How I made Mathematics for Common Entrance engaging for all children
By Natalie Bailey
11 May
ISEB Common Entrance at 13+ mathematics exams are just around the corner - so as your child is busy ensuring they have grasped all of the relevant mathematical concepts, we thought it would be a good time to hear from the author behind the Galore Park Mathematics for Common Entrance series, Serena Alexandra.

Serena, tells us about her memories of maths at school, and how she used her experiences to ensure Maths Years 3-6, and Mathematics for Common Entrance 1-3  would be engaging for all children, even those who don’t like maths …

In writing the books, I very much drew on my own experience – from my own time at school, my early working life as well as from teaching. At school, I was ‘good at maths’ but not very enamoured of the subject. I enjoyed puzzling out complicated solutions, just as I enjoyed crosswords, and I was pleased when my solution matched the answers in the back of the textbook. I was very bad at handing in homework as I saw no point in writing up my scrawled calculations just to get a mark for something I already knew was correct. The joy of elegant solutions was never explained. Outside school, my father introduced me to Martin Gardner and to The Sunday Times’ brainteasers. These were far more interesting and, at 13, I solidly worked my way through ‘Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions’ and tackled the weekly challenge, often with success.

When commissioned to write the books, I therefore decided that it was important to grab children’s interest. What is interesting about mathematics? The history is fascinating, especially during the time that our current number system was introduced to Europe. Find a copy of Mathematics for the Millions and read the unfurling tale.

It was also important that the books appealed to those children for whom maths is not their favourite subject. There is reference to history, geography, a strong link with design throughout all the geometrical topics, as well as a fair bit of navigation. Statistical studies refers to scientific experiments and, throughout, examples reflect the day-to-day lives of the young people that read them, carefully adapted to their varying ages. This has not gone unnoticed. ‘In Book 1 we were buying stickers and games,’ commented one bright-eyed child. ‘In Book 2 we were buying MP3 players and now in Book 3 we are buying a computer.’ Such is life!

Another aspect I was keen to cover was carefully described methodology. As Head of Maths in a prep school, I was aware that maths was frequently taught by colleagues who had not progressed since GCSE (or O level, for many) and who therefore did not have a sound grasp of the subject. This is very common in junior schools and I feel that it is important for teachers not only to understand the correct methods but also why they are correct. The methods were all checked by the maths staff at the senior school – which included doctors and professors of mathematics, and so I knew I could promote these with confidence. The carefully explained methods have remained a key feature of the books and feedback shows that this is very much welcomed by parents. When their children are stuck on their homework, the worked examples enable parents to see what needs to be done and give suitable encouragement using correct methods. If only the army of unqualified tutors that so confuse children with their poor teaching methods and incorrect statements would read these too!

One parent, a butcher, was so pleased with the original Maths for Common Entrance 1 that he worked through it himself and gave a copy to all his employees. ‘They should be able to work out the bills now,’ he commented.

The books are designed with entry to senior school at either 11 or 13 in mind, and many of the examples reflect the questions that pupils will meet in their examinations. My hope for the pupils, who are even now working their way through the new editions, is that they: will find the subject engages them through the introductory paragraphs that place each topic in context; will gain confidence by following the methods; will be helped by the pictures and diagrams so beautifully set out by the Galore Park team; and will work their way successfully through the graded examples that gradually increase in difficulty.

Maths may not be every child’s favourite subject but I hope that the books will give hesitant pupils a feeling of security so that they know where to find any help that they need.

If they also inspire a new generation to research some history of mathematics, then that is a bonus. My favourite piece of feedback: ‘My son reads your book like a novel.’

Tags: 11+, 13+, Author, Common, Common Entrance, Entrance exams, ISEB, Mathematics at Common Entrance, Maths at key stage 2, Serena Alexander

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