There aren’t many hard and fast rules when it comes to getting kids excited about maths.

Except one – make it fun, Dr Jenny Young-Loveridge says.

And the retired Waikato academic should know.

She was recently made a Honorary Fellow of Waikato University in recognition for her work as a maths educator.

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Young-Loveridge is credited with helping change the way mathematics is taught in schools, both in New Zealand and internationally.

A key initiative in transforming how maths is taught was the Numeracy Project, introduced into New Zealand schools in the early 2000s.

“For decades, if not centuries, mathematics has been taught as a bunch of mindless rules for students to memorise,” Young-Loveridge said.

“I think what was really important about the Numeracy Project was that, first of all, the emphasis was on making sense. [Maths] had to be understandable to the students so a lot of equipment was used to help develop and consolidate concepts.

“And a variety of different strategies were possible and students were encouraged to talk about their strategies and share them with each other.”

A shift away from rote learning, however, doesn’t mean the childhood ritual of learning the multiplication table should be discarded.

“There’s definitely still a place for it because the quicker you can recall a number fact, the easier you can use it to solve a problem.”

Although there’s no firm recipe to getting kids enthused about maths, talking about maths in “the everyday world” and making maths fun is valuable.

Maths anxiety is a real thing for many children – and adults.

“Maths has been used as a way to sort people and … it’s been used to assess so-called intelligence and it can make people very nervous. One of the things we have had a history of in New Zealand is grouping [students] by ability and what the international literature shows is that is very, very bad for people who are not excelling mathematically.”

Young-Loveridge retired from Waikato University at the end of 2016 having joined the tertiary institute in 1989.

During her career, she attracted more than one million dollars in external research funding for projects.

Young-Loveridge’s connection to Waikato University can be traced back to her parents who were involved in a committee that pressured for the establishment of the university during the 1960s.

Waikato University was founded in 1964.

Young-Loveridge completed her PhD at the University of Toronto, with her doctoral thesis focused on how children learn to read.

“My primary interest has been in the development of children’s thinking and so I just switched curriculum domains, if you like.”

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