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Maths Help

Updated on September 21, 2013

Erroneous conclusions

As a young boy in Primary School I found Mathematics lessons very stressful. Every day as soon as the teacher announced that he was going to test our mental arithmetic ‘the shutters came down’ and my mind seemed to close down.

The problem wasn’t the Mathematics, but at the time I concluded that it was and resigned myself to the notion that I was no good at Mathematics and never would be.

This is an example of conclusions a young mind can come to which would then influence the course of his life. I was lucky to have had the strength of character to overrule this decision made at such a young age and actually went on to study Mathematics and Physics at University. At the age of twenty three I qualified as a Secondary School teacher and taught Mathematics, in the main, up to eight years ago when I retired from full-time teaching to set up a private Hypnotherapy Practice with my wife Mary in the Isle of Man. The local High School still employs me on a part-time basis as an SEBD teacher to teach Mathematics to children who have trouble learning the subject.

The backgound

So how did the boy who decided he was never going to be able to do Mathematics go on to teach Mathematics to the most challenged children? To answer this I will have to go back in time to when the problem with Mathematics developed.

I lived with my grandparents as a boy and my grandfather was a strict disciplinarian and retired soldier. He was a Battalion Quarter Master Sergeant which was the highest rank a non commissioned officer could hold in the Irish Army. I used to walk with my grandfather or rather march with him to Mass in Crumlin every Sunday which was about a mile from our house. I still remember him snapping out the words ‘Chin in, chest out. Swing those arms!’ all the way there and back. ‘Left, right, left, right!’ But one ritual that made me dread that march to St Agnes’ Church every Sunday with my grandfather was his insistence in testing my mental arithmetic and 24 hour clock.

‘The shutters would come down’, I would stammer and give him ridiculous answers. His face stern and with eyes which looked at me as if I was mentally deficient were enough to make me want to curl up and die. Being told again and again how stupid I was didn’t help! This was my introduction to Mathematics and though years later I could solve complex problems in Quantum Mechanics, I struggled calculating the change I should receive at the shop counter when ‘the shutters would come down’ every time I felt that same pressure to answer correctly as I had experienced as a little boy. I had internalised the critical voice and look of my grandfather so long after those marches to Mass on Sunday had ended I carried him around in my head.

A change of mind

It wasn’t until the age of 15 that I realized the difference between the Mathematics taught in Primary School and Secondary School. When it suddenly dawned on me how ideas could be expressed in Mathematical language, my mind opened to embrace knowledge which until then I had shut out. The erroneous conclusions I had come to as a young boy in Primary School I questioned and I came to new conclusions about my relationship with Mathematics.

Once I had changed my mind about Mathematics I still had the problem with arithmetic and I decided that I would have to do something about that if I was to achieve my dream of eventually becoming a teacher.

I came up with ways of tackling the problem and seeing numbers in a way that would not allow my mind to close to them. The methods I used as a boy to overcome my fear and regain my confidence are the ones I continue to share with my students. Many of my students followed my example and changed their minds about the subject. Many of them went on to become accomplished mathematicians and scientists.

Maths Tutor Program

I created a Mathematics Program to incorporate all the basics that a child needs to master arithmetic and it is this program that I gave to each of my own children who went on to excel at the subject. The Program does not look back at the student with derisive eyes. There is no judgement or criticism from the program and thus the child is free to concentrate on mastering the basics with confidence. I developed the program to ensure that my own children would master all the basics of arithmetic regardless of the school they went to or the teachers they had. It was my way of ensuring that my children would never be put off the subject by any negative experience like the one I had as a boy. I think this is a practical use of technology and an example of how we as parents can support our children more effectively.


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    • Spirit Whisperer profile image

      Xavier Nathan 4 years ago from Isle of Man

      Thank you Denise for your comment and chuckles :) No need to apologise as I can now see the funny side too. I love your story about getting your daughter to sleep on her book and will suggest it to my students. Could you also send me the link to that hub please.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 4 years ago from North Carolina

      Your Irish grandfather reminded me of my Irish father who LOVED math and was a very intimidating teacher because of his brilliance with the subject. He was the family tutor when it came to math, and every one of my five siblings and I were subjected to his frustration when we failed to 'get it'. I think my sister and I were the most influenced with feeling we were incompetent when it came to math. We each discovered the opposite feeling when we studied undergrad courses in college.

      I have to agree with the subject of this hub. When one believes he is not good at something, the belief blocks the opening to learning. Like you, I discovered the 'language' of math in junior high when I took algebra. Even though I still felt I was just an 'average' student, I loved the language of the subject.

      My youngest daughter always had test anxiety about math, which slammed the door on her brain power before she took the test. I wrote a hub about helping kids with test anxiety and told the story of how I suggested she sleep on the book to allow the relaxed mind to absorb the information. I explained that was what Edgar Cayce had done as a boy.

      She believed it would work, tried it, and did great on her next exam.

      Up/and across including funny, because I could just picture you marching along...I'm sorry, I'm sure it was NOT a pleasant experience, but it still brought a chuckle to me. shared.

    • Spirit Whisperer profile image

      Xavier Nathan 4 years ago from Isle of Man

      Hello Ruby, it has been a while and I appreciate your visit and kind comment. I donated the program to the local school so it is on the server where every child has access to it and many have already benefited. I hope it does make a difference for a lot more. Thank you.

    • Spirit Whisperer profile image

      Xavier Nathan 4 years ago from Isle of Man

      Yes, Nell there were a few impatient teachers in our day and they did little to develop a child's self confidence. A good teacher is worth his/her weight in gold. I also agree that children are far too dependent on calculators to do the rudimentary calculations. Thank you for stopping by Nell and your comment is greatly appreciated.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 4 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Hello Xavier, Good to see you again. Math was difficult for me too. I needed a program such as yours. I finally figured it out, but i am still no whiz. Thank you for sharing. I'm sure your program will help many young minds who are slow at math..

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

      Hi Xavier, this is great, I remember hating maths with a vengeance purely because the teachers were rubbish at teaching us. They used to throw a question at us and glare at us if we had no idea how to work it out. funnily enough now years on I am probably better at maths than the average kid today because they use calculators and I never did, but I am really annoyed to think the teaches messed up my development with their attitude, so anything that can help is great, nell

    • Spirit Whisperer profile image

      Xavier Nathan 4 years ago from Isle of Man

      Thank you Bill for that. I also wish you and yours a very Happy Christmas and a wonderful New Year.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Excellent! So many kids struggle with math...heck, so many adults struggle with it. As a former teacher, I am all for any new program that helps in this learning.

      Merry Christmas to you and yours.