Tuesday 25 June 2019

Maths support + hard work = the way forward

Dr Eabhnat Ní Fhloinn: “Do not be afraid to ask for help — the support is out there”
Dr Eabhnat Ní Fhloinn: “Do not be afraid to ask for help — the support is out there”

Eabhnat Ní Fhloinn

Students studying a maths module in higher education tend to fall into two distinct camps - those who are excited to learn some more challenging maths, and those who are dreading it a bit. For those in the first group, enjoy! For those who are worried, fear not - there is plenty of help and support available.

Why study a maths module?

Some students may have an option of taking an elective maths module, while for others it is a compulsory component of their degree programme. Either way, it is a valuable addition to your education. Being mathematically literate is a critical life skill in today's world, and one that employers value highly.

It is not simply a question of the particular mathematical techniques you study. Learning maths means honing skills of critical reasoning, problem-solving, logical sequencing, rigour, estimation and analysis. Maths helps you to understand practical topics like opinion polls, interest rates or household bills.

It lets you determine which mobile plan gives you the best value; whether PCP is a good option for your next car, or if you should opt for a health insurance plan with cash-back options. Mathematical skills make you more discerning in all of these areas and more.

Mathematics is a critical subject in disciplines as diverse as business, computing, engineering and science. Studying mathematics improves your analytical abilities, problem-solving skills and logical thinking, but many find mathematics intimidating. Regardless of prior background, there are ways for you to increase your chances of success in mathematics.

What should I do if I am struggling with a maths module?

There are a few things that everyone should aim to do: attend your lectures; keep your notes up to date; go to your tutorials; complete assignments and submit them on time; get to know your library and how to use it.

If you are having difficulties with a module, do not be afraid to ask your lecturer or tutor for advice - you will not be the first or last student to do so! Find out what extra help is available, in particular maths support.

What is maths support?

Maths support is free, additional help with mathematics, and is on offer in almost every higher education institute in the country, in one form or another. The most common approach is a drop-in centre, staffed by tutors at certain hours.

Students can call in whenever suits them and stay for as long or short a time as they like, working through exercises at their own pace. Sometimes, just a few minutes of one-to-one help from a trained tutor can help you to tackle a whole exercise sheet on your own.

The important thing is to seek help as soon as you are struggling, before it becomes a big problem or you fall behind.

Does maths support work?

Yes! I conducted research recently at DCU looking at the past 12 years in our Maths Learning Centre, and students with the same Leaving Cert maths grade who were doing the same maths module in college. Those who came regularly to maths support were substantially more likely to pass their end-of-year examination.

In fact, the odds of a student who attended maths support 15 or more times passing their maths exam were almost 14 times higher than someone who did not attend at all.

But it is not all about passing exams. Maths support has also been shown to help students' confidence in maths and has a positive impact upon student retention.

So, please do use whatever maths support is available if you need some extra help!


Dr Eabhnat Ní Fhloinn is Director of the Maths Learning Centre at Dublin City University (DCU)

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