Maths: you usually either love it or hate it. Our pre-service teachers are no different. For many, the idea of teaching mathematics can induce anxiety, and intensify insecurities about their teaching ability.

Imagine teaching a subject you don’t feel you’ve entirely mastered yourself. Naturally, such teachers would feel trepidation. It can influence their approach to the subject, and impact how well they engage their students.

How can we help pre-service teachers be less anxious about teaching mathematics? What if maths was interactive and engaging, just as it should be? The fourth edition of Helping Children Learn Mathematics is a textbook for pre-service teachers that assists on both fronts.

Why are pre-service teachers anxious about maths?

The apprehension is understandable: if we can’t do something well ourselves, we feel we’ll fail to adequately teach it to others. Mathematics carries this weight for many pre-service teachers.

Why? Well, most of us simply didn’t learn maths properly when we were kids.

Most pre-service teachers originally learnt maths using repetition, memorisation, and rote learning. We know now that these approaches alone don’t lead to a deep understanding of concepts. Nor do they relate maths to the real world. Mathematics education has evolved over the decades, and now our pre-service teachers need to reconcile what they originally learnt and gain confidence to teach it within the current framework.

It’s important we tackle this because maths anxiety impacts the classroom. While in the throes of teaching maths, new teachers are so absorbed in trying to teach it correctly, that they lose sight of their classroom. They miss that crucial moment when a student disengages, or conversely they miss an opportunity to observe the wins – when a student has an ‘a-ha!’ learning moment.

Teachers are maths educators, not mathematicians

As Dr Mark Gronow, co-author of Helping Children Learn Mathematics reminds us,

“Teachers are maths educators, not mathematicians. The teacher isn’t the fount of the knowledge, rather they build an environment for learning to take place.”

Teachers do not need to be mathematicians to create a wonderfully rich learning environment for maths. Rather, teachers are facilitators of learning activities that engage children and inspire the love of mathematics.

The moment we can shift this mental perception, the anxiety over teaching maths can fall away and allow for an engaging environment. Pre-service teachers can freely create learning opportunities utilising mathematical tools, familiar games, and real-life examples of maths at play.

Creating an engaging maths environment

Rather than focusing too greatly on procedural learning, we want to teach children to understand maths by showing its connection to the world we live in. Once the concepts come to life, it’s much easier to teach the mathematical theories.

maths activities

Dr Gronow recommends incorporating engaging activities where students work together to develop their maths skills. He suggests well-known games such as Connect 4, Noughts & Crosses, Sudoku and Mastermind. These are all opportunities to harness mathematical strategies in fun games.

Likewise, seeking out maths in nature can inspire an appreciation of mathematics. Think of the symmetrical patterns of a snowflake; the spiralling sequence of seashells and pine cones; the geometric wonders of hexagons in bee hives.