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By Jess Sashaw on

Maths engagement: the value of maths

At the beginning of 2020, we started a project to develop a maths engagement offer for the Science Museum group Academy. Jess Sashaw, Academy Programme Leader, has been looking at our learning offer, and in this post reflects on the importance and value of maths engagement.
Routes in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths). Image credit: Michael Parkin.

I went into science engagement as I recognised the need to get more people, children, and adults alike, engaged with science. News stories are a plenty, as is misinformation. There always seem to be reports of a quick fix, or miracle food. If scientific literacy can be increased, then people will have more tools for critically looking at all this information, and will be more equipped to make informed decisions.

I’ve always thought of it as science literacy, but, so much of it actually comes down to maths. For example, the findings of a study are based on data collection and analysis, and the ability to interpret what it means is all maths application.

During this project I’ve spent time researching the value of maths in society, and looking at the the Science Museum Group Academy’s maths engagement offer, looking to develop our training courses and resources to support educators in this area. I wanted to share some of my findings and thoughts on the importance of maths so far.

Maths is crucial for science, technology, and engineering and a dislike, or lack of confidence in maths, can be a barrier to a career in other fields. I found a quote collected by our audience research team, when they were looking into developing Mathematics: The Winton Gallery at the Science Museum, to be particularly poignant:

“I really wanted to be an architect. I was always reading books about it when I was a teenager, and it was all I wanted to do. But then a teacher told me you had to be good at maths to do it, and I was terrible at maths. So I didn’t do it. And now it’s too late.”- Adult visitor

Through my research, I’ve come to appreciate how important maths engagement is, not only as part of science, but also within its own right. While reading reports conducted by our audience research team and external sources, I can see that there is a dire situation around mathematic literacy in the UK:

“Numerous reports over the past 2 decades show that many adults in the UK have difficulties with the basic mathematical skills needed to be parents, workers or even functioning citizens […]” (Mathematic Literature Review by audience research team, 2009).

“More than half of 16-65 years old in England have the numeracy level equivalent to a primary child (GCSE at D-G).” (The 2011 Skills for Life Survey: A Survey of Literacy, Numeracy and ICT Levels in England, 2012).

I have been excited to explore how we, as a group of science, technology, engineering and maths focused museums, can support and promote maths engagement. Our Science Museum Group learning approach is to ignite curiosity by assisting discovery through active participation and social interaction. To help enable us to do this, we are aiming to:

  • Empower maths, and other, educators to use museums and other informal learning (beyond the classroom) experiences to support and enrich classroom (and beyond) maths learning and engagement.
  • Help broaden the perception that Maths is more than a subject that is learned in school – and how it has useful/ relevant application in everyday life.
  • Help address and reduce maths anxiety/ build confidence to help improve people’s attitudes and relationship with maths – helping more people to feel that maths is something that they can do and is useful and relevant to them.
  • Understand the role that museums/ informal learning can play to support maths learning in the wider learning landscape.

Along this journey of development, we have been asking ourselves many questions: Where is maths in our museum? How do we help tell the maths stories that are hidden in our collection? Is our framework for science engagement relevant for maths engagement? What resources can be created to help show that maths is for everyone and increase maths confidence?

Through our work we will be addressing these questions and through this blog series we will share our learning and experiences along the way.

Our ‘maths engagement’ series shares insights from the research, development, and delivery stages of our new maths engagement offer.

Upcoming posts will unlock the maths behind our collections, and feature how our science engagement tools relate to our maths engagement approach.

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