Why Maths Matters and ways to make it fun!
Whether it’s working out how many places to set at the dinner table, telling the time or figuring out how much money to give to a sales person, mathematics is a part of everyday life. But recent research has shown that Australia’s levels of numeracy are lagging behind other countries. A report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released in 2014 shows close to to 6.5% of Australians had numeracy skills rated as “below Level 1” on the OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). The PIAAC assesses people aged 15-74 years in 25 countries, focusing on proficiency in literacy, numeracy and problem solving in a technology-rich environment, with numeracy levels from -1 to 3. According to the Australian Council for Educational Research – which has supported the development of the PIAAC study – the existence of large numbers of Australians with low literacy and numeracy skills “has a negative impact on individuals, the economy and productivity”. Numeracy, in particular, is a growing concern, with almost a quarter of all Australians at or below Level 1 on the PIAAC. While mathematics plays a big role in formal education, it’s also essential to expose kids to maths outside of the classroom so that numeracy becomes a part of life instead of a “structured lesson”. According to mathematics education research consultant Katie Kormanik, parents can help merge the theoretical and practical elements of mathematics for a more fulfilling education. “One of the best things parents can do to improve their children’s math literacy is to regularly expose them to practical applications of math at home,” she explains in an article for the EdSource website. “This is not “teaching,” per se, as much as it is helping them develop mathematical reasoning on their own. What students observe, discover and learn outside the classroom can often benefit them more than what they learn in class. The former tends to be practical and applicable in real situations outside academia; the latter often focuses on the theoretical and the abstract.”
Education on a Plate’s commitment to maths
Education on a Plate is all about making learning more fun, and making it easier for parents to get involved. Developed by mum-of-three Natalie Simon, the range of nine designs has started to help parents around Australia engage with their kids in a fun, educational way during meals. Anna, also a mum-of-three from NSW who has bought some of the plates said it’s changed her approach to learning with her kids. “I have always had a more analytical approach towards my childrens’ education. I have always placed a higher value on gaining core knowledge over the fun involved in learning it; times-tables are there to memorise, shapes are there to know (including the meanings of their Latin prefixes), numbers have their organised structure etc,” she says in her testimonial. “With Education on a Plate products, my kids now get to have their fun gaining the knowledge that I expect them to have – and I get the added bonus of managing to get their dinner into them while we are at it!” Natalie has developed nine different plates, with three plates that can work as tools to help kids of all ages strengthen their maths literacy: the Numbers Plate, the Times Table Plate and the Clock Plate. Below are some suggestions on how to use them to help kids learn more about maths.
Learning with the Numbers Plate
The Numbers Plate is a great starting place for basic maths principles, listing numbers 1 to 100 in a gridded sequence. There’s 10 numbers per row and a total of 10 rows, which means it can be used to count individual numbers from left to right, or in denominations of 10 moving down the plate. The number squares also alternate between orange and yellow, with odd numbers in orange and even in yellow. This colour difference makes it easier to visualise the difference between odd and even numbers to help kids understand them. As well as the education suggestions listed on the Numbers Plate page, here are three other ways you can use it to improve maths literacy.
- Serve a small meal on the plate. Ask kids to see how many foods they can find and then point to the matching number.
- Ask them how old they will be on their next birthday and get them to find that number. The ask how old they were three years ago, or how old they will be in two years (you can change the questions/scenarios to suit your children).
- Put peas, corn kernels, berries or other small/finely chopped food on different numbers. When kids eat the food that’s over a certain number, ask them to talk about all the things they can think of that relate to that number.
Maths games for the Times-Table Plate
The Times-Table Plate is a great visual guide for kids learning about multiplication, listing times-tables for numbers 1-12. The numbers being multiplied are coloured red, and the square roots of each number a highlighted in pink to help explain multiplication concepts and to point out different patterns that can make it easier to remember times tables. Some of the things you can do to make learning about multiplication fun with the Times-Table Plate include:
- Cover up 12, 16 and 20 for the 2 times tables (either with food or something else). Ask what the hidden numbers so that they have to figure it out. You can do this with any of the times tables, but two is a good place to start.
- Ask them to pick a number at random. Then get them to find where it is on the plate to show what multiples lead to this number.
- If you are setting the table for dinner (or they’re helping you), get them to look at the plate and ask how many people will be sitting down. How many multiples of one is that? What other times tables have that number?
There are also some other suggested activities on the Times-Table Plate page, and a lot of different ways to make exploring this maths concept visually more fun.
Telling time with the Clock Plate
The Clock Plate is designed to make it easier to understand how to tell the time. With an analogue design, it clearly illustrates the difference between seconds, minutes and hours so that children can learn how to tell the time and also gain a better understanding of the concept of time itself. A great way to use the Clock Plate is to slice a long strip of carrot, celery or melon, or use beans to create the hands of the clock, and then get your kids to move them to change the time. If you have a few people involved, you could also play a version of What’s The Time Mr (or Miss) Wolf? (also similar to Grandma’s Footsteps):
- Have someone as Mr or Miss Wolf, with the clock plate,
- Everyone else stands several meters back from the Wolf,
- The Wolf has their back to everyone else to start with,
- When people are ready, they ask “what’s the time Mr/Miss Wolf”,
- The Wolf closes his or her eyes, points somewhere on the plate and turns around before calling out the time closest to their finger,
- This continues until the Wolf feels people are very close, and instead of calling out a time, they turn and say “dinner time”, before catching the next person to become the wolf.
Most of us use this kind of maths without a second thought once we grow up, but all of it is new for our kids. That’s why understanding numbers and maths from an early age is so important; it lays the foundations for skills that they will use for life. These games are a great starting point for developing different numerical skills in a fun way, so that it doesn’t seem like a chore for parents or kids. And that is an investment that will pay off for years and years to come.