Multiple problems: Steve Chinn says many people have trouble with numbers

Taking away the fear of mathematics

I am the proud owner of a first-class degree, but when it comes to working out what 20 per cent off a nice pair of shoes is, my maths GCSE deserts me. Under pressure, I can't add up to save my life. I'm not alone; a CBI survey showed that 50 per cent of employers are dissatisfied with levels of numeracy among school leavers.

How do you feel about maths?

Give yourself a score for each of the situations below, from one for never anxious, two for sometimes anxious, three for often anxious and four for always anxious.
  • 1.Working out a tip
  • 2.Working out prices abroad
  • 3. Checking the cost of your shopping
  • 4. Working out 20 per cent off in a sale
  • 5. Checking your change
  • 6. Working out the cost of a holiday
  • 7. Adding £5.99, £10.99, £l9.99and£3.95
  • 8. Reading a train timetable
  • 9.Working out your weekly budget
  • 10.Checking which mobile phone deal is the best value
  • 11. Converting your weight in stones into kilograms
  • 12. Having to recall a maths fact like 6x9 quickly
  • 13. Understanding the odds for a bet 1
  • 14. Writing a cheque
  • 15. Checking the VAT on a builder's invoice
  • 16. Working out your pay rise of 3.25 peer cent
  • 17. Checking your credit card bill
  • 18. Working out how much weedkiller to use in a five- litre sprayer
  • 19. Changing the quantities in a recipe for four to feed six
  • 20. Remembering school maths lessons

Dealing With Dyscalculia: Sum Hope2 Add up your score;a score of 60 or above indicates that you are in the top 3.5 per cent for anxiety levels The average score is 34, and the most anxiety-causing situation is converting stones to kilograms.
Dealing With Dyscalculia: Sum Hope2 by Steve Chinn, Souvenir Press £12.99

It's a while since I left school, but the problem can persist into adult life. Steve Chinn, an award-winning special needs teacher, is the author of several guides for people who struggle with maths. His latest, Dealing With Dyscalculia: Sum Hope2, is a friendly guide to picking up your skills. But what is dyscalculia? 'The word has been around for 30 or more years and we haven't got a really definite definition,' he says. 'You'll see things such as: "Has a lot of difficulty with mathematics or numbers."

Put yourself in that category, put me in there - it will encompass a lot of the population! You'd have to use something such as: "Perseverent and significant difficulty with and fear of numbers."' The cornmon problems stem, he says, from a limited understanding of numbers.

'A lot of these people don't have a general sense of money and are not very good at estimating, which is a working-day maths skill. We estimate how much we're spending on a round of drinks or in the supermarket. If someone says there's a 20 per cent reduction at Homebase, they don't know what that means. They could get out a calculator but they wouldn't have a clue if the answer was right.

One of the other manifestations is people feel that they're really bad at maths and just freeze up. It's a human instinct to protect themselves from failure. None of us likes being judged.'

Coping Strategy
Chinn's strategy for coping with this anxiety is to stay within your comfort zone. 'If you continually practise something you can't do, that can make things worse. In the book I talk about staying within your comfort zone, so using stuff you do know which would be two x facts, five x facts, ten x facts. You can develop other facts: if you don't know what 4x7 is you do 2x7 and double it, or if you don't know what 3x8 is you do 2x8 and add one more eight. You're making the task shorter, and rehearsing the facts.'

It helps, he says, to asses the problem (see quiz, above right) 'Go down the checklist and see how many of those things you really can't do. Most people can do more than they really think. Everyone learns differently but find two or three that work for you, then maybe there might be some other areas that work. And don't be afraid to jot things down on paper; some people just don't have a memory for numbers. Other people have expectations, and people have expectations of themselves. People who are bad at maths need to just get those expectations to the point when they're comfortable.'

Edited by EMMA JEAN STURGESS healthextra@ukmetro.co.uk

[Metro September 26, 2007]


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