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Mathematical Dragons

D R A G O N S T O D A Y . A U T U M N 2 0 1 1

Making Sense of Maths:

Understanding, Enjoyment

and Challenge

The Mathematics Department at the

Dragon aims to give all pupils as authentic

an experience of maths as possible. At every

level, there is an emphasis on understanding

and practice. All children are encouraged

to try – and to understand that ‘wrong’

answers are central to learning, comprehend-

ing, and ultimately enjoying, maths. The

aim is to convince children that maths is not

a ‘black and white’ subject; the goal is not

the answer but the process. The aim for all

young Dragon mathematicians is that they

become critical thinkers – they are always

encouraged to ask ‘why’. Dragon pupils

investigate their own questions, test their

own hypotheses and explain their solutions;

in short, they are encouraged to behave like

real mathematicians.

The key to maths learning at the

Dragon is ‘firm foundations’ with an

emphasis on understanding through expla-

nation, whether individually, in small

groups or as a whole class. Key ideas are

revisited and built on, year on year, to

give children the opportunity to refresh

their ideas and draw connections between

different areas of maths. Theoretical and

technical ability are developed through this

‘spiral’ curriculum which spins out into

new areas while constantly returning to core

principles. Open-ended questions and proj-

ects develop thinking skills and deepen the

understanding of process as children select

and apply techniques, remember concepts and

make associations for themselves. Confidence

develops as children try, and sometimes fail,

in order to learn. They work with numbers,

graphs, measure, shape and statistics, and are

encouraged to generalise and abstract. Algebra

features strongly from Year 6 but verbal and

written explanations are also encouraged to

develop essential mathematical vocabulary.

All maths teaching at the Dragon revolves

around the interdependent concepts of under-

standing, enjoyment and challenge. Without

understanding, children are uncomfortable and

unlikely to enjoy maths; without enjoyment,

even the most studious will be uninspired and

reluctant to rise to a challenge; without chal-

lenge, enjoyment is short lived. With all these

in place, though, maths intrigues, inspires and

makes real sense

.

The aim for all young

Dragon mathematicians

is that they become

critical thinkers – they

are always encouraged

to ask ‘why’

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Try your skill:

Four numbers have a mean of 7, a median

of 8 and a mode of 9. What are the four

numbers? Answer on page 8.

Why do we teach maths? Some

areas of maths are clearly useful in

everyday life, but when was the last

time you used Pythagoras’ Theorem,

drew a quadratic graph, or proved

that the sum of the first n integers is

½n(n+1)? The main reason for teaching

maths is because by behaving like

a mathematician, you are learning

crucial life skills. Mathematicians

are logical, they deconstruct difficult

problems into simpler ones and work

systematically, searching for patterns,

drawing connections between

ideas and generalising beyond the

particular case. These real life skills are

transferable to every part of life; any

time you make a reasoned decision

you are being a mathematician. They

may sound daunting, but I sum them

up to the children at the Dragon as

follows: mathematicians are lazy. We

look for short cuts and break things

down into small pieces to make them

easier. We have even invented our own

language, algebra, so we can explain

our ideas in the shortest way possible.

Communication is the part of maths

many children find the most challenging,

either explaining in words or trying to

transfer their thoughts to paper. I think

the most useful way parents can help

their children with their maths is to ask

them to explain it to them. You do not

have to be a skilled mathematician

yourself to ask children ‘what did you

do in maths today?’. They may find this

a difficult question to answer, but keep

asking, because in explaining maths to

you they are explaining it to themselves.

Dr Emily MacMillan

Head of Maths

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Competition

Success

Dragons enter local and national

maths competitions, frequently winning

certificates and qualifying for testing

‘Olympiads’ with the brightest in the

country. Several pupils have made the

UK Top 50 in recent years and the Year

8 team has regularly finished as top

Oxfordshire Prep School.