wrong. Why
so wrong? Because, they say, it crushes the child’s creative spirit. It is imperative
students rote learn their times-tables so they can recall the facts instantly—not in
three seconds, not in five seconds, instantly! And not just times-tables, but all of
the basic recall facts too.
Mistake #5: Getting frustrated when kids don’t understand things
the first time. Or even the second time, or the third . . .
Have I been guilty of this mistake? Yes. Could I make the same mistake in the
future? Of course; I’m human. But I know I’m a lot better now at controlling my
frustration than I ever used to be. However it isn’t easy. As difficult as it is, it’s essential your kids don’t sense you being frustrated with them because they didn’t
get it the first time. And I mean sensing any frustration whatsoever. Because if
they do, then in the future they will hesitate to come to you with problems as they
will be worried about how you’ll react; problems about math and problems about
things much more important than math.
“Show me a young
student who is
fantastic at their times-
tables and instant
recall facts, and I’ll
show you a student
who has a far greater
chance of being
successful when they
hit algebra later on.”