The skills that you need to be a successful mathematician in school – at least, the skills against which children are assessed in SATS tests – are much narrower than the broad range of skills that you need when using mathematics in the real world. Maths ideas and concepts have evolved to help people find efficient solutions to a range of practical problems; yet mathematics is often seen as being a relatively closed, abstract subject.
The Mathematics Apprenticeship helps to bridge this gap. In it, the children get to ‘do’ mathematics in real contexts, helping them to see the practical application – and importance – of maths as a subject.
Also, like in the majority of real-life contexts, being able to ‘do the maths’ is only one part of what it takes to complete a tasks successfully. The children will have to organise the work between the team members; prioritise tasks so that they meet time deadlines; communicate their ideas in writing; and interact confidently with a range of different customers.
A natural need will arise to write letters, show calculations, use technology and give formal presentations. I remember, for example, one group of children discovering and using Google Sketch-Up so that they could produce a 3D model of the ‘Head of Secret Service office for the MI5 task. Also, it allows children with different skills to make a positive contribution – whether mathematical, organisational or in presenting ideas.
The aims of the project, therefore, are not limited to improving the children’s maths skills, but to giving them the broad range of qualities that they need in order to be successful in the future.