Struggling with homeschooling? The ‘Maths Eyes’ initiative combines nature trails with education

With schools closed, TheCity.ie’s Kate Brayden looks an innovative solution which could help parents cope with teaching maths in everyday settings.

The Coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly changed every aspect of our lives, but as self-isolation is leaving much of Ireland stuck indoors the household is particularly affected.

On top of trying to work from home, many families are expected to educate their children at the same time as holding down a job. It’s a burden that is weighing heavily on some parent’s shoulders.

While teachers themselves have assigned homework to schoolchildren to keep them busy during the pandemic, one initiative may have the answer for families seeking to balance their daily walks with learning.

Maths Eyes was created in 2011 by Dr Theresa Maguire – whose motto is ‘everyone has maths eyes, they just need to be opened’. Dr Maguire developed the programme to support the continuous professional development of adult maths tutors in Ireland, and extended the concept of Maths Eyes’ to build confidence in parents within local Irish communities.

The idea is that people can discover the maths surrounding them in their everyday life. Maths’ Eyes aims to facilitate learning for every type of child, adolescent and adult; especially those who struggle with the standardised curriculum of textbook learning.

Dr Theresa Maguire (Left), Dr Sheila Donegan (Centre) presenting awards at Maths Week.
(Photo: Maths Eyes website)

Their website contains an extensive resource pack for parents, tutors and teachers, filled with ideas on how to allow maths to be expressed creatively using innovative solutions. Building a positive image of the subject is the most important thing to these educators, according to Ciaran O’Sullivan, mathematics lecturer in IT Tallaght’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. Having been a maths educator for 27 years, O’Sullivan was the perfect person to join the Maths Eyes team.

“The idea is to awaken people to the fact that they use and they know and they’re more comfortable with maths than they might actually first allow,” O’Sullivan told TheCity.ie

“There was a curiosity campaign, there were just posters put up with queries and questions just to get people thinking. It’s trying to move away from the idea that maths is only in a textbook in primary school.”

Ciaran O’Sullivan, mathematics lecturer in IT Tallaght’s Mechanical Engineering Dept.
(Photo: Ciaran O’Sullivan)

Mental health issues are expected to skyrocket during the next few months, stress levels are set to peak alongside the number of Covid-19 cases, and many will be too busy with caring for family members to focus on their child’s homework Protecting the wellbeing of children is hugely important, as well as aiding their education, but Maths Eyes could be the perfect way to help the family take their daily walk while learning.

“Firstly, it is very difficult to be at home with children – their parents aren’t their teachers, so that’s always going to make it challenging,” O’Sullivan adds.

Maypark Maths Trail, supported by TU Dublin and Dublin City Council (Photo: Maths Eyes)

“I think the way that Maths Eyes can help parents at home is through the development of maths trails and the poster competition. Those resources on the website are there so that the parents could download them and think, ‘Okay, we’re stuck around the house or the garden, but maybe I could do a little maths trail around the house’. All they need for that are Post-it notes,” according to O’Sullivan. 

The scheme began in Tallaght, and is now supported by Technological University Dublin (IT Tallaght) and the Dublin West Education Centre. Within Ireland, Maths Eyes has active projects in around 200 schools and education centres with nature trails in numerous public parks. It has since been replicated internationally, beginning in Austria. Similar initiatives have also sprung up in England, Scotland, New Zealand, Australia and Washington DC.

“It’s gained a bit of momentum there, so it must have some benefit for that,” O’Sullivan mentions.

Community Maths Eyes nature trail (Photo: Maths Eyes)

“I know myself from doing Maths Eyes sections in various primary schools that the children that engage aren’t necessarily the children that love the textbook type of maths. Once they realise that they can see some kind of normality to it in the sense that there isn’t really a right or wrong answer to a lot of questions, it’s more about the discussion.

“People can get a way into maths that they hadn’t seen or noticed before. It’s also used in adult education settings as well, and it’s been a very useful tool there for getting people to come back from the idea that they’re not maths people. Once they gain a bit of confidence and success, they’re prepared to push on with their education,” said O’Sullivan.

The link between socio-economic status, academic attainment, and future earning levels remains worryingly deep. Young people from wealthier backgrounds are more likely to go to college, carry out post-graduate education courses and earn 30% more than their comparator from a disadvantaged background, according to the Higher Education Authority.

The creativity which the initiative inspires could also have huge benefits for the current generation of kids, as well as the next, who must grow up with the burden of climate breakdown on their shoulders. With highly innovative solutions needed, programmes like Maths Eyes could be the ideal change to our education system to foster ways of thinking outside the box.

“I view maths as being much more creative than what normal people see it as,” O’Sullivan comments.

“Even right now – with this horrible pandemic going on – it’s the ability for people to look at what the numbers are, what the numbers mean, what we should be doing, when is the right time to be social distancing; it involves us having to think about much bigger problems than ever before.”

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