I was going to start this post with “The nice thing about working in maths education is…” but I realise that what I’m going to go on to say suggests that working in maths ed can be a double edged sword. The nice part of it is that people ask me for advice and for my opinion on their children’s maths education. The negative part of it is that people ask me for advice and for my opinion on their children’s maths education!

This post was prompted by a good friend of mine asking for advice on her daughter’s maths development after a particularly tricky homework question on division. I felt a little bit out of my depth – daughter is Key Stage 1 and my experience is Key Stage 3, 4 and 5, but I have done a little reading on primary maths and spent enough time listening to the wisdom of my primary colleagues that I felt able to give a little advice. I decided the most useful thing I could suggest was for mother and daughter to explore maths in everyday contexts as much as possible to help to develop a strong sense of number and a confidence at solving problems. I know my friend enjoys baking, so I suggested that one useful activity was baking together, with a chance to discuss halving and doubling quantities, sharing out the biscuits when they’re made, and so on. It may not solve every worry my friend has, but it certainly won’t do any harm!

Another foray into primary maths for me occured when I visited my niece recently. She is almost 5, and has just started school. I recently bought a book for her at a car boot sale – the Ladybird book of Shapes. We spent a happy half hour reading it together, and then drew some shapes and coloured them in. Last time I visited, we went out as a family on a long journey, and we played a game together in the car.

I’m thinking of a shape. Ask me some questions and see if you can guess my shape.

After a few goes where I modelled the sort of questions she might ask (Does it have straight sides? How many sides does it have? Does it have curved sides? Are all the sides the same length?) she came up with the following:

I’m thinking of a shape with one straight side!

It took me ages to suggest that it would also have a curved side and that she was in fact thinking of a semicircle! It’s not often that I am mathematically out-thought by someone a sixth of my age.