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Aoibhinn - I was a failure until my eureka moment

TELEVISION presenter and teacher Aoibhinn Ni Shuilleabhain believes learning maths is a vital part of our lives...and can be great fun

I don't think I had a particular interest in maths when I was younger.

I grew up in a small village in Mayo and my Dad was interested in the sky at night and I got interested in physics from our evenings of looking at the stars.

I didn't think I was very good at maths and didn't have much confidence in my ability in the subject.

I was studying honours maths for the Leaving Cert and failed in my Christmas exam -- I got an E and I was devastated.

I begged my parents to let me move to Ordinary level but they encouraged me to stick with the honours course, at least until my mock exams.

One day in March I had the 'aha moment', where it all clicked and I was delighted to get an A1 in the Leaving Cert.

Of course, my 'aha moment' came about after a lot of hard work. I did every single question I could find, looked at different text books and remember thinking at one stage 'hold on, is this all it is?'.

There was no pressure from home about what course I would chose from the CAO.

I didn't want to do medicine because I'm too squeamish, law wasn't for me, so I thought maybe I would study something in science. I was interested in physics and I went on to do Theoretical Physics in university.

It was a four year degree course in mathematics and physics, and I loved it.

The course was interesting and challenging, we had a great class dynamic, everyone helped each other and the lecturers were brilliant.

I loved my four years at UCD and I was planning to do a Masters in Computational Science, but then the Rose of Tralee happened and my plans changed.

For the past four years, I've been teaching maths in secondary school, and have been teaching the new Project Maths syllabus for the past three years to both teachers and students and it's very enjoyable.

My career involves maths, but I don't agree with the idea that once you leave school you don't need to have anything to do with the subject again.

Maths is one of those fields of study that is all encompassing. Reading a graph or chart involves maths and that's a skill you will require in most jobs.

Looking at election polls or surveys -- you want to know what the different percentage points mean.

Where did numbers come from? How many people did they ask? Who did they ask? What is the margin of error?

Statistical analysis is a really important part of mathematics. Think of a trend graph of how our GDP has gone up or crashed down, that's a diagram that most people will understand intuitively.

Maths underlies so much of what we do -- from sitting in a taxi looking at the meter and calculating what the fare will be, to being on a shopping trip where you see 30pc off an item and work out roughly what you should pay.

You need maths to be an educated citizen and an educated consumer.

Even at the bus stop, you'll be calculating how long it should take the bus to arrive!

Maths comes into everything -- how we predict the weather, our internet searches, computer gaming, sending text messages, calculating odds, modelling better logistics, engineering, the list goes on and on.

One project I did in my undergraduate years was a project come up with a better way of treating brain tumours.

That's medicine and you may think has nothing to do with mathematics, but you have to be able to model treatments before building machines or testing new drugs and all of that begins with maths.

As a society, we are becoming far more technology-based and I think the next generation will really understand that we need to do more in terms of mathematics and research.

It's important that we have role models to get us interested in the subject.

I was very lucky at home, my parents are both teachers, but my granddad who left school after 6th class, built boats and he had to work out angles and do other calculations all of the time and he was a very positive role model for me.


The teaching of the subject is very important.

It's not just telling your students information, it's coaxing them and encouraging them along; with that they build their own confidence and they come to enjoy it.

That's why I really like the new syllabus, teachers can enjoy it with their students.

Maths Week is a great excuse to teach children to get involved in maths puzzles and games -- because maths is incredibly interesting, tremendously important and can be great fun!

Aoibhinn is currently working towards a Doctorate in Mathematics Education at Trinity