Junior Cycle - Ordinary Level

Ideas for Teachers

If you ever hear that “anyone can teach Maths to first year students”, hold your hands to your ears and scream. First year in secondary school is perhaps the most formative year for learners of Mathematics. They will learn about negative numbers – a most sophisticated idea. They will also be introduced to the workings of algebra: a key moment in what can become a lifelong love-affair (or a lifelong hatred governed by fear and puzzlement).

Students are supposed to know their tables when they leave primary school – we all know that this does not mean that all students DO know their tables when they start secondary education. It’s a good idea to use a few minutes at the start of each class to reinforce multiplication tables. Start with 2. Students have to write down the answer when they double a list of numbers: (say) 6, 9, 12, 7, 8, 14, 50, 45, 78, 238. The first 5 are from the tables, the rest not. Go on to 3 the next day. When you reach 12, start again at 2, this time with harder numbers to be doubled. You’ll be surprised how things improve.

It’s a good idea to measure how good (or bad) your students are at the start of the year, and let them feel how much they improve. Measure them again at the end of the year.

I bring a bag of sweets (or marshmallows) into class with me every day. I give prizes to the best at homework or the mental arithmetic test – or whatever. It’s surprising how much students love to win something – even just a little sweet. What is even more surprising is that this works as well in 6th year as it does in 1st year!

Enter your students in the Irish Junior Maths Contest. It’s for all first year students in Ireland. It’s a fantastic competition: Maths for fun; Maths as a sport. It’s really well run by organisers in Cork, led my Micheál Ó Muimhneacháin. For details, see the IMTA website. The first round in held during the Easter term and the final in the summer term.

Another great Maths competition is the American Maths Contest for 8th Grade (AMC8). It’s run by the University of Nebraska. Around 200,000 take part each year. Top scorers get certificates and prizes. Students in years 1 or 2 may be entered. Go for it!