My father read Maths at university (Cambridge), but, like many who have a natural understanding of maths, was completely incapable of explaining it to dunderheads like me. Was his talent shared with any of this three children? Nope. We all struggled, although we did get that oh so important maths 'O' level; the gateway to university for some reason.
Today I read in the Times that Marcus du Sautoy, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford says it's important to keep children interested in maths, to make it relevant to everyday life and to show them the big picture. He suggests teaching it in a similar way to music:
You have to teach all the scales and arpeggios, but first you have to play the finished piece of music to the pupil so they know what they are aiming for. To inspire and excite you have to show the big picture of what they are aiming for first even if they don’t yet understand how to get there.Ha! You see? Give me the big picture (and the answer) and there'll be a vague chance I might be able to look at the problem without my eyes immediately glazing over, my brain seizing up, or a knee-jerk 'I can't do it' reaction, or even a stupid answer to 6+7. (I had a mental block over this for some time, when I was a wee thing, and it used to incense my father, which caused further blockage, a stricken brain, and wild guessing.)
I see similar reactions in my eldest. Poor lad, he doesn't seem to have inherited his dad's mathematical skill either. Why do these mathematicians keep things for themselves? Selfish buggers.
Pr du Sautoy suggests that learning a musical instrument helps in the understanding of maths. I can't say I agree with him. I learned three and it made no difference at all. I reckon it helps those that are already good at maths to get even better. It's a very insular gift.
However, he does seem to have some very interesting thoughts on relevant maths, such as the idea that adolescents could be enthused by stories of mathematical discovery, the magic of prime numbers with examples of these in Nature. I do agree that there is some fascinating stuff to learn about maths out there... (eek), and I even enjoy watching the tele show 'Numb3rs', but school maths is dire, 'O'level maths was ghastly and I decided that if I never saw another maths problem again as long as I lived after I'd got through it, it would be a day too soon.
Maybe my youngest will be the new maths champ in our family... I know it would make his dad happy at least....