Learning maths in a watertank cupboard

In 1996 I was a school girl studying for my GCSEs. My older sister who was two years older had left school with below a C grade in Maths. She had to retake at sixth-form college but ended up with a lower grade than her first attempt and on her final retake scored ‘Ungraded’. The reason for this decline in motivation and increased boredom I witnessed with each retake was a bit of a worry for me as I didn’t want to go through this.

So I set myself up a little revision room in the watertank cupboard at home (it was the only ‘spare room’ we had). I had a desk, a chair, a radio/cassette player and made a detailed colour coded GCSE revision timetable. As you tend to do about 10 GCSE exams at the same time I had to prioritise time spent on subjects. So maths got top priority, marked in yellow. I worked hard revising for a couple of months and despite the watertank being hot and noisy, especially at bath times, my revision schedule worked a treat and I got a C!

Now that I have elected to do Advanced Quantitative Methods as part of my PhD I have to revisit some GCSE maths as I feel that I have lept right into a whole advanced world before I have mastered the basics. This became very obvious to me last week when in our statistics class, the lecturer said ‘now here is a quick recap on logit which you would have done at school’. There is NO WAY I did this at school.   This logit business is just for the people in the advanced sets who used scientific calculators and not something we lower sets would have been burdened with. But the fact that the lecturer assumed that we had all done this before made me realise that it must be quite unusual for someone from the lower sets to even think about trying out Advanced Quantitative Methods in their future lives.

However, I am a firm believer that your GCSE grades don’t really reflect much – they reflect how good your teacher was, whether or not an annoying boy pulled at your hair all lesson, as well as how much you revised in the watertank cupboard in the summer of 1996, but they don’t reflect current and future potential to learn.

So in the spirit of my PhD topic which is about lifelong learning, I would say do not let your past experiences of school maths stop you from learning now – start off by using the marvellous online tutorials which of course did not exist back in 1996, such as the Khan Academy (especially the algebra stuff which is essential for regression statistics). And if you quite liked the old maths book you used in the past, you might be lucky to find it in the IOE library which has a collection of ‘retro’ GCSE textbooks. I found my old watertank cupboard friends:

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Retro maths books: Let’s convert those francs to pounds!

(c) 2014 Annika Coughlin

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5 comments
  1. Alan Wheeler said:

    Excellent stuff. Coincidentally, I wrote a similar blog post for students recently about the need to sometimes go backwards in order to go forwards.

    Like

  2. Where do you blog? Please share with me as I would love to read it! Thanks for your positive remarks by the way 🙂

    Like

  3. MsShaye said:

    I’m very proud of my ‘Ungraded’ in Maths. But did you know at around the same time I got 94% or 97% for my geometry coursework project? (something to do with triangles) The teacher was surprised as I was getting very low marks all year.

    Like

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