Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Maths?... no thanks.

Last week I was sorting through my ScienceGrrl e-mail and came across a really encouraging message from a lady who'd just returned to study Maths in her 50s. I thought it sounded like she had a story to tell, and asked her to write a blog for us. Which she did. 

I give you - the inspirational Ingrid Walker-Gibbs.

Ingrid in 1970 - and today

"Hello. Until very recently the title of this post is how I felt about maths.

I'd like to tell you a little bit about why I was put off maths - and consequently the sciences - at a young age, and what I'm endeavouring to do about it now.

Born in 1960 my education was via state-funded, primary and comprehensive schools (in Essex), and class numbers were around 30 or so children, with one teacher.

In a crowded environment learning's not always an easy ride, even for a child with a good subject knowledge; a quiet, shy child however, with only a feeble understanding of a particular topic, is easy to lose by the wayside and any chance of that feeble amount of knowledge developing, can be lost.

I was one of those quiet children, and especially so when it came to maths or the sciences. (My head seems able to grasp languages and rhythms better than it does figures.) I can recall, aged 11 or 12, my maths teacher looking at my very worried face after the input; she came and sat with me, quietly taking the time to explain the whole process again whilst everyone else got on with the work. I remember the glow of understanding I felt when it all suddenly went 'click!' and how I quickly grabbed my pencil and got on with the task everyone else was doing.

Unfortunately for me, that was the one and only time she had a moment to sit one-to-one with me and explain things.

It was even worse for me in Chemistry, Physics and Biology. I'd to go into melt-down and get shouted at by the teacher for 'not listening'; I was listening, but I didn't understand, and I cringed at the idea of showing my 'stupidity' to everyone else. I ended up absolutely hating the sciences. It was a shame, but I do understand that sometimes the teachers just didn't have the time to gather up all the stragglers and talk over what, and why they didn't get it.

Towards the end of my 3rd year (Yr 9 equivalent) someone, somewhere high up, decided that the maths group I was in and all the maths groups below it should be precluded from doing maths as they obviously couldn't!  So we were actually stopped from doing maths classes altogether and put into something they called “Book-keeping” classes instead. These lessons were taken by the teacher who also taught typing and shorthand, and we added or subtracted long columns of figures with headings like “Expenses” and “Receipts”. We were also allowed to use 'adding machines' (the precursor of calculators)...

...the end result was that I left secondary school without a maths qualification.

Now though, aged almost 53, my life is a different matter.

I recently decided on a career change and for the past 4 years I've gone back to school; I work as a Teaching Assistant at the local primary (and it's by no means the 'easy little job' that so many consider it to be!). There I regularly come across the kind of child that I was: quiet, shy and unwilling to draw attention to themselves. I'm really hoping that time will eventually show how I've been able to help at least some of them.

When I started working at the primary school, I realised that I'd have to do something about my appalling maths as listening with the children to the teacher's input at the start of the lesson just didn't suffice! So I enrolled on an Adult Learning Community maths course and I'm pleased to say I passed Level 1, and am now midway through Level 2, which I'm told is a GSCE equivalent. It all gives me a very good perspective from which to work at school.

Do you know what? I love it... I absolutely love maths. Hah! I never thought I'd ever say that. And I'm not frightened to say that I find some things difficult to comprehend [fractions], others though [volume and area] pah! Easy-peasy.

Don't snigger... this is big stuff for me :)

So, I intend to continue on this course for as long as it runs (and who's to say it won't close tomorrow?!)

Why continue further with maths? Because I'm really interested in Cosmology, and I think I'm going to need a Physics qualification to study that!

Thank you for taking the time to read this; I hope it might inspire others – of all ages, and all walks of life.

Lastly, a huge thank you to ScienceGrrl for being there, and for giving me courage to really give it a go!"


  1. Just seen this blog on twitter (scienceGrrl)... Like you I never really enjoyed maths until later in life. I hated maths in school and until about 5 years ago. But then I had my life changing experience which made me realise the beauty of maths and how it can explain pretty much everything and things we don't even think of!
    I watched a documentary called infinity - this sounds really geeky but it was a life changing moment lol. It really was! I watched it a few years ago now and I still talk about it to people (people look at me like i'm mad when I mention love and maths in the same sentence)... Anyway I'll post a Youtube link to the documentary that I am talking about. Hope you enjoy it as much as I clearly did ;-)

  2. Excellent stuff! Just watched the Horizon programme in yr link; hadn't seen that one before and I really enjoyed it. Loved the pool-table explanation of the number of particles in a four-ball universe. Then the idea that another copy of our universe (and Earth, and us... writing this!) is 'only' 2 to the 10 to the 118 metres away. Mind bogglingly entertaining stuff... absolutely love it.